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Winning With the “New Normal”

I came home from the Executive Leader’s Forum last week with a negativity hangover. News on the business front is truly harsh these days. The bottom line is, if you are waiting this recession out and hoping you’ll just hang on until things get back to normal, you are making a mistake. This is the new reality. It’s the “new normal.”

It’s not all bleak — especially if you can grasp the seismic paradigm shift and adapt quickly.

The conference was for 120 of the nation’s most senior business executives. They are people I admire and enjoy tremendously.

Their point was that people’s values and habits changed in an instant — and aren’t going to change back. Society isn’t spending like it used to — and it won’t. People and companies are deliberating before buying. They are contemplating whether they actually need what they are buying, rather than just buying because they want something. Buying for “want” symbolizes excess — and that is now seen a gauche. The leaders at the conference don’t see the trend ever switching back, which is why retailers are having to dance fast to figure out how to service their changing customers. If people are opting to buy store-brand cheese and canned goods over the tried-and-true brand names, what can a brand name do? That’s the challenge.

Especially since, as individuals in the marketplace, we are all our own brand name products.

It’s also the opportunity, something that fits with the theme of my new book, Finding the UP in the Downturn. The daily dose of bad news is so bleak that people are giving up. But, for those who don’t, there is a huge opportunity to succeed. Like Shelley Broader (president of Michaels) told us, there is no better time to start a business than when the price of real estate, labor and equipment are at rock bottom prices. Instead of contracting, we have to figure out how to smartly expand by exploiting the new reality to our advantage.

All of this involves a personal awakening and acceptance. We have to accept that the rules have changed, and brainstorm ways to fit our talents to the new demands that have been created. We have to be relentless.

If you are looking for an excuse to give up, you don’t have to look far. But, if you give up, things aren’t going to suddenly return to normal when the recession ends.

This is the sobering new reality, and we’ve all got work to do to decide where we fit into it. That means studying our industries, our clients and our competition. It means learning our technology and knowing where it is going. It’s taking action without being 100 percent sure of the result because there is no more 100 percent certainty in anything. It’s having the confidence and courage to know that we are moving forward and, when we are doing it wrong, we can change quickly and right our course.

Bad news can wear down our confidence, but only if we let it. This is the time to make up our minds that we will be winners in the new reality.

What’s your first step? Open your eyes. The challenge isn’t going to go away, so what do you need to do?

Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of five books, including one that was an Oprah pick. She is a four-time, Pulitzer-nominated journalist and an internationally acclaimed keynote speaker who has been hired by some of the world’s largest corporations to share her message of opportunity and leadership.

  1. It’s starting to hit me that you are right. I kept thinking it would only be a few more months, then, maybe next year. But, I really need to come up with a new plan because my old one isn’t working. Thanks for the insight, Fawn.

  2. Those recent unemployment numbers were what slapped me in the face. I’d thought Obama would have done more by now, but I think the message we are getting is that we have to proceed as if it’s never going to change. So, that’s what I am doing. But, I don’t know what to tell my unemployed fifty-five year old brother who has made it to the final interview stage at least 10 times and never gets the job. If we don’t rebound, what is he going to do?

  3. Fawn Responds: He’s going to keep trying. The people who give up are the ones who create opportunity for those who don’t. Unemployment is especially brutal for middle-aged people, but sooner or later, something will open up. I’m working on a big project on this, so have him e-mail me. Maybe I could interview him.

  4. The recession and its effects are awful. Having said that, I think it was the slap on the butt we needed.I believe that the men and woman who can adapt to the “new rules” and create different opportunities instead of excuses will survive and flourish.

  5. We were SO overdue for a change…our values were so skewed…I’m not saying that it isn’t hard (I’m still unemployed after 3-4 months, which is far less than many others), but I’m agreeing that it is time to brainstorm and fit ourselves into the new reality. Hopefully, our planet will be better for it. Surely we will, both as individuals and as a society.

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