A lot of the time, you aren't actually in the business that you think you are.
There is Seth Godin's famous analogy of how many railroad companies got into the airline business.
Precisely none. They made the mistake of thinking they were in the "trains and track" business rather than the transport business. Because the captains of the railroad industry loved railroads, their focus was on "saving" them rather than transforming them.
But -here's Seth again- we need to get past the idea of "saving".
Publishing -an example chosen completely at random and with absolutely no ulterior motive whatsoever- has to realise it's not in the logistics business. It's not about moving physical product made of dead trees around the country/world to a scant few places where people will, for whatever reason, go out of their way to visit one of these scant destinations and exchange money for some paper. The paper is just the delivery mechanism. We have never actually "paid" for the paper. Even when it comes to hardbacks, we are actually paying for speedy delivery.
Publishing is in the business of delivering content.
And most publishing companies won't realise this in time to save themselves. Some will. Even ones you might think as extremely traditional. The FT now makes 46% of its revenue from digital and services. Not bad for an old man's newspaper biz. They're clearly a railroad company that's taking to the sky.
On a micro level this is happening to you right now. Whatever business you're in, you are facing your own railroad challenge.
Because we are all in the apocalypse business now.
What apocalypse business looks like
- Apocalypse business exists in a world economy undergoing a jobless recovery. Except without the recovery.
- Apocalypse business exists in a world where the banks that you and I bailed out were actually short selling the bundled financial products they created themselves even as they were bringing down their own institutions. Let me say that again. They made money selling these debt bundles, they made money shorting the debt bundles when they turned toxic, and then they asked for a handout because they lost money on the toxic debt bundles.
- Apocalypse business exists in a world of extreme and growing inequality between the super rich and the rest of us. It's a world where low wages get lower while salaries for the top of the FTSE 100 increase 32% year on year.
- Apocalypse business exists in a world where private sector debt is nationalised and then inflation is ramped to reduce it faster, essentially meaning to taxpayer pays twice. (If inflation goes up, then the debt gets smaller because $14 trillion buys less than it used to, see? Meanwhile that means higher taxes for you and everything getting more expensive.)
- Apocalypse business exists in a world where it makes sense to outsource your work force or reduce their hours or offer worse conditions or impose wage freezes because what are you going to do about it?
- Apocalypse business exists in a world where every single industry is being disrupted by the decline of the Greenback as a world currency, the rise of China, the end of cheap energy and the total dominance of the internet... to say nothing of what mobile is going to do in the next few years.
- Apocalypse business exists in a world in which western cities will lay off more than half their police force because they can't make payroll.
- Apocalypse business exists in a world where the largest global economy is collapsing in on itself while it's leaders go on a five week beach holiday. (Actually Angela is in Austria. She looks like the mountaineering type.)
- Apocalypse business exists in a world where you can no longer rely on the middle class to buy your products because they are unemployed.
So you see, whatever business you are in, the rules have changed. Tertiary education, home ownership, public sector careers... none of it looks like what it used to.
And it's going to get tough. (Well, it is tough, but it's going to get worse.)
Eventually this new economic reality will throw up some amazing opportunities, but it's going to be very "zero sum" for the next little while.
Whilst it's not exactly every man for himself, the politics of staying employed, keeping clients and generally putting food on the table of an evening are going to resemble more and more a genuinely Satanic version of The Apprentice.
Here, then, are a few tips. You can either deploy these strategies as they are listed or -even better- you can use them as a basis for a little magical enhancement and really lean into that apocalypse business curve.
10 apocalypse business hacks
- Make your boss look good. No one likes doing this but he or she is the gatekeeper of your brand. This makes him/her your top priority.
- Know when to fold 'em. Pick your battles and only do things that make you look good. Move somewhere else as soon as possible if you're not adding to your brand. The good thing about apocalypse business is that disrupted workforces are becoming the norm.
- You are not Dr House. Don't assume your tremendous intellect or amazing skills will rocket you to the top. That's not how the game of thrones works. It's why you always find the grumpy people in the IT room and the pleasant people on the private jet.
- Improve yourself without spending. The majority of vocational qualifications aren't worth the money. This doesn't mean you shouldn't constantly be in training. The internet is an amazing place for precisely this.
- Be tolerant of your boss's weaknesses. Your opportunity for a raise or promotion is staring you right in the face here. Build your brand by doing what s/he can't.
- Form alliances outside your team to develop a reputation for company loyalty and to improve your overall visibility. Make sure this doesn't impact you making your boss look good.
- Do one or two things really well and nothing else. You're just risking negative brand exposure otherwise. It will shock you how much stuff you can simply stop doing or palm off if you're not that good at it.
- Be known in your industry. Go to events even if you have to pay for your own ticket, get good at Linkedin and use it regularly.
- Individual style is fine, so long as it's not the product of ignorance. Red tie is fine. Red suit, worn unironically is less so. (Unless it's what D&G are going with for A/W11. Of course, if you're buying D&G suits then you don't need these hacks, do you?)
- Never reveal your game plan to anyone (but always have one). Again, there's only downside here. No way can it help you if everyone knows you really want to settle down and write books in Puglia. If anyone asks, your game plan is to be the best whatever-the-fuck-you-are in the world.
There you have it. A few black hat life hacks for the world of apocalypse business.
See you in the sky, my lovely little trains.