October 10, 2008

It's Not Having What You Want, It's Wanting What You've Got

It’s Not Having What You Want, It’s Wanting What You’ve Got

I’ve always thought that line (the title of this post) was one of Sheryl Crowe’s better lyrics. And there’s nothing like moving houses to bring it to life. We are pretty minimalist to begin with, or at least the size of our apartment had constrained our ability to be anything more. And we cleaned out and threw away a bunch of things before we moved. Now that we’re almost done unpacking, and we have several empty or nearly empty rooms in our much larger house, the lyric resonates.

I’m sure we’ll ultimately fill up those empty rooms, at least a little bit. That’s what everyone says happens when you expand into more space. But for the most part, we don’t NEED to. The furniture, toys, beds, and chairs that worked for us in one place SHOULD work for us in another. Happiness can’t come from forging forward on the volume of earthly possessions. It should really come from contentment when where you are in life. Anything else is icing on the cake.

That’s probably a good metaphor to think about the road ahead in business and the economy. It’s still not clear to me how much this current mess is going affect the general economy and spending across all sectors. Hopefully confidence returns to the financial markets, the credit crisis passes, and there’s not a general deep recession. But as my colleague Anita is so fond of saying, Hope is not a Strategy, so everyone needs to be bracing themselves for the worst right now.

And that means we all need to prepare for Not Having What We Want, but rather Wanting What We’ve Got. Businesses will continue to function and even grow if there’s a recession. But if there’s belt tightening to be done, it means that growth companies will have to shift paradigms a bit. They’ll be investing less in growth and in new things. They’ll be focusing more on profits. There will be less hiring. Promotions and raises and bonuses will be harder to come by (especially on Wall Street!).

None of this means we should stop forging ahead or reduce our ambitions. On the contrary – companies that can figure out how to achieve both growth AND profitability in tough times are the ones that win in the end. But it does mean that we’re in for a long road if we don’t all change our mindset and behaviors to match the times, as growth and profitability together looks quite different from growth at the expense of profitability.

4 responses to “It's Not Having What You Want, It's Wanting What You've Got”

  1. Ed Taussig says:

    Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is for everyone to act logically and in their own best interest. If everyone tightens their belt, it will only lead to a self-fulfilling downward spiral. It may be a paradox, but something to think about as we make individual decisions that together have a macro effect.

  2. That’s true, Ed – definitely – but my point is that there is a way to both act in one’s own self interest AND also not push things into a downward spiral. It just requires thinking differently than we have the last couple years.

  3. I really like this analogy. Really it boils down to putting an emphasis on quality over quantity.