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Serendipity is Just Around the Corner!

July 29, 2020

Brian Wolff

It has been 11 agonizing weeks since the country went into full lockdown, and while we certainly see signs of positive change, it’s clear we’re going to be operating in the “Next Normal” for some time. Therefore, I would like to share some inspirational reading that I’ve been doing, sprinkled with a healthy dose of my own interpretation to stay upbeat about our collective futures and keep going. Let’s start with Socrates. 


“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” I’m pretty sure the old way of doing things in parking, and in many daily activities, is gone forever, or clearly not worth fighting for. In fact, what I said last month about “the reset button” is already coming to pass. We have a huge opportunity to get onboard and participate in the meaningful digital transformation that is sweeping our industry. 


Kudos to all those manufacturers and software companies racing to make it possible to transact without touching anything or providing solutions that help our parking customers get into and out of parking facilities safely. Socrates had it right to focus all of our energy on the new and making change possible, without regard to running the business the way we did yesterday. For sure, that will present challenges for those who had their businesses humming along efficiently and effectively. 


The truth is that our parking world was already changing quickly, and COVID-19 doused gasoline on the fire, or more accurately, has whipped up the winds of change the way wind accelerates a wildfire. The relative calm of “business as usual” was utterly shattered by this crisis and now it’s time to consider this to be the best thing that ever happened. Starting with my next quote. 


I’m reading a book, or more accurately, listening to a book entitled Anti-Fragile: Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Nassim has some very interesting thoughts, some very strong opinions and an overwhelmingly positive outlook on the virtue and benefits of disruptions to our normal routines. I offer up a quote from him and encourage you to consider reading this, or one of his other books: Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, The Bed of Procrustes or Skin in the Game. 


“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”


I was forced to read it a couple of times to fully grasp what he was saying, but he’s talking about the value of creating systems that not only thrive on volatility and shocks, but they embrace uncertainty and get better. I have already heard stories from several parking organizations that have used the opportunity presented by the crisis to get better – they are creating antifragile organizations. 


The other reason I mention Nassim’s book as inspiring is because he is not just talking about antifragility as it relates to business; he covers the spectrum from mother nature’s tremendous antifragility, to personal health, to global politics. His perspective has given me a new way to look at the world and new ways to challenge my thinking in a world that is currently upside down. Mr. Taleb rails routinely on the notion and folly of trying to predict the future and on the danger of creating organizations that are large, efficient and singularly focused, making them vulnerable to disruptions like the one we are currently managing. 


And so, I’ll close the chapter on antifragility with a final quote to transition us from antifragility to one of my own guiding principles: “for Mother Nature, opinions and prediction don’t count; surviving is what matters.”


 


This guiding principle is a Wolff original, but first, a backstory. When I was in college, I took a summer job cleaning a 54’ Bertram (a large power boat) for a very successful local businessman. For those fond of the movie “The Graduate,” Merlin Hanson took the advice of Mr. Mcguire and built a tremendous business empire on one word…”plastics.” But I digress. I got the job through a high school friend, who’s father was the President of Merlin’s holding company. 


Dan Bernson shared something that still resonates with me some 35 years later. He said “Brian, businesses go through three phases during any typical 10 year business cycle: 3 years you make money fist over fist, 3 years you hold on for dear life and the other 4 years you do OK.” It’s not hard to figure out which one of the three phases we’re in now, and this is where my “Wolffism” applies. 


I have always marveled at how some companies can be left for dead one day and then literally sitting on top of the world the next. To me, that embodies the phrase that we all must “survive long enough to let serendipity happen.” I believe with my whole heart that serendipity is just around the corner for my company. I believe that our leaders have done all they can to ensure survival, giving rise to serendipity. I share these thoughts to underscore that there is no shame in struggling; it is simply part of the natural rhythm of life and the natural business cycle. 


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, parking people are some of the most resourceful and savvy businesspeople I have ever met. There is no doubt in my mind that this industry will survive and get better, by focusing all of our energy on the future, finding ways to build not just resilient businesses, but antifragile businesses and embrace that the struggle is only the prelude to serendipity. Now is the time to show us your stuff!



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