Go with the Flow or Swim Against the Tide?


Secrets to Navigating Business Currents

Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time on beautiful Kiawah Island, South Carolina. As I was walking on the beach one morning I got to thinking about riptides and currents, and how they impact our businesses.

Are You Taking it Easy?

The expression “go with the flow” alludes to riding the prevailing currents, conjuring images of floating peacefully down a lazy river on an inner tube, enjoying the scenery on a hot summer day.

While that might be relaxing, it’s hardly a proactive position for a business!

When you’re just along for the ride, you might get lucky and pick up some added momentum in your business. If the industry or economic currents are flowing the way you want to go, they can help your business along. But there is also risk involved in this laid back approach.

Are you leaving your business success up to the whims of the tides?

There are times when we want to coast, recharging our teams and ourselves after a big push to launch a product, win new business, or deal with other issues.

That respite shouldn’t last long.

Allowing your business to go with the flow on a regular basis can be dangerous. You may also stall, getting stuck in an eddy as you float aimlessly along, losing market traction to more assertive competitors.

Fighting the Riptide

Sometimes business currents work against us. Riptides are an especially dangerous type of current that can sweep you out to sea when you desperately want to reach shore. Often and tragically, swimmers who don’t know how to deal with a riptide drown from exhaustion as they fight against the powerful current.

While rarely life-threatening for businesses, fighting against the tide can be just as difficult. Like a swimmer unexpectedly caught  in a current they can’t control, your business can flounder when you get caught up in currents you did not anticipate. As a business leader, you need to quickly distinguish between a current that creates a positive flow and riptides that can sink you.

Beneficial currents include things like technology changes that align with your new product strategy or changing attitudes that make your offerings more appealing to customers. These are the kinds of things astute executives watch for and capitalize on,  jumping in ahead of competitors to take advantage of the turning tide.

In contrast, riptides include things like a turbulent economy, rapid innovation in your industry that your company has difficulty adopting, or social media backlash resulting from poor judgement or unwelcome announcements. Frequently, swimmers caught in a riptide of give in to the instinct to swim against the current, fighting as hard as possible to break free.

Many executives also fight against the current, attempting to hang on to the status quo or sticking to strategies that no longer suit the market environment. When facing a riptide, the right thing to do is to move with the current, easing your way toward the safety of shore.

For business leaders, this means first accepting the gravity of the situation you’re in, and then adapting to address it. Instead of taking an indignant stand, adjust your strategic trajectory. Keep an eye on your goal and work with the current to get you there.

You won’t end up exactly where you wanted to be when you started, but you’ll be safe and your business will be back on solid ground.

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