I work with emerging VC fund managers (i.e on developing an investment thesis or capital raising strategies) and startup founders (i.e. on capital raising strategies, identifying market entry opportunities or generally building a business).
Lately, I have been working with both constituents on managing through crises.
I leverage my life experiences, as well as career challenges, from several disruptive events:
1) 1997: The Asian Financial Crisis (building supplier relationships in Asia for my first startup while at University)
2) 2000: The Dotcom Crash (software engineer trying to make it on my own)
3) 2001: 9/11 (co-founder of a SaaS startup)
4) 2007/08: The Global Financial Crisis (corporate development / M&A)
5) 2020: COVID-19 (raising capital for my next venture)
The “Fight-Flight-Freeze” Response
I have observed distinct personality types react to situations in disparate ways.
People often demonstrate a “fight, flight or freeze” response.
The fight-flight-freeze response is our body’s natural reaction to a perceived threat or danger.
Unfortunately, this natural response can also lead to adding stress to our personal and professional lives.
I also believe that it can limit our ability to see clearly, and so may lead to us failing to recognize potential threats and/or opportunities.
Certain individuals “freeze up” altogether, especially when faced with a situation that they are not prepared for.
This can sometimes continue for months, or even years, because of what they see or experience.
They appear unable to find a way to accept the reality of the situation, look past it and move forward — like a “deer in the headlights”.
If they are part of the senior leadership of an organization, this can lead to missed opportunities, at best.
Worse, it can lead to dire consequences for the business and its stakeholders — employees, customers, investors, and partners.
If you believe, as I do, that we will experience greater uncertainty and volatility going forward then it is critical to learn how to deal with it.
When I was starting out, I did not have the luxury to focus on the crises in front of me.
I needed to find ways to pay the bills and survive.
I had to find ways to deal with the situation, understand it and move forward — fast.
How I Have Managed Through Crises
The first step in dealing with such situations is to actually manage the build-up of stress, and start the process of calming down:
2) Relax those tense muscles
3) Leverage social support networks
4) Engage in physical activities
Note: this is an example of how I deal with stress and I would encourage you to explore the plenty of resources, that are available online, on this topic.
This helps us to slow down, start reflecting on the situation, and kickstart the process of being open to grieving or mourning — facing the reality of the situation.
I then use a simple mental exercise that sets me up to better deal with uncertainty.
This technique has helped me to become more aware of the situation and has helped me to identify opportunities and/or threats.
I first used this technique to help me get over a major relationship break up.
Since then, I have used it every time I was faced with a situation that caused anxiety, stress or emotional pain.
I have also adapted the same technique for my professional life to help me:
- Come to terms with the reality of a situation that I was not prepared for;
- Visualize my way past the given situation;
- Become more comfortable with the uncertainty that it represents.
- Start modeling potential scenarios.
- Identify potential opportunities, threats and solutions.
I start by asking myself the question:
Will I still be upset about, or affected by, the current situation…
…in five years?
…in ten years?
I keep asking myself the same question until I get to a “no” for an answer.
I adapt the question and desired response depending on the situation, but the technique is the same.
This process has helped me to get to the point of acceptance — accepting the reality of the situation and moving past it.
Stop focusing on the current situation, and start to deal with the situation — think about “what next?”:
- What are the potential implications of this situation?
- What are the potential scenarios that can be modeled?
- What are the potential solutions to this problem?
I hope this simple technique will be helpful to others in overcoming challenging situations and capitalizing on potential opportunities.