Recession Lessons: Past and Future

Recession Lessons: Past and Future

June 9, 2020

We’ve had a recession every decade for a half-century. The last one, bad enough to earn the title of The Great Recession. The one we’re in now, reaching Depression-level metrics. With no end in sight.

With almost 40 million people out of work, it is tempting to despair. We must live in the present moment, but a look back provides insight into the path ahead with optimism.

A Birthplace of Brilliant Ideas

We have been doubly hit. An unimaginable pandemic and a wicked recession. But a recession, like any crisis faced squarely, can produce positive outcomes. Great ideas flourish in prosperous times, but they are born in the toughest of times. Creative solutions multiply in direct proportion to the difficulty of the problems. When have we been more challenged than right now?

When the nation is on a roll, the living gets easy. People do things out of habit because no more is required. We do well by just doing things well, not differently, not imaginatively, just well. But when the economy falls into the abyss, “just well” won’t be enough to get us back up.

Business owners and executives are re-engineering their companies, adapting to the enormous changes and challenges this virus has wrought. Various “what-if” scenarios are being considered. While some simply focus on surviving, others reshape their business plans with a goal of thriving in an altered business landscape. All are forced to look at a future that is still forming. Great scientific minds will not only solve the COVID-19 treatment and vaccine mysteries, but great business minds will transform their companies and come out of the recession stronger than they were going into it. You can count on it.

Emotional Gratification

It’s an age-old truth that the harder things are to accomplish, the greater the satisfaction when you do. Think of it in practical terms. The headwinds are brutal. Yet you’ve just closed a new deal, hired some great new talent, had another terrific idea. You look around and hear the other guy saying, “The only thing standing between me and success are two more rate cuts.”

The only constant that we can rely on is that when the tough times abate, they will be followed by another challenge that some will view as a disaster and others will see as an opportunity.

Jim Dittman, Chairman, Next Level Performance

A warm glow sets in when you realize that you’re doing things that others say can’t be done; you’ve taken control while others are being controlled by their excuses; you are, in fact, one of those people who lead others into the future.

Residual Benefits

When the tough times are over, we will be all the stronger for it, just as the steel is for having been through the fire. One of the most important benefits is that we will be more prepared for the next tough times, and you know there will be more.

But the most enduring benefit of any economic convulsion is this… if we remember the extraordinary success we had when we applied heaping doses of innovation, imagination, and creativity, and then continue to recognize the edge that intense, non-linear thinking gives us, we will carve out a special place for ourselves that lasts through the good times and the bad.

Normal Isn’t Normal Anymore

“When will we get back to normal?” How many times have you heard that line uttered lately? Well, my friend, we’re never getting back to “normal”. Here and now is the new normal. One crisis after another. Rapidly accelerating change. Recession, inflation, prosperity. New markets being born; others dying.

The only constant that we can rely on is that when the tough times abate, they will be followed by another challenge that some will view as a disaster and others will see as an opportunity. How well we deal with these tough times is a matter of attitude and an opportunity to reach deep down inside ourselves to fulfill our full human potential.


This recession started with a pandemic, and it likely won’t be over until a cure or a vaccine is at hand. But what you do now will determine how you come out into the light at the end of it. Countless studies have shown that those companies that stayed aggressive during a recession emerged earlier and stronger than those who operated defensively.

The recession is not a time to cut back on sales or marketing activities. Nor is it a time to start thinking that your “people are just happy to have a job”. Recession lessons suggest that you:

  • Create opportunities while others are pulling in their horns.
  • Focus on your people, show them you care about their uncertainties.
  • Make sure you have a strong recognition system in place.
  • Continue to live your core values.

How you acted in the hard times is how you will be measured and remembered in the good times, by both your customers and your employees.