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The Hard Time Is the Right Time – Retooling Our Future

| Wednesday February 11th, 2009 | 3 Comments

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I admit it. I love to live life in a way that there is no middle ground. It’s about going to the edge to see what’s on the other side. Along the way, you either thrive or fall flat on your face. I’ve done both, and surprisingly, they both provide a spiritual gift in a way that suggests the only wrong answer is to play it safe. What I’ve come to realize, is that there is an abundance of possibility that remains untapped. We live in a place of desperation (usually caused by negative visioning) versus inspiration. We also tend to keep the bar low so that we can ensure our success. That said, I do not anticipate every brand understanding how there could be opportunity in today’s marketplace, but the authentic and relevant ones who speak about courage, vision and leadership will get it. They understand that right now is a WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY. Why? It’s simple…the hard time is the right time.
I’ll tell you a little secret. The core thing that makes NIKE such a resonant and relevant entity to so many evangelists is that the brand has a dynamic cultural ethos. They’re brilliant at adapting and evolving. In fact, during my almost sixteen years at NIKE, we often would joke that the only constant is change. Life at the Swoosh is never static. And when times get tough, NIKE rallies like no other. Why? Because they have an amazing antenna for the emerging future and so when things become turbulent, they don’t see trouble, they see OPPORTUNITY.


Couple our current market malaise with the high infant mortality rate of most brands and ask yourself the following: If someone told you that you have 10 years to live, wouldn’t you want to think different, act different, perhaps be a little smarter, bolder, and more courageous? Is it not true that safe is indeed risky as Seth Godin suggests? So I am bewildered as to why so many brands are using this OPPORTUNITY (market collapse) to retreat versus retool. When the sun rises again do you really think it will be the same as it ever was? The thinking and principles that were in play prior to our current collapse will surely not be the same beliefs that shape tomorrow. Forgive my candor, but God help any brand that thinks it can simply cocoon and wait the storm out. The leaders will be the ones who had the courage, vision and fortitude to create anew, sense the emerging future and use this collapse not as a signal to fall back, but as an OPPORTUNITY to ignite a new revolution of thought.
A couple things to consider:

  • Tiger Woods has been the most dominant golfer in the world for years and he retooled his golf game not once, but TWICE! He risked his career because he sensed the game was changing and thus he believed that the same swing that got him to one plateau would not be enough to ascend to the next plateau.
  • Look at the built environment. There is a cultural shift happening in green building ideology and thinking that is beginning to dominate our landscape. Over 30,000 folks attended GreenBuild this past October. At the recent International Builder Show in Vegas, green building was heralded as the savior for the residential market. During a time when the residential market is plummeting, the green building market is climbing. The leaders are looking to reframe how we hold a home. For example, they are not looking to create homes that use less energy, but rather homes that create more energy than they use. It’s just a start, but at least there is the realization that tomorrow is going to look a heck of a lot different than yesterday or today and thus the answer is not to retreat but rather to retool.

My premise is simple – the hard time is the right time. Possibility could be infinite and abundant if we would simply shift the lens and commit energy and wisdom around what could be versus what is. Work in the future today – it is what will make you relevant. Prototype. Be courageous. Be willing to make glorious mistakes. Adapt & Evolve. Most importantly, don’t retreat…RETOOL!
Duke Stump has worked as a brand builder for more than 20 years, most recently for Seventh Generation and Nike. He is now principal and chief architect of the NorthStar Manifesto, a brand-consulting studio.


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  • http://www.SRBMarketing.com Green Marketing

    Great post, and I agree with at least one caveat — each situation is different and must be assessed. Having said that, why not 5 years or less to live (instead of 10)?! I actually try hard to think in term of 6-12 month time frames, even though I’m not always successful at that…

  • Ben

    While the idea of retooling, not retreating is commendable, many corporations must answer to stockholders who demand a return on investment. This philosophy may be incongruous to corporate America in global economy, particularly in a recession as bad as this one.

  • Ravi Soparkar

    Good and logical thought. Indeed the global recession is an opportunity to explore abundance of user friendly and sustainable technologies for benefit of everyone. Ravi Soparkar, Pune, India