What Hurricane Sandy Taught Me About People & Starting a Business

As we approach the end of the week after Hurricane Sandy, I felt it was now an appropriate time to send out my condolences to those that suffered loss, and wish everyone recovering from the aftermath of Sandy a speedy recovery to some semblance of normalcy.
I have formed quite a few opinions about what the storm has taught me about people, and the lessons that can be applied to starting a business (and turning our Nation around) in today’s constantly changing, transformational times of chaos.
First off, my family was extremely fortunate. We live in Hoboken, NJ which was hit extremely hard.
When news first broke of the impending storm, my family was able to go to higher ground.
We stayed with our good friends the Nilsens who live on campus at Stevens Institute of Technology where Ken is the Dean of student life. Stevens sits on a hill, the HIGHEST point in all of Hoboken.
Then, we made the right “split second” decision to take our car with us and park it at Stevens.
Many of our neighbors who live in our apartment building left their cars in our building’s garage, only to have their cars destroyed when the garage flooded.
Further, we filled the car with gas at the suggestion of my sister who lives in Maryland and has been hit hard herself with two storms this past year. Thanks, Brenda!
Although we didn’t have power last week, we were fortunate to be able to stay with my mother-in-law over the weekend. She lives in New York City above 40th street, so she didn’t lose power.
Sure, we managed to make a few good decisions, but we were also extremely fortunate to have a supporting and nurturing network of family and friends who were there for us in a time of urgent need. In our small town alone there were hundreds of acts of kindness as people banded together into a sense of community. Many people with power who were untouched reached out to volunteer their homes, power, and services to help others.
If we can take anything away from Hurricane Sandy as entrepreneurs and business owners, it’s this…in order to plan, launch, and then grow a successful business in these turbulent times we MUST have our own nurturing support network around us to help us get through the many hurdles of launching a business. For most entrepreneurs, their family and friends are where they derive most of their start up funding.
Another lesson we can take away from Sandy is, it pays to plan for disasters (both natural and man-made) by implementing a culture of asking “What-If” so you can develop contingencies for many known emergencies. Whether you call it risk management, business continuity, or contingency planning, in chaotic times such as these which appear to be our “New Normal” you cannot survive without a plan A, plan B, plan C, etc.
Sandy has shown that the deplorable state of our Nation’s infrastructure which has gone unaddressed for decades is finally failing us in a national mass scale, and we must hold our elected officials accountable for this failure. Rather than work in bi-partisan fashion to solve our nation’s short and long-term problems, our two political parties refuse to co-exist and have long ago stopped working together to solve big problems.
If anything, President Obama’s re-election seems to have started us in the right direction at least in terms of the overtures of conciliatory statements made by both parties that now is the time for our government to work together.
We will seek if both parties’ talk about working together in the next 4 years is genuine or more cheap political talk devoid of sincerity and substance.
Business owners and entrepreneurs must take notice. The past four years volatility have been very unkind to small business start ups. Let’s see if our elected officials have learned anything about solving our Nation’s failure to create a positive culture that spurs small business growth.
We live in turbulent times when natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and forest fires occur far too frequently with our own societal failures (crumbling roads, failing schools, lack of civil/social support systems. Such times demand entirely new creative approaches to solve these problems, if we have any hope of creating a new shining beacon on the hill in our Nation’s grand experiment.
Business owners have their own challenges.
Now more than ever, entirely new non-traditional approaches are required to ensure business start up success.
Power needs to be distributed from management to employees, and we need to cast aside the pyramid command-control organizational structure left over from the 20th Century for flatter matrix organizations. Cultures need to be created that embrace employee empowerment and fulfillment, happiness, glorious risk taking. Business owners must embrace failure in order to strive to achieve grand ambitious projects.
Employees must be empowered with stakes in their own work product and the organization’s success in order to solve the problems they face in accomplishing their work. Organizations that have figured this out are now treating their employees, clients, and competitors as true business partners.
The old way of conducting business simply cannot survive. We need a new path to success with a transformational leadership paradigm.
So, as we all continue to work towards rebuilding our lives after Sandy and getting back to “normal” perhaps the greatest lesson is there is no longer a “normal” to get to.
My thoughts and prayers go out to those that are struggling to reclaim their lives.