Business Lessons From Hurricane Irma
Former Heavyweight Champ Mike Tyson once famously quipped “Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.” I think South Florida just experienced that when dealing with Hurricane Irma. Just about every business and individual here in SoFla has a “plan” when it comes to dealing with the potential but eventually inevitable tropical storms and hurricanes that seem to love dropping by from time to time to give us a hug. But Irma, bless her heart, tried to keep us guessing, zig-zagging, feinting, winking, and winding her way in an exaggerated loop around the peninsula, eventually giving my region a minor smack, but saving her full force for points further north.
So we had a “plan”, but circumstances changed once we got our first punch in the mouth. Many people in coastal evacuation zones started their northbound trek days in advance. Those of us further inland, though, for whom evacuation was optional and less certain to provide an advantage, found ourselves on the horns of a dilemma. Do we join the caravan on I-95 North and risk massive traffic jams and gas shortages? (Gasoline was already hard to come by almost a full week before Irma’s arrival – a “panic” demand spike exacerbated by a supply shortfall, due to Texas refineries having been shut down in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.) After careful consideration, my family and I decided to wait it out from the relative safety of our steel-hurricane-shuttered, well-inland, post-2002-hurricane-construction-code-built home.
We turned out to be relatively fortunate in the southeastern quadrant of the state – most of us suffered downed power lines, phone lines, cable, or trees. (Many of my friends and clients are still without power as of this writing, days later.) But for the most part, the damage nearby should be mostly fixed within days. Many others, though, despite their best intentions and well laid disaster preparation plans, fared far worse, with flooding and property damage that will total in the millions of dollars, not to mention the loss of life caused by the storm.
The lessons from this that we can apply to business? It breaks down to a few things:
- Have A Plan To Deal With Likely Threats – The week before it became clear that Irma would hit our region, I mentioned this at a speaking engagement. Harvey, I said, should be a wake-up call. Don’t just look at the scenes of devastation in Houston, I said, and simply say “tsk tsk”. Use this as motivation to make your own plan. Little did I know at the time how soon that would come into play. This doesn’t just apply to natural disasters, by the way – you should be making plans for ANY credible threat to your business. Don’t imagine for a second that you have to come up with any of that stuff on the fly. Figure it out now, while you have the luxury of time and calm.
- Have A Plan “B”, Too – Irma showed us that “Plan A” doesn’t always work, or that changing circumstances can make things implausible or ineffective. If something is a big enough threat to your livelihood, consider preparing a fallback option too.
- Execution Is Everything – To talk out of the other side of my mouth now: Plans are worthless. Completely worthless. (Pause.) Worthless, that is, without the ability to execute. (Whew!) So, for example, if you have the evacuation route planned out and you have lined up a place to stay, that’s great. If you can’t get enough gas to make the trip, though, the plan will no longer be an effective one. Be prepared to execute what you plan.
- Be Persistent and Resilient – In business, as in life, things don’t always work out as planned. You’re going to take a hit that you anticipated being able to avoid. . . that could be a flooded first floor of your house, an AC unit blown away, or something as mundane as a lost client or unanticipated business expense. It is easy to get demoralized. But as the heroes and first responders both in Houston and throughout Florida showed us, the resilience of the human spirit can overcome long odds. Positive mental attitude and toughness are essential ingredients to success, whether things are going well or seem to be going horribly wrong.
I’m rather pleased with how my household planned for Irma, and with how we executed our plan. (I’m going to give us a B+.) But there’s room to improve – for instance, we had two “accordion-style” hurricane shutters that didn’t lock properly, so I was supplementing the mechanisms with zip ties and duct tape at the last minute. They probably would have held up just fine, but I don’t plan on finding out. Getting back on a scheduled maintenance plan for those things will be an added expense and a huge pain in the neck for a born procrastinator like me, but it may make the difference if the next storm decides to give us her full force. Do the same – whether we are talking making storm preparations or preparing your business for the metaphorical storms to come.
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So, whether you live in Florida, Georgia, Texas, or places further afield: Be safe, be strong, be resilient, and as always. . .