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Building a Business: “Never give in. Never, never, never, never”
Winston Churchill’s resolve and lessons for today’s economy
“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” - Winston Churchill
At first, I figured it is was too late to talk about surviving the economic storm we're in … and then, I thought, hey, this isn't over. Maybe the sense of impending doom has dissipated but the reduced level of business activity and an increasing sense of frugality in a buyer-dominated market are going to be our unbidden passengers for quite a few more miles.
“Let us go into the storm … and through the storm,” said Winston Churchill as he prepared England to confront the Nazi regime in World War II. As it applies to our current business climate, I thought this might be a touch of hyperbole, but then I recalled that Churchill's odyssey raged for five years, not just the single year we've navigated since September 2008.
Imagine Churchill, FDR and others slogging for five dreadful years through the greatest threat to civilization we have known. So, how do we get through four more years of this business cycle, a time frame proclaimed by many before employment gets back to 6 percent and more customary growth trends resume?
Consider these few concepts inspired by the triumph and tragedy of those years:
- Acceptance versus Denial. This is the touchstone. The world has changed, and the engine of growth is more of a caravan than a locomotive, unaided by hyper-growth, fanciful schemes or unbridled optimism. Just as Churchill admonished the naysayers that the reality of war was inevitable, so do we need to accept the new reality and embrace it as the road we must travel for the foreseeable future.
- Belief versus Doubt. Churchill is seen visiting with FDR in the White House (in the HBO movie, “Into the Storm”), the first time they had met in almost 20 years. FDR was recounting the wisdom he had gained during a lifelong relationship with his schoolmaster, Mr. Peabody, recalling his words: “To believe is to be strong … Doubt cramps energy … Belief is power.”
If we don't believe in our cause, if we're not convinced that we're right in the course we've chosen, the doubts that creep in will take us off our game, misdirect our fire and leave us stumbling down a circuitous path to nowhere.
- Perseverance versus Complacency. We must resolve to continue the struggle, to be unwavering in our dedication to overcoming obstacles and to pursue every alternative to achieve success. We cannot allow ourselves to be complacent or to imagine we will wake up to a new world order. KBO became Churchill's favorite phrase that ended most of his conversations: “Keep Buggering On,” he told everyone. So, let's have our five-minute pity party … and then get on with it.
- Planning versus Chaos. In the context of World War II, there's no better metaphor for the value of planning than General Eisenhower's observation as he prepared for D-Day: “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” In those first three words, I know he's captured the sentiment of many of you, but there is unquestioned value in the process.
D-Day itself is a great example. As soldiers hit the beaches of Normandy, carefully laid plans dissolved in a fog of war, and thousands were suddenly gone. Yet, the careful planning for Operation Overlord provided a strategy to drive leadership decisions, encourage course corrections and sustain focus on the ultimate goal.
- Communication versus Silence. Churchill, among his prodigious talents, is heralded as an accomplished orator. He always felt he spoke to the working man far more than to the lords of the manor, and he didn't hesitate to share his message in any way possible. He knew his countrymen needed to hear his reassuring voice, be assured of his passion and commitment even if the news was not good or much different than before.
Likewise, we can't over-communicate to our colleagues or employees. They need the constant reassurance that we are thinking about them, that we are mindful of changes in the marketplace and that we're constantly striving for new ideas to meet the challenges that are unfolding every day. Don't assume they understand just because you already told them. Tell them again, and again, and keep telling them so they're engaged in the process and understand the shared goals being pursued.
When times are tough, Churchill's most memorable words uttered in late, 1941 when visiting his schoolboy alma mater, remain inspirational:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”