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See the Signs

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Bad news does not get better with age, and that is why it is so important to see the signs. The only way you can solve a problem is if you acknowledge it and look for a way to fix it—not waiting and hoping it will go away. This is true no matter what your business is, whether it’s a startup, a small family business, or a mega-corporation.No matter how big or small you are, you cannot afford to ignore problems. That’s how even the biggest, most successful companies can fail.  
For example, look at the NFL. Right now, the NFL is on top of the world. America loves NFL football, and it has grown tremendously over the years. Practically every franchise is valued at more than $1 billion, teams each will get $150 million per year under next year’s television contracts, salaries are exploding. Everything looks great if you’re part of the league. But even the NFL has storm clouds that it has to deal with—it has to see the signs or risk losing its position.
For example, a big storm cloud the league has been dealing with recently is the impact of concussions on players. For years, the league and its doctors denied that concussions caused serious brain diseases, even as study after study came out saying they did. Just a couple years ago, the league finally saw the signs and acknowledged the link, and a few months ago paid $765 million to a group of retired players who were suing the league over the matter. And that’s not the end of the road. If the NFL is not careful and quick to deal with this problem and acknowledge it, to see the signs, then there will be trouble.
Another is performance enhancing drugs. Like concussions, this is a safety issue that is being ignored, with many in and around the league in denial—but it could threaten the existence of the NFL. In this case, injuries are up 37% in just the last few years, because players are bigger, faster, and stronger, resulting in bigger hits because of the artificially enhanced bodies. So even an organization as big and successful as the NFL has to worry about seeing the signs—they have to deal with these problems and deal with reality.
Don’t ignore reality until it’s too late. That’s everything to your business. It’s about truth and transparency, about being engaged with what’s going on around you. You can learn from the examples set by others, and watch out for the same trap that has befallen countless other companies: IBM, Kodak, Microsoft, and so many more. Stay close to your customers, so that you see your business for what it really is. A history of success doesn’t matter much if you’re not ready for the present.
Published: October 30, 2013
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