From all the times I have heard, “This is the most unusual X, the greatest period of Y, the new era of Z,” I was starting to think that, had I not been born in the last thirty years, I would have missed the most interesting years of business since the Big Bang.
And here we are again: A suffering economy and an entirely “unique” set of challenges ahead. Many leaders are relentlessly focused on the present and the future because the “uniqueness of the times” is the fuel for their focus. Nothing is more empowering than “more than ever before, this is the time of opportunity!” Of course, if you consider the greater scheme of business over centuries, you see more patterns than exceptions. There was the railroad craze, the tulip craze, the radio craze, the internet craze – and the culprits, the Carpe Diem executives that put it all on the line.
“Business Narcissism” is rampant. It is the leader’s default thinking that they are the exception to the rule. “Business Narcissism” is the tendency of all leaders and teams, across industries, to think that they are always encountering a special case.
The real unique opportunity is for leaders to internalize a grounding realization: not much is new and
yes, you can adequately learn from the past. Saying “this is the time of opportunity” is narcissistic. Instead, take some perspective. Today never feels like it will be history, but it will. And more likely than not, we will look back and realize that we should have known.
During World War II, the UK was facing not only a suffering economy but also a daily pounding of heavy explosives from the enemy. In an attempt to quell the public anxiety, the British government posted signs around the city with the sage advice, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Perhaps another reason to carry on is that, like all previous calamities, this too shall pass. And, if we keep calm, we may actually look back and gain confidence from the proof that history provides us. Leaders today may want to hunker down and send a similar message.