Fog Builds in Front and Recedes Behind
Early in the year is always a great time to reflect on past successes (and failures) and look ahead to a year that stretches out seemingly as far as the eye can see. The other day, as I was scheduling my leadership team meetings for the entire year, I found myself pondering what this world, the company and our industry might look like at the end of 2023. It’s hard to predict and imagine where we’ll be in 11 months, and yet, when we get there, we’ll inevitably say “Wow, this year went fast!”
That reminded me of a phrase I remember a colleague uttering about the future. He said,
“fog builds in front of you, but recedes behind.” In other words, it’s hard to see far into the future, but the path to how you got where you are becomes ever clearer with the benefit of hindsight.
How do we handle this conundrum of knowing what to do with fog in the headlights, but knowing that time is fleeting? For me, I think it comes down to guiding principles or words to live by every day.
Three principles came to mind as I was pondering how best to cope with succeeding in the unknown future, knowing the sand is draining quickly in the hourglass. 1) Do hard things well. 2) Climb to the top of the power curve. 3) Survive long enough to allow serendipity to happen.
#1: Do Hard Things Well
We’ve all heard the phrase “if it were easy, everyone would do it.” Nothing separates winners from losers more quickly than doing hard things well. My leaders and I talk all the time about the virtue and value of doing things that are difficult. In fact, I believe it’s my job to motivate and inspire my kids and my teammates to do hard things well. Why? Because it’s lonely where hard work exists and it’s hard to replicate paths that were difficult to traverse.
I’m sure you’ve all seen this firsthand. A new employee shows up on their first day but doesn’t come back on day two or ten because parking cars is hard work. The proverbial road is littered with individuals and companies that thought they were going to waltz in and take over parking because “how hard could it be?”
#2: Climb to the Top of the Power Curve
To do hard things, it’s also important to “climb to the top of the power curve.” As a pilot, I was fortunate to learn from the owner of a company who had logged more than 10,000 hours of flight time. He always preached the importance of configuring the airplane for take-off to climb with a healthy margin of airspeed and RPMs.
How does that apply? To me, it means you have to have spare capacity, or margin, on multiple fronts.
Your people must be working inside their own power curve. In other words, they must have bandwidth to spare when delivering their work. Without spare capacity, they’ll crash and burn, like a plane flying close to stall speed.
You’re all familiar with the phrase “saving for a rainy day.” In business and in life, rain will come and it’s our responsibility to operate our finances with the capacity to weather a storm. Weathering a financial storm means operating at the top of the power curve with enough margin and capacity to recover if something goes wrong. Sometimes operating at the top of the power curve means we must decrease the rate of climb in order to increase our speed. In flight, airspeed buys time and time provides better choices when descending is the only option.
#3: Survive Long Enough for Serendipity to Happen
Which leads me to my third principle – surviving long enough to allow serendipity to happen. I’ve lost count of the number of successful entrepreneurs whose companies came within a whisker of failure. Of course, in the receding fog of hindsight they’ll tell stories of how they were within days or weeks of missing payroll when their defining opportunity stepped through the fog to set them on the path of legendary success. There is no shame in merely surviving for a period of time. The shame is in not being able to survive long enough to allow serendipity to happen.
I don’t have to tell this crowd of readers what it is to make hard choices in the name of survival. You’re all living proof that tough times don’t last, but tough people do. The fog of the pandemic is (mostly) in our rearview mirror and you should be congratulated for doing all it took to ensure the survival of your companies. I might go so far as to say, because you survived, you’ve set yourself up for serendipitous success – congratulations!
And so, in closing, I’ll say that I hope you join me in looking forward to whatever 2023 brings. I know if we keep our noses to the grindstone, doing hard things well, operating with margin to spare, and ensuring survival through lean times, we’ll all bask in the after glow of the receding fog of success!