I’ve posted several times about “sprinting into the fog” to describe when things are a bit blurry and you are unsure… but what about those times you enter a complete whiteout?
Entrepreneurs all have them… moments when you can’t tell up from down, when there is zero visibility and even your instruments don’t work. You can quickly become confused and many people just freeze… I call this a whiteout and I’ve hit several so I know how scary it can be.
Whiteouts happen for many reasons. Maybe the market doesn’t react as you thought they would to your product or service. Maybe your partners or employees are giving you feedback that doesn’t jive with your own view… and sometimes, for no explainable reason you just have a bad period of stress and confusion that overwhelms you. Whatever the reason, don’t panic. Whiteouts are normal and you can certainly make it through but they require different actions.
Here are the things I remind myself when I enter a whiteout:
First, take some deep breaths and try not to panic (ie. Manage your stress quickly… take a walk, get some exercise but get your stress level down). Nothing makes a whiteout worse than stress.
Second, use your voice. Since you can’t really see what’s going on, its time to really talk. Talk to your co-workers, ask your mentor for guidance, ask questions of customers and partners. Be vocal as whiteouts can be managed with voice when nothing else works. And don’t be afraid that people will worry you don’t know what you are doing… That’s irrational fear as those you trust WANT to help you.
Third, trust your gut (as you can’t currently rely on data or instruments to make good decisions) but make a decision. You can’t stand still in a whiteout, as everything else is moving… So pick a direction and start moving.
Forth, this isn’t time to bet the farm. When you start moving in a whiteout, start slow and use any cues you can to gauge direction and success… If it’s working, keep going, if you gain clarity that your direction is wrong don’t be afraid to change direction… you didn’t bet the farm so the stakes aren’t too high to change and at this point you are just looking for cues to help guide you.
With these simple steps you will walk out of a whiteout. It may not be immediate and it can feel lonely and scary at times but you will emerge so keep moving…
Yours in startups,