NOTE: This article is mostly about complacency and the importance of avoiding it. Whilst writing this, I realised that I had written something similar on LinkedIn in April of this year which you can read here:
Anyway, here are my thoughts this week.
I dealt with an organisation recently whose customer service was quite poor. This is a relatively large and financially secure company. They aren’t desperate for new business. As a result of their nature and market share, they have a steady stream of basically guaranteed income year-on-year. Whilst I am sure they would have welcomed my business, they didn’t need it and as a result they didn’t give me the impression that they really cared for it. I felt like I was an irritant to the staff I dealt with, rather than a potential source of revenue.
To me this said a lot about their culture. It got me thinking about how some people and organisations can develop a culture of comfort once they reach financial security. Normally it takes a long period of time for a company to reach this level and most companies must experience a period of struggle and desperation before they get there. However, once they’ve existed in it for a while, complacency sets in. The people in the company pre-date the struggle, they joined a successful company who seem like they’re on top of the world and have no reason to push higher. They’re secure. Each day is routine. There are no new challenges or difficulties to face. They’re comfortable. The desire to improve is no longer there. Things will surely always be this good and there is nothing to worry about.
They exist in a bubble. It’s nice. Things outside the bubble are not a concern. They are safe here. They are comfortable.
Trust me, there are few bigger inhibitors of progress than comfort. There are few bigger catalysts for growth than desperation and struggle.
I feel like the following may be the most over-used combination of words in the English langue at this point but, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything. For me personally, working in an industry that was and continues to be deeply impacted, it has changed my perspective on business entirely. I’ve felt comfortable in the past, but I reached a point of desperation in the Spring of last year when I really didn’t think my job was going to exist by the end of 2020. I felt desperate and I have not allowed myself to feel comfortable since. I hope I never do again. I take nothing for granted anymore.
A memory that will stick with me forever is looking at a real-time map (link below for those interested) of the skies over Europe on FlightRadar in early April 2020. On an average day, pre-Covid, the skies would be wedged with aircraft, you would have to zoom in close on the screen in order to locate a particular flight. Today however the skies were empty save for a handful of cargo flights. There were simply no planes flying. These billions of euros worth of assets were sitting on the ground with the companies who owned them haemorrhaging money as a result. This was it. Doomsday. The apocalypse of modern day commercial aviation had come. The bubble had burst without warning. I feared for my future and I felt desperate.
Thankfully (this time) the absolute worst did not happen but this time in my life taught me that nothing, no company, no organisation or person is too big or too successful to fall into oblivion. No bubble cannot burst unexpectedly. Had the initial phase of the pandemic gone slightly differently, had the disease proved more deadly or had the road to the vaccine been longer, we could have seen the collapse of some of the key pillars of the aviation industry. Without government intervention in many cases, we would have seen the entire industry fall in on itself.
There are still those who perhaps weren’t affected at all financially by the pandemic who don’t yet appreciate this. They don’t know what it’s like to face up to Doomsday. They don’t know that feeling of wondering where the source of their next income is going to be or if it is going to come at all. They don’t consider failure or suffering as a possibility, not because they’re super-confident in their ability, but because they’ve never had to. They work for a company who are existing in the comfort zone. They’ve lived their professional lives in a safe and secure bubble. They’ve never had exposure to the reality of struggle. They don’t know what it is like to feel desperate. They are comfortable. And they’re underperforming as a result.
No bubble lasts forever. No comfort zone is indefinite. Sooner or later you will be challenged by something or someone. When that time comes you may regret the years you spent going through the motions in your bubble, being comfortable instead of relentlessly chasing down new opportunities and growing each day — being desperate for more.
Quite often those who perform to the highest standard are those who have been desperate at some point in their lives. They’ve lived in fear. They’ve had that feeling of knowing that tomorrow is not guaranteed and have used that to drive them on to achieve great things. There’s no security net in the minds of these people. There is no comfort in what they do. There is no bubble. Things will never “just work out”. They need to ensure that they do. They need this sale to go through, they need this customer to come back.
Get desperate and stay desperate, even when you’re out of the woods. Tomorrow is never guaranteed.
Never get comfortable. And fuck bubbles.