From an Expansion Mindset to a Contraction Mindset

Today I was reflecting on all my conversations with entrepreneurs over the last three weeks. What entrepreneurs are talking about has changed drastically. And this makes perfect sense given the pandemic. But beyond the obvious, I believe the change reflects a shift in entrepreneurs’ mindsets.

The economy has been mostly expanding for the last decade or so. Until March, there didn’t appear to be anything that would prevent 2020 from being another growth year. Most entrepreneurs were focused solely on growth. They planned to raise capital, hire people, and execute on growth-focused initiatives. The metrics they measured and discussed were usually growth-oriented.

The pandemic is a clear and present danger and has brought some businesses to a standstill. It’s now clear that 2020 will not be a year of growth for most, and for many it will be a year of deep contraction. Most entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with are trying to gauge how much business they’ll lose and figure out how to reduce the size of their team and their expenses while maintaining positive cash flow. The metrics that are now being measured and discussed focus on efficiency.

In my opinion, during economic expansions most entrepreneurs accept a certain level of inefficiency in the name of growth. They’re trying to move as much water as possible from point A to point B. They know water is slopping out of the buckets because they’re moving fast, but as long as more water is pouring into the tanks at point A, it doesn’t matter. But during economic contractions, the same entrepreneurs embrace efficiency. The water source dries up, so they put lids on the buckets and carry them slowly to make the most of the water they have.

Having experienced growth mode at CCAW, I recognize that it’s very difficult to get a team to focus on growth and efficiency simultaneously. When you’re growing, you live by the done-is-better-than-perfect mindset. There are more things to do than there are people to do them. Your people will become frustrated if they’re told, “Move fast! Get it done! Oh, and do everything perfectly. No waste or mistakes!”

Without a doubt, there will be pain in the short term for many entrepreneurs. However, I strongly believe that the lessons we learn during this period will help our companies endure.