Neil Rankin says put the map down and drive your business with eyes front

24 March 2020 by

In a past life I used to drive a white van for a living. It was a time before Google Maps and sat nav, and while some of my journeys would start with a quick glance at an A to Z, most journeys were done by following road signs and using a healthy dose of common sense.

I drove so much in those days that my knowledge of the cities I drove in was like that of a black cab driver. To this day, my knowledge of Edinburgh, Manchester and London is extensive compared to anyone else I know. Those days were not mistake-free, however, but for every wrong turn I made or bad route decision, there was a learning curve to make me a better driver.

These days, people tend to spend their journeys being directed by the latest sat nav or app, and that brings a new class of driver, the kind that will follow a map into a river or make a U-turn on a busy highway because an app told them to.

If this crisis will teach us anything, it's that the days of ignoring culture will eventually become your death rattle

Today's Uber drivers and private drivers do their jobs with such a reliance on technology that they never really get to learn their environments. There is a disconnect with the places around them and a reliance on the technology to such a degree that, if it is lost for any reason, I would bet that most of them would be lost too.

In my career I've made some monumental mistakes. Of all the businesses I've opened for myself or for other people since I was 24, the big failures were never the times I've kept my eye on what has been going on around me; they were always the times when I've been transfixed by a map that drove us off a cliff with our eyes fully open. It's a mistake I've repeated more times than I should.

Financial and business models are fundamental to understanding a business and are not to be disregarded or ignored, but the successful businesses, in my opinion, are the ones that only glance at those models once in a while and instead focus on what's going on around and ahead of them. They feel the road and build a solid culture and set of values. This helps them guide their way out of hard times and stop themselves from making crappy, selfish decisions which only really work when times are good.

If this crisis will teach us anything, it's that the days of ignoring culture will eventually become your death rattle. The restaurants without staff support now are glaringly obvious. This might be the end of a lot of businesses, and might be the end of some of those with strong cultures too, but this crisis is unprecedented and it will also lead to more opportunities later on in this year.

The hospitality industry will come back for sure, but with new challenges from the off, and the way it comes back will be interesting. Will we learn from our fragility and look to strengthen our foundations of culture, values, community and hospitality, protecting us from more rocky roads ahead, or will we all try to make a fast buck, double-down on our luck and carry on driving off cliffs?

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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