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The benefits of a downturn—vision clarity and focused action

June 04 2009 | Activism, Jim's Blog,
by Jim

Like many of us I’ve been involved in multiple phases of organizations; uber-fast startup growth, moderate year-to-year growth and the various flavors of decline. It’s my experiences with the latter stage examples that have intrigued over the past few months. Obviously this is largely driven by the economic malaise and meltdown being felt all over the globe… I'm focused on how to make these times work to our mission's benefit.

I should state that Surfrider Foundation is in an excellent financial position. We achieved our revenue target and came in under budgeted expenses last year. And even with the financial challenges that are hitting all of us, this year we're also ahead of our revenue goal and operating under projected expenses.

Still... it's clear that now is the time to hone initiatives and to let the downturn help tighten the focus on our programs and initiatives.

I think it's a truism that the largest amount of waste (time, energy, money, resources) occurs during growth stages of an idea or an organization. During those times there is simply too much happening and thus too little opportunity to make sure that every detail is managed as tightly as it otherwise should be.

This subject has two major characteristics that intersect with our mission of “… protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves and beaches for all people…”

The first is “vision clarity” and the second is “focused action.”

What I mean by vision clarity is a renewed list of priorities.

All of us understand more crisply what matters to us.

For example it’s harder to really appreciate a drawing done by your child when you’re rushing them off to the next scheduled event. My sense is that people’s willingness to give endless amounts of themselves to the corporations employing them will continue to wane. This isn’t to say people are getting lazy, it’s suggesting that are rejiggering their priorities.

When you have less to work with you make the most of what you have.

This goes for all our resources (time, energy, money, talents, etc). People are waking up a bit. They are connecting to friends and causes on FaceBook, they are caring a bit more when their friends go through hard times... people are re-connecting with the things that matter to them. This includes Surfrider Foundation as many people that live along the coasts of the world are re-appreciating the lifestyle they have and the massive value a simple walk on the beach with family or friends delivers. I suppose I'm simply suggesting that prosperity can bring with it an insulating layer and that a downturn can help is reconnect with those things that mean the most to us. To employ a financial term in perhaps an odd way... we're all increasing the return on our investment on what matters most.

Surfrider Foundation gains from this trend as more and more people are connecting with local coastal issues and a bit more willing to listen to state or national issues that may also affect their coastlines.

My second point here is focused action.

Focused action is not just an abstract intellectual appreciation of what matters to us but our willingness to act.

This relates to the first point in my winter 5 10 video, there I called it "Low cost leadership" but what I'm trying to convey is that we need to do more with less. More with less is the first point in the summer 5 10 video which will come out the second week of June.

We need to use our mission as a framework but look at our actions with a tightened-down set of lenses. Do we really need to participate in that conference? Can we use a free video conferencing service instead of bringing people physically together? Will we get a better return on our efforts by raising funds for one campaign over another? Is one long proactive push better than a few reactive ones? Does a campaign lead net new people to our mission or simply talk to those that have already bought into it? How can we further leverage places people already congregate, like Facebook, to our benefit?

In an odd sense I welcome these kinds of downturns. They make us better. They help see things more clearly and thus make decisions with greater confidence. They help us stay on track. They help us maximize the impact on our mission.

So may this downturn end soon but while it's here let's make sure we get the most out of it.
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