Opportunity knocks in tougher times, too

The politicians finally have discovered the economy. Congratulations! Now everyone knows.

Even the president has heard the discussions around kitchen tables across the country, he told us Monday night. Those chats have been particularly poignant where the breadwinners happen to sell real estate, mortgages or automobiles.

It's an old conversation locally, no less depressing for that fact. Meanwhile the economists now are furiously debating whether a national recession looms, has begun, or may yet pass over like last year's snowstorm forecasts.

Whatever they want to call this, the economy is troubled nearly everywhere. It probably will trump Iraq on Election Day.

I'm not here to moan, though. There's already plenty of that perspective with the latest turn in the primary season. This is not from being oblivious. Believe me, I'm painfully aware that the local newspaper feels the pinch, too. Much of our business is with other businesses, after all. We feel their pain directly.

But there's a lot of opportunity in tougher times, if you think about it. Businesses that hew to the fundamentals, including advertising, will set themselves up better for the uptick to come, and it will come.

Necessity forces organizations to become more efficient, to get more productive and most importantly, to grow more creative. Those are good things in the long run. This also is the prime time to grow market share, if you are bold and clever enough. Booms float all boats; downturns cull the herd.

Nothing teaches like adversity, in other words.

Besides, there are worse things in life than sour economies.

One of my favorite books about business, "Good to Great," considers James Stockdale's eight-year imprisonment in North Vietnam.

Stockdale was shot down in 1965, becoming the highest-ranking Navy officer held in the Hanoi Hilton. He was tortured, had bones broken, shoulders wrenched from their sockets. He even beat himself up in the face with a stool to avoid being used as a propaganda stooge, and he protested the torture of other prisoners by slitting his own wrists. He never lost his limp after his release in 1973, becoming an admiral, president of the Naval War College and most famously a vice presidential candidate in 1992.

How did he cope with his imprisonment?

In his book, author James Collins describes a walk with Stockdale, then a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institute studying the Stoic philosophers, appropriately enough.

"I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which in retrospect I would not trade," Stockdale tells Collins.

"Who didn't make it out?" Collins asks after a few minutes.

"Oh, that's easy. The optimists," Stockdale replies. "Oh, they were the ones who said, "We're going to be out by Christmas." And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, "We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."

Stockdale and Collins continue walking, then the retired vice admiral turns to him and says: "This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end - which you can never afford to lose - with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."

Stockdale couldn't know at the time whether he'd make it out of that prison. At least we understand that the economy runs in cycles, and that the longterm prospects for the Carson Valley are outstanding.

We don't even have to beat ourselves up. Just understand while confronting our own "brutal facts" that opportunity lies in the mix, too.

n Don Rogers, publisher of The Record-Courier, can be reached at 782-5121, ext. 208, or drogers@recordcourier.com.


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