As we step outside the box in 2020, entering 2021, I wish I could say that it seemed like the year "zoomed" by, or did it. I guess it depends on how we looked at it. This was a year a blog post can never explain, a book would be a good start, and a trilogy of movies maybe begin to explain some of it.
Unfortunately, a year like 2020, no matter how we look at it, it was something this world was due to have happened. We have seen times like this throughout the Bible time and time again. As ugly and grim as the results end up being, there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel, hopefully showing us the reason. To find, identify, and take the good, we must first break down the events.
I will never forget where I was when the death spiral began. At the circus (what parody) for the kid's spring break, it was March 12th when we got the notice school was pushed back. The next day was a Friday the 13th, and for the next 14 - 20 days, we all saw a sequence of events and emotions I'm not sure we will ever experience again.
The mood of the entire world flipped to a state of panic within days. The panic buying was on, and we were officially known as a "pandemic". My first instinct was to stay calm because I knew that this whole situation was beyond my or, much less, anyone's control. I knew that to be a leader of any kind, the most important thing was not to panic as that can domino and show weakness amongst your team. We had a few situations to focus on: keeping everyone safe, keeping the supply chain moving, and most importantly, keeping all my employees working.
I knew that if there was one thing sure in the path to survival in all this, it was that there was no manual. Therefore there was no right or wrong way to stuff. It was new to all of us. The sense of urgency stopped in the world immediately, almost as if we went back 20 years. I saw people caring about the little things in life again. Our world that so desperately needed a slowdown, and we got it.
What are the top lessons I took away from 2020?
1. Stay calm - As explained above, to maintain a clear mind and focus, you must realize times like these are out of your control. If we do not remain calm, it will only alter our ability to navigate the ship.
2. Be creative - Creativity and diversity will always give you more chances and opportunities to thrive and succeed. If you do not think or attempt to go outside the box, you risk being trapped when situations like 2020 happen. How do you know something will work if you do not try it. Do not be afraid to fail.
3. Don't focus on profitability- It is a harsh statement to swallow, but just like in life, we will not always win in everything we do. Sometimes just surviving is winning and just as important as profitability in times like these. Just like the common golf analogy, "it's not how good your good shots are, but how good your bad ones are". In a situation like 2020, those focused on turning profit instead of producing a pivot and navigating through the water most likely got ran over.
4. Produce your pivots - I have always said that we should never be satisfied with what we have today because we do not know what tomorrow brings. Always be focused on pivoting. You must know what the identity of your company is. Many produce companies are nothing but logistic companies when you break it down. This is a considerable asset, though, because it is a service. I tend always to have about three years of planned notes of where I want our brand to be, and this year I am lucky I did because I had the blueprints in place to pivot when needed. Our direct to consumer model was an example of this. When it needed to be turned on, I had the plan in place. The best pivots involve using your current infrastructure to leverage into a new revenue source without adding overhead. The cold storage piece was an example of this years ago, a well-placed pivot, especially during the pandemic.
5. We are all in this together - In times like this, our enemies and our allies should all be working in unison because our industry is being attacked. Use your network because you never know who you need to lean on for help or advice. The USDA box deal was a great example this year in which the lobbyists in our industry failed us, but those of us who banded together acted as a voice for an industry.
6. Trust no one - While this statement seems to go against the above, they are not related. You can be transparent, open, and work with anyone as long as everyone is in it for the same reasons. Unfortunately, it would help if you remembered not all of us think the same way. There is a reason that greed is one of the seven deadly sins, so, therefore, you never know who may try to stab you in the back for their own gain in times of desperation. Always be cautious in who you trust, either friend or foe, because you will know who your real allies are in times like this.
7. Branding is everything - Nothing can be more apparent than the power of your brand at a time like this. How many times do we find ourselves buying something because it has a particular brand on it? When you are branded, it makes pivots easier. Was Tiger Woods or Micheal Jordan athletes, or brands? I would say they were brands. Focus on building your brand, not your company.
Lastly, what did I take away from all this?
I am more content as a person than ever. While my wife is maybe going nuts because we are boxed in, we all got a gift back of time together. We did things this year and many that I know of, which we would have never done. As I look through pictures of the last nine months, I realize it was maybe one of the best years of my life. I would gladly retake this reset to know what's essential in life. I learned how to farm, I fished for the first time in years, and I did things that were more essential to what life is about. I went camping and even learned how to change a sewer hose, yes, a significant accomplishment. We took a lot of bike rides, walks, and played lots of golf. Yes, I worked a lot, but we spent all this time together, which will never be forgotten. I was able to rekindle and find pieces of me and relationships that were lost. The one clock in life we can not stop is time, and this pandemic gave us a chance to slow it down.
I'm grateful for my family; I'm thankful for my team of employees who, without them who knows where we would be as a business. I'm thankful for my customers and vendors who have shown and understood the value of partnerships in times like these. Lastly, I'm thankful for optimism to know that things can always be worse and embrace the good in life as we do not know what tomorrow brings. This year I plan to work less, but smarter. If the blog goes slow or the podcast seems dead it just maybe because I am focusing on more important things. Good luck to everyone in 2021. May you stay safe, think outside the box, and be prosperous.