This is Not My First Rodeo
When it comes to Black Mondays and bleak futures, this is not my first rodeo. Seated squarely in the ‘money’ bureau of a national news network, just miles away from Wall Street, I happened to have a front row seat to the biggest economic crash in modern history.
Monday, September 15, 2008 was the last black Monday, and my first day on the job. And let me take this opportunity to remind you that correlation does not equal causation. (#unfortunate #coincidence #iswear) That Monday was the day that Lehman Brothers crashed. And since I only recently eked out of an economics class I’d care never to repeat, that name meant close to nothing to me, and it rang with the vague familiarity of a recently-forgotten boy band.
But people were panicked. Producers dashed across the newsroom, and anchors braced for breaking news. So I casually spun around in my chair and googled “Economics for Dummies,” and “Who are the Lehman brothers?” (They were not, by the way, a boy band.)
A Glimpse of the Tip of the Iceberg
Lehman Brothers was a massive financial institution and the first domino to drop in a line of economic casualties. It heralded an epic collapse of major banks, auto manufacturers, real estate companies, and thousands of smaller companies around the world. People were laid off by the hundreds of thousands. Job offers were rescinded. Tasks were being automated, outsourced, and eliminated. This would redefine work as we knew it.
That day marked the end of twenty year pensions and white picket fences. “Job security” was an adorable notion from a Leave It To Beaver past. For those of us who had just stepped off the graduation stage with a head full of hope and a pocket full of dreams, we were slapped with a brutal reality. “Security” would never come from a company, a government, or a silly $600 stimulus check.
Chicken Little Heralds New Opportunity
Chicken Little -- and the fable’s central phrase, ‘the sky is falling!’, conjures up a sense of fearmongering – whether justified or not – and "inferring catastrophic conclusions possibly resulting in paralysis." That's inspiring. But I tell you that the sky is falling not to drive you to "a sense of despair or passivity which blocks [you] from actions". Because that would be kind of depressing. And totally unproductive. Nobody needs help being passive. Just like nobody needs help binge watching a whole series of Tiger King with scarcely a shower in between.
My objective is to reassure you that, even if things look like they're falling apart, these are actually the perfect conditions for everyday humans to shine.
Because that little disaster over a decade ago forced us to reimagine a future that would work. It birthed brand new culture of innovation and creativity and connection. And it is precisely what will help us navigate the uncertainties that 2020 has so abruptly thrust on us.
Three Steps to Thrive in the New Economy
With any change comes new opportunities. And each transition point in life, even if rude, unexpected, or unwelcome, gives you a fresh chance to realign your daily activities with who you want to be, and how you want to make a difference. Because life, after all, is about contribution, not consumption, despite what the last five decades of advertising executives have been telling us.
Here’s three lessons I learned then, that are even more relevant now.
1. The Economy is Crashing: So start a business.
Entrepreneurship is how you take control in a tough economy. General Douglas MacArthur describes security as ‘one’s ability to produce.’ It is knowing what you do well that adds values to others. Job security, therefore, is not an extrinsic force - like a job, a boss, or a silly stimulus check - but an intrinsic quality. And you have complete control of that. So this is a prime opportunity to stop trying to live up to the arbitrary expectations of others, and figure out what it is you really want to do with this one wild and precious life.
Lesson #1: Start your own business based on what you do best that adds value to others.
2. The Workplace is Shifting: So take your business online.
Covid has shifted everything online. And ever since the first Black Monday, we’ve seen technology create unprecedented opportunities for new entrepreneurs. Some people would scoff at the prospect of ‘an online business’. But today, online businesses are proving to be the most resilient business model, as traditional businesses are forced to shut their doors and close up shop. The internet gives you access to a global audience; you can create digital assets with a smartphone and an idea (with no inventory); and you can scale your business exponentially with strikingly little cost.
Lesson #2: Take your business online for greater reach and economic resilience.
3. The World is Burning: So tackle real problems.
Now here’s where things get interesting, and have evolved significantly since the first crash. The rise of social entrepreneurship. This is a brilliant business model that allows you to begin to develop solutions to pressing social issues with the time and resources you create. So it transforms your profitable online business into a positive force for good. Because once your needs are met, money won’t make you that much more happy. Because meaning is what we’re all really after; our deepest desire is to commit ourselves to something so much bigger than ourselves. So unlike traditional businesses, profit isn’t the goal - it’s simply a tool to transform the lives of the people around you.
Lesson #3: Turn your profitable business into a force for good.
So even though the sky is falling, the opportunities aren’t gone. They just look different. And while the world is quite literally burning, these are precisely the formidable conditions that have forged history’s greatest people, ideas, and breakthroughs. Because in the words of Winston Churchill, we should "never let a good crisis go to waste." Because the future really does belong to social entrepreneurs.