5 timeless learnings for managing disruption.

I’m a firm believer that you can’t credibly speak about disruption until you’ve lived it.

A few times. While the coronavirus pandemic is undoubtably the most unique and disruptive force I have encountered in my lifetime, the learnings I’ve taken from my career and past recessions still ring true. Here are my five timeless tips for managing disruption:

Balance optimism with reality.

In times of disruption, you must be honest and face the facts, which are sometimes brutal. But also keep the faith. We’ve seen time after time that human ingenuity will triumph in the long run. This pandemic is evidence of that, as brilliant people work tirelessly to find creative solutions to new problems. There is always a way to get the job done (like this pub in Ireland that’s using drones to deliver beer).

Trust your instincts.

The best outcomes begin with intuition. Disruption or not, you must trust your instincts and not let yourself over-analyze. Back in 2008, a group of us at Bader Rutter were in the process of buying the business from our founder, Ron Bader. At the same time, Lehman Brothers collapsed. While we could have backed out of our deal, we trusted our gut and it got us to where we are today.

Beware of risk aversion.

Uncertain times can breed excess caution. It’s a natural reaction to shrivel up in the face of something that creates anxiety and fear.  Like our current reality.  Consider this sage advice: “Hunger is the antidote to fear.” This comes from a man by the name of Richard Montanez, who started as a janitor, but is now an executive with Frito Lay. I recently saw him speak on a webinar, where he shared how he went straight to the CEO of Frito Lay with an idea for a Cheetos’ brand extension: Flamin’ Hot. Ask yourself “If I had nothing to lose what would I do?” It might open our eyes to what’s possible.

Make “blue skies” real.

The time to be prepared for a major disruption is not while it’s happening. At Bader Rutter, we are fortunate enough to have made significant investments in our technology, preparing us to work remotely and offer our clients the same level of service virtually. But beyond being prepared, you have to seize opportunity. Now more than ever, it’s important to unplug and find time to let the brain work. For me, while I often come up with my best ideas while riding my bike, I must remind myself that they mean nothing if they just float around in the sky. Make your “blue sky” dreams a reality.

Stay visible, lean in.

Clarity is the next best thing to certainty. While it’s very difficult to be certain in our everchanging reality, you can be clear about the steps you’re taking to achieve your goal. Our teams at Bader Rutter are staying present, leading our clients and doing whatever we can to drive their business forward. At this time, presence is more important than presentation. Show up for others, because you can be a hero.

Overall, this time presents opportunities for us to focus on the things we can do, versus what we can’t. Create time for yourself, get creative and do something for the first time.

While the future may be uncertain, I’m confident we will come out on the other side of this pandemic with a refreshed outlook and maybe even a new hobby. For me, I’m discovering how wonderful a place that Wisconsin can be to hike!  It’s easy to social distance on the Ice Age Trail

About the Author

As chairman, Greg Nickerson splits his time between business development, financial oversight and serving on several non-profit boards representing Bader Rutter.  During his three decades at the agency, he has seen it more than triple in size and diversity its client base into many different industries. Greg counts among his accomplishments orchestrating an employee buy-out of the company from its founder in 2008 as well as leading the effort to locate and build a new headquarters in downtown Milwaukee.

Greg has long taken an active role in the Milwaukee community, from industry and trade groups to philanthropic community service. A long-time board member of the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, he was recently elected President of their Board of Directors. Much to his chagrin, he has not been called down to the floor to help his beloved Milwaukee Bucks.