How to turn adversity to advantage
What would you say and do if the roof collapsed on your businesses, literally. I’m pretty sure mahalo wouldn’t be one of the first words to come out of your mouth. I ask this question because during a recent trip to Hawaii I learned of a fascinating and inspiring story of entrepreneurial resilience.
On September 11th 1992 Paradise Sportswear a small mom and pop T-shirt business on the Hawaiian island of Kauai was dealt a seemingly devastating blow. Hurricane Iniki a category 5 storm overtook the island of Kauai destroying almost everything in its path. That destruction included the Paradise Sportswear warehouse and printing facility as well as its inventory. After the storm the owners arrived at their building to find the roof caved in and the entire facility flooded with Kauai red clay and water. For those not familiar with the red clay of Kauai imagine for a moment your home town being built on a bed of permanent ink. The Kauaian clay is actually red volcanic soil and it is everywhere on the island. The clay is infamous for staining anything and everything it touches. This is the reason Kauaians always remove their shoes before entering their homes.
Knowing the powerful staining property of the clay, the business owner thought all was lost. With bankruptcy looming out of desperation he decided to try to clean the inventory on the outside chance that he may be able to remove some of the clay from the fabric and salvage part of his inventory. The repeated attempts to salvage the many cases of stained white t-shirts failed miserably and it appeared bankruptcy was unavoidable.
When his efforts turned fruitless, he decided to attempt to use the red clay to finish the job… completely dying the shirts a consistent color. Despite his wife and business partner advising against it he felt there was literally nothing to lose. The shirts were dyed in washing machines filled with red clay and he named them dirt shirts. One of the most amazing aspects of this, innovention, (1 part invention+1 part innovation) was that the chemical properties of the red clay when laundered made the cotton t-shirts velvety soft and smooth.
A day later, he sold the shirts from a booth in Poipu Beach and the product was met with a great response. The locals bought up his entire inventory on the first day! The owner turned innovator had to return to his facility to produce more overnight. Born of a disaster from that day forward the concept of The Red Dirt Shirt took on a life of its own and has since become the single most desired tourist souvenir from the island.
I heard about this tremendous success story from a local executive during my recent trip to Hawaii. Paradise Sportswear’s discovery led me to thinking about how we approach business problems and other collapses in our lives.
Col-lapse: (kuh–laps) verb, To fall or cave in; crumble suddenly. The roof collapsed and buried the equipment.
One of the World English Dictionary definitions of collapse is to break down or fall down from lack of strength. Collapses in business can take a variety of forms: financial, physical and emotional to name a few. These each pose unique problems and we can become blinded by our problems which channels our focus in a negative direction. Negative thought patterns often become self-fulfilling and the resulting tailspin is difficult to self-correct your way out of. Look no further than the recent collapse of several major brands: Circuit City Oldsmobile and Borders come to mind. As sales fell they lost touch with what exactly their customers what they wanted why they were loyal and then did not innovate to adjust to the current market. They just simply couldn’t get out of their own way.
While a physical collapse is not what led to the demise of these brands they did suffer from an inability or unwillingness to change and evolve in times of trouble and uncertainty. The takeaway here is that in order to maintain forward progress you need to be able to separate collapses such as a roof, a business concept product or a system within your business from your actual self. If business professionals learned to handle defeat the way elite athletes do improved results would come quicker and with more consistency. Which in this economy is what we are all seeking isn’t it?
Your ability to maintain forward progress and positive mindset will increase dramatically by embracing these two concepts:
- Detachment. Know the difference between an outcome and an identity. Your identity is not defined by the outcome of an event. Your identity is the sum total of who you are your unique talents core values and outlook on life. For the athlete a loss is merely an event that took place on one day. It does not label them a loser. The loss is viewed as feedback received and in turn corrections are made for the future. That loss is then put out of mind. The event (loss) did not define them they defined the event. Failure is merely feedback and used correctly feedback becomes the breakfast of champions.
- Belief. Maintain the belief that problems are solutions in disguise. Often within our greatest challenges lie our greatest opportunities. Underdog teams understand this concept better than anyone. They are often the only people in the arena who believe they can win and that is just fine with them. They are also smart enough to know their viewpoint on performance is the only one that matters. A team’s belief is essentially shared faith and confidence. Time and time again we see belief trump talent and size in every arena. Why? Because belief allows you to compete without fear. There is no pressure when you have belief. This allows you to stay focused in the moment and be in the zone. You hear the term, playing loose, used a lot in sports. By having belief you can play loose in the sport of business which will help you uncover opportunities not visible to many. The owner of Paradise sportswear found a way to play loose and create opportunity.
The word crisis in Chinese means death and rebirth. Through crisis what began as just another sportswear business died and a brand synonymous with Kauai was reborn. Advantage is born of adversity for all of us. His advantage was developed with zero financial capital rather intellectual capital was the funding source. Yours can be too.
- What would you have done in their situation? Simply call the insurance adjuster or call upon your grey matter and imagination. How will your business be reborn in times of crisis?
- What is your ?Red Dirt Shirt?? Examine a current business issue you are dealing with. Like the red clay was to Paradise Sportswear” can the problem itself somehow be the very solution for you?
- What is the number one way you can turn adversity to advantage in your industry?
BRU TIP – Define the events in your life. Do not let the events define you.