Adversity as Advantage

by T Taylor

Our “business” is such a big part of our lives. For many people, what we do defines us. And what we believe rules us.

We don’t have a separate life where we disconnect from work. I see this especially true with visionary leaders. What we do, how we do it, and why we do it is interwoven into the fabric of our very existence.

I recently heard an analogy where your brand is like the outside of your house, and your culture is the inside. In that example, what your neighbor says about your brand and culture at the backyard barbeque is probably more real than what you’d say in your corporate communications.

Saying, for instance, that your business all about “exceptional customer service,” or, “the leader in innovation,” is really just a waste of time.

Why? It’s not what people really say or believe about you. The words are way too broad. They are not real, different or unique, have no stickiness and certainly aren’t memorable.

If your culture and brand are really other’s perceptions of you—It’s important to be intentional about aligning them. When your passion and purpose marry authenticity and reality, you’ve got something to talk about.

The best things we’ve ever done in business were born from adversity.

People take notice when times are tough. And when there’s a crisis, you really have people’s attention. This is where brands—and more importantly, character—can be born.

We had a great client for about five years. One day they called and told us that they couldn’t pay us their invoice. It was $65,000 and most of it was media we had already paid for. They were very solemn, contrite and in the midst of a financial crisis. My partner at the time was furious, and reminded me that we also needed the money. After the call he told me we should demand payment.

I thought about it.

Then I remembered a time, years earlier, where we were in a similar crisis at another company.
All looked lost, and everyone was angry and upset. We stood to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. My entire team came together as one, went against the grain and rallied to turn the situation around. It was a risky, radical move—and it required personal sacrifice—but it eventually prevailed and averted a major disaster.

What we learned was more valuable than what we accomplished.

My boss later pulled me aside and said, “T, when there are problems, good managers can solve them. But when there’s a crisis—that’s where leaders are made.”

I called the client back and said that we would forgive them the debt. They actually cried on the phone. I don’t know why I said it, but I felt my heart rise inside me like you would get when you hear a moving song. Something important happened.

A year later they sent us a check for $65,000 when we desperately needed it.

They stayed on as our best client for another 10 years and we did great exploits together.
One day I even overheard them telling a neighbor of mine who we really were as a business.
Funny how that works.

“Last night I lost the world, and gained the universe.”
—C. JoyBell C.