Out of the Crisis: Introduction
This is a series of podcast conversations with people who are helping to lead the way out of our current crisis. Each of them is working from a different angle to bring together and support the industries and individuals using innovation, expertise, and sheer force of will to tackle the challenges we face.
Despair is not an option right now. There is a future. There’s an opportunity to act decisively, to mitigate damage, and to lay the foundation for a prosperous, more equitable future. But it’s not going to happen on its own. We have to find courage, examples, and inspiration to take action. I hope you’ll find all of that in this podcast.
- Eric Ries @ericries
Producer: Ben Ehrlich
Editor: Jacob Tender
The original audio can be found on Breaker, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.
This is Out of the Crisis. I’m Eric Ries.
I’m an entrepreneur. I’m an author of books like the lean startup and the startup way. I’m the founder and CEO of the Long-Term Stock Exchange. And I have worked with hundreds, maybe thousands of companies, as an advisor as an investor, helping them adopt Lean principles become more customer centric, more sustainable, more long term. And I think my number one obligation in these times has been to look after the well being of the people that work for me. They’re right up there with my family, as people I think about care about as the crisis first unfolded, my my immediate concern was to make sure that every person that worked for me understood the need to put people first and it wasn’t actually as easy as I thought. You can’t just say that one time, people are so used to working on their normal business priorities. When something like this happens, we have the force of habit that we’re working against. So it was a good learning for me about how difficult and important it is to communicate things like that. And then once we made sure that our people were safe, then we could expand the circle of empathy to their families, to our contractors, to our suppliers, to the communities that we operate in. And that work, of being of service of redefining our priorities of clarifying our values. That has prompted an amazing surge of individual acts of leadership and kindness. And I think it’s made the companies that I work with stronger. I’ve been forced into the middle of a number of conversations about what organizations should do to respond to this crisis. I found many of the conversations that I’ve had with leaders who are addressing this crisis head on to be inspiring, and I wanted to share some of those stories with you. I’d be lying if I said I never experienced any despair or paralysis since this crisis struck. It has been very difficult. I’ve had moments where I felt like there is no tomorrow and there’s nothing we can do a lot of moments where I felt helpless. But every time I have sunk into that place, I’ve been jolted out of it by the actions of everyday people who have stepped up to lead. And it’s not just the big time CEOs and the famous celebrities, although there have been plenty who’ve done the right thing here. It’s been all up and down our society, starting Of course, with the nurses and the doctors, and the people doing grocery delivery and everyone who is helping to care for the sick to mitigate the immediate harms. But I’ve seen heroism in tons of middle managers, people who are out of work now leaping into relief efforts, people creating pop up organizations to address everything from New cures to personal protective equipment to the education crisis and more. And those stories have kept me going. And I realized something in the course of these weeks that I have very privileged access to many of these stories. I know a lot of the behind the scenes figures who are finding new strength, new capabilities, they didn’t know they had inspiring others, leading others to do remarkable things. And I felt like it was important to share those stories with more people so that others could take the same inspiration and hope that I have from their example. Most of the people who are busy on relief efforts have no time. It’s been really difficult. All of us who have been called to service it’s it’s grueling. I have spent days. Just being really honest, I spent days where I haven’t even gotten to my pajamas from the day before and I’m just on the phone. From the moment I woke up till the moment I put my kids to bed. And it’s been really intense. So a lot of the normal ways that we would tell these stories just aren’t really an option. There’s no time to write a business school case study about it. I’ve barely had time even to write the occasional blog post, let alone get into the details of these organizations. And many of the organizations themselves have struggled to tell their own story. Because all of the energy is being invested in the work. There’s no time for comms and media and PR. And so I tried as an experiment asking some of the people I’ve met who have been front and center in the response, Could you spare 20 minutes, half an hour for a phone call an interview, and we’ll record it and it will help get the message out. It will help inspire others and many people. They can’t, they don’t have the time to write a blog post. They don’t have time to write an op ed. They don’t even have time to go on TV and tell their story. But this they can do. And so I thought we would compile some of those recordings, some of those stories and release them as a podcast.
