On Saturday (not yet one week ago as I write this), I was skiing in Steamboat Springs with my 12-year old. We were there for him to race, but when the last day of the race was canceled, we took the time to ski together. It was a beautiful day. Some fresh snow, blue sky, and perfect temperature.
It was easily one of the best days of my life. Steamboat and most other ski areas shut down for the season the very next day.
I really tried to live in the moment even as I knew that when we flew out the next morning, we were coming back to a reality that was going to deteriorate quickly.
We've all had so many great days because life is filled with them. We'll get back to them sooner than we might now expect just as we got to this point faster than anyone could have imagined.
Humans are great at thriving. We are great at surviving too. This is a good time to think about both.
I'm writing this note humbly. There are so many heroes and experts right now. Listen to them first...
For example, my wife is a physician. Her private group of OBGYN's is confronting a triple threat crisis as they try to care for patients, for their families and for their business.
Meanwhile, this is the air tight outfit she was just fitted for to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
This is happening all around the world.
As a software entrepreneur, I'm much less familiar with life and death risks, but I'm very familiar with business shocks.
I joined a company during the dotcom boom that was pre-revenue and went on to some great success, but in my year there, we had clients cancel abruptly, faced legal challenges, and endured some epic personnel issues that ultimately resulted in the relative of one executive stealing the company's intellectual property and starting a competing company. I was 23 and it was very quick on the job training on crisis management.
Not long after that, I decided to forego my MBA (even gave up my deposit) to pursue my first venture as CEO roughly 10 days before the dotcom bust. As we started to get our footing, the country faced 9/11.
7 years later, my company was about to be sold when the 2008 crash led to our public company acquirer ghosting us as the deal was supposed to sign. That acquirer later went bankrupt in a manner that would have stripped all the value out of that deal anyway.
Now, I'm running Structural which was launched to connect and empower distributed teams in this new model of work. I just told my team that the "future of work" has arrived 5 years ahead of schedule. I'm not trying to chase ambulances, but this should be great for us in the long run. But, the pressing issue here is that, first, we have to make it to the long run.
That brings me to the punch line. To thrive in the future, you have to survive in the present.
If you want to do that, you have to get a few things right:
Lower the tightrope.
As things get more and more challenging, you may feel the tightrope you're walking getting narrower and more unstable. That's unavoidable. What you can do is lower the tightrope. To do this, you have to regroup and remember that if you don't make it, you will still have a way forward. Human beings are incredible. We are resilient. We rebound. The only thing truly final is death so if you're still alive, there is always a way forward. Even if you truly fall from this tight rope you're walking, you are not going to fall to your death. You have a future and it will bring laughter, love, good times, and opportunities. Put these things in perspective. Hug your loved ones. They are going to be in this future too.
Put on your own mask before assisting others and encourage others to do the same.
People need to take care of their health and their immediate needs before they can tackle more strategic issues. You need to do this, your colleagues need to do this, your friends and family need to do this. Don't think about your next business move until you have a plan for the morning and the day. Don't worry about retirement, college savings, vacations, and wedding plans until you have a plan for this month.
Seek common purpose.
As leader, a team member, a family member or anything else, you need to accentuate focus around your common purpose with others and discuss that common purpose with them. Time discussing why your company, your family, and your health are worth fighting for is time well spent. Just this week, I've had more heart felt conversations with investors and colleagues than ever before. It means so much and reminds me of why I love what we are doing together. Time finding common purpose and helping others even when you need help yourself is an investment in the value of your own life and will refresh your spirit for what's ahead whether it is a tough day or a tough decade.
Buy time without giving up the future.
I realize that some people will need to give up something over the coming weeks and months. Many have already been laid off, closed their business, or realized that there is not a path forward to make a mortgage payment. This advice is not for you. You need to focus on lowering the tight rope and moving forward one day at a time.
But, hopefully, if you have read to here, you have some options. Here's how I prioritize in these situations:
At Structural, we moved quickly to cut variable expenses. Travel was easy. A contractor doing some important, but less pressing work was harder, yet still made sense. We know we have many months now, and that breathing room helps a lot. Next week we will absorb what's going on in the world and layout the next set of decisions. I already know we are going to survive. That feels good. I even spent a moment today talking about 2021 plans, but just for a few minutes. I don't think I'll be back to the top of Steamboat anytime soon, but we'll survive this and get back to thriving eventually.
If I can be helpful for you with anything, please get in touch right away for any reason. If you're looking for more thoughts on leading and navigating in these times, please sign up for our tips for innovative people leaders.
About the Author
Scott Burns is the co-founder and CEO of Structural. Previously, he co-founded GovDelivery; which grew to 250 people and had two successful exits. It has been Scott's personal and professional mission to inspire and enable organizations and unleash the potential of people and teams.