Home' Border Enterprise : Summer-Autumn 2011-2012 Contents enterprise
Vol 5. Summer/Autumn
TO make conversation, I recently asked
a shopkeeper 'how's business?". Ten
minutes later he was still ranting about
the global economy, the Australian
sharemarket, seemingly never-ending
political uncertainty, high interest rates, aggressive
shop rents and tight consumers. I thought his
tirade would never end (memo to self: don't asked
stressed-out retailers about their business).
The poor man suffers from Gloom Fatigue.
I suspect others will join him as the global
financial crisis enters a new phase and Australia
does not escape as lightly as last time. One
senses that this constant stream of bad news
since 2008, real or perceived, is grinding people
down. The scary part is, the global economy's
healing process might not even be halfway, as
US and European economies face recession
(sorry to add to the gloom).
What's your view?
• Are you getting sick of never-ending global
economic gloom and market volatility?
• Is it affecting your performance?
• Is your organisation’s culture becoming overly
• Are people playing the 'Gloom Card' and
making more excuses about a slow economy?
• Are local politicians to blame: does it seem as
if the federal election never ended?
Not for a minute do I underestimate the
problem this shopkeeper, or others like him,
face. The global economy has incredible
threats and Australia will not be immune if they
come to pass. Nor would I make light of the
shopkeeper's obvious stress. As The Venture
has written many times, depression and
anxiety, if they persist, are serious health risks
for struggling small business owners and can
require medical attention.
I didn't have the heart to tell the shopkeeper
his problems were partly self-inflicted: his store
format has barely changed in the past few years,
the product seems stale, and there has not been
much clever marketing or genuine innovation.
Like other Gloom Fatigue sufferers, this small
business owner spends too much time listening
to supposed experts and not enough time
listening to customers.
Gloom Fatigue does not only affect small
enterprises; how many times have you seen
people in big companies play the Gloom Card?
You know what I mean: a salesperson who
can't close the deal blames the bad economy
(which isn't really that bad, even in most sectors
not exposed to mining). A manager cuts staff
and blames the bad economy, when it's just
about firing people. An employee makes a lesser
effort, thinking it will not make much difference in
a weaker economy. Or they produce bad-quality
work and blame it on their workload, when it is
The supposed bad economy becomes a good
I have had a gutful of retailers playing their
Gloom Card: poor trading conditions and the
online-shopping threat. How much genuine
innovation has there been at David Jones, Myer
and Harvey Norman in the past five years?
I'm sure big retailers will point to considerable
supply-chain and back-office innovation, but
from a customer's perspective, I only see
declining service and more reason to shop at
outlets that actually help you.
The same goes for advertising. I can't recall a
duller bunch of TV advertisements than the tripe
served up this year, and I'm struggling to think
of one that has got people talking. It seems the
advertising industry is being dealt its own Gloom
Card by customers: lower-budget ads, more
overtly sales-driven ads, more recycled overseas
ads, and less risk taking. It's Gloom Fatigue at
The other problem with Gloom Fatigue is
it stops enterprises reinventing their product
every few years. Sufferers only see bad news
as a threat; they cannot see the opportunity
to stand out in a dull market and take share
from weakened competitors. Managers are
conditioned for bad news and unable to do
much beyond cutting costs. They become
bogged and forget what it's like to grow a
business. Gloom Fatigue fatally wounds the
You might think the notion of Gloom Fatigue
is a lark. Think again. My hunch is that another
few years of global economic volatility, muted
sharemarket returns and weak superannuation
-- on top of what's happened since 2008 -- will
become a much big issue for business owners
and managers. We have entire generations
who have never experienced years of global
economic gloom. For some, staying optimistic
and motivated will be a precious skill.
The good news is, Australia's economy is
relatively stronger than most Western nations
and has more capacity to deal with external
shocks, such as a collapse in European
banking. Still, there is always a risk of economies
talking themselves into recession, and
businesses talking themselves into failure.
My advice to the shopkeeper would be:
spend less time listening to so-called experts
on business conditions and more time with your
customers. Forget about what's happening
overseas and focus on what you can control:
pleasing customers. Use the downtime to get
the business in order, codify its systems, train
staff internally, and sharpen strategy. Double
marketing efforts as cheaply as you can and
try to stand out. Aim to grow by taking market
share from competitors. Don't give up.
Yes, that's easier said than done. But what
good is wasting time worrying about global
economic ills and domestic uncertainty, and
letting yourself be bombarded by bad news
through newspapers, the internet, emails and
Perhaps the real problem is too much
amplified information, from too many sources,
reaching people through too many channels,
at too many times. Too much fiction and not
enough fact. Too much self-inflicted Gloom
Fatigue (at least from an Australian perspective).
Maybe the only true Gloom Fatigue cure
is to stop obsessing about bad news, avoid
negative people and, more than ever, love
your customers. It's amazing how surpassing
customer expectations, and getting good
comments, can revitalise even the most negative
Oh, and if a customer asks "how's business?",
tell them about good things in your venture and
- Tony Featherstone
expectations can revitalise
even the most negative
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