This podcast is not entertainment. Boredom is not our number one enemy here, those of us who are lucky enough to be in a situation where we are safe and sound and at home and trying to figure out what to do in our time, we have an obligation to get moving to take action. And I hope that in hearing the stories of leaders who are making a difference, you’ll feel called to do the same. And here’s the crazy thing. I’ve had hundreds of conversations since this crisis started with people who never imagined that they would even be seen as leaders in a situation like this. I can’t tell you how many of the conversations you’ll hear in some of the interviews people saying, Why me? Why am I even in charge of this? Why am I working on this? This doesn’t make sense. This should be somebody else’s job. Well, this is one of those times when everyone’s got to pitch in and lend a hand. So my hope is that you Nobody will listen to this podcast for entertainment. This is not a substitute for sports, which are offline, you can go back and watch classic sports. I’ve enjoyed that quite a bit. You can watch all those movies you wanted to watch. We have, a lot of us have opportunities to do that, especially those of us without kids. This is not entertainment. This is a podcast about action. And all of us have a role to play every single one. If we work in an organization, we can be a voice, helping the people who work for us see the need to put people first to get behind social distancing, to be working on a cure or some kind of mitigation of the effects of the pandemic. But maybe you’re not a manager, maybe you don’t have a formal leadership role, but you can be a voice for doing what’s right. I can’t tell you how many CEOs I’ve been counseling in this crisis who aren’t sure what their own employees Think about this. It’s hard when you’re a leader to understand how your organization sees that. crisis? Are people more worried about their own jobs? Are they more worried about the company’s bottom line? Are they more worried about their family and community? I know a lot of leaders who worry it’s tone deaf to be doing relief efforts, they should be focused just on doing their job. And of course, many people are still beholden to this idea that, especially for profit corporations have no other obligation but to serve their shareholders and therefore, to put people first to engage in relief efforts. Maybe that’s, that’s not the purpose of a corporation. If you’re in an organization, you can be a voice even from the ground floor. You can be a voice for the company doing what’s right, you can tell your manager you can tell your peers, hey, I think our company does exist to serve a larger purpose. And there’s even a business case to be made for doing the right thing, as we’ll talk about in many of these episodes, but the most important thing is wherever you are, whatever walk of life, whatever kind of organization, whatever kind of job, employed, unemployed, whatever communities you’re a part of, you can be part of the city. illusion and that fundamentally is our path out of this crisis.
One of the surprising things in these conversations is how much this crisis reminds people of past crises, and how much of it is singular. So there are things we can learn from leaders who navigated 911, or what we used to call the Great Recession, or the.com crash, or any of the past humanitarian disasters that have happened in our lifetime. And yet, there are some things that are truly unique about this. The political context is different. The global context is different, and the scale of the devastation is different. We’re recording these episodes at a time when we don’t even truly know the scale of what we’re up against. This will look very different in the history books than people study this period, it will seem more orderly, then we who are living at can understand you know, if you start The wars of the past, knowing a war would last for four years gives you a totally different perspective than the people who were living through that turmoil. We are in that blind spot now. And one of the things I’ve learned from listening to these leaders one after another, is how much all of us are struggling with the inability to know what is coming, and the need to act with imperfect information. And so the themes come up again and again, compassion, doing what’s right, regardless of the consequences. Acting decisively, providing clarity and communications, treat each other with respect. And I really believe the values that matter most are timeless. And most of the actions that our crisis reveals as necessary, you come to realize we’re actually always necessary, we should always have run our businesses with an eye toward sustainability. We should always have been frugal with our funding. We should always have treated people with respect To put people first, but it’s in the boom times that it can be easy to lose sight of those values and a crisis can be clarifying in that way. This crisis comes almost exactly at the 50 year anniversary mark of the idea that corporations exist to serve primarily shareholders, which in the history of capitalism is a relatively new idea still. And just before the crisis, we started to see an awakening of understanding in business leaders all over the world, that the irony of the shareholder first mantra is that companies that have a broader purpose, companies that take other stakeholders, their employees, their communities seriously actually outperform for their shareholders. And it’s interesting that this crisis has hit at a time when that conversation was just starting. And therefore many of the people who have taken a public position on that view are going to be put to the test like never before. And my prediction is that companies that do right by their employees that do right by their customers that do right by their communities will emerge from the crisis much stronger than those who are myopically focused only on short term performance. My goal here is not to build the most amazing podcast, my goal is for you to learn something and take action. So we’re gonna keep it pretty lightly produced, very lightly edited. I call it the podcast Out of the Crisis as an homage to a famous book in the history of management called Out of the Crisis by Deming. This is a moment that will be remembered for a long time in business history, especially will change society in so many ways, but it’s also going to put businesses to the test in a new way. And just as our grandparents had to figure out, a new system of production, a new system of global interconnectedness, a new way to balance the needs of communities and employees and capital. Together, we are called on to develop a new social contract along those lines. So I want us to look at this crisis through a historical lens to understand that the choices we make today are going to reverberate for a long time. And therefore the crisis is also an opportunity to lay the foundation to plant the seeds of the society we want to see on the other side.
If you know anything about me, you know, I’m all about feedback. So as you’re listening, if you have further thoughts, especially if you know leaders, heroes, and we should be profiling, please reach out. Let us know what you think. I’m @ericries on Twitter. This is Out of the Crisis.