I’m a pretty unflappable sort of character. There really isn’t much in life that worries me or freaks me out. I happily admit that when I see other people bleeding that I get a bit twitchy, but my own blood and injuries generally don’t worry me too much.
Same goes for business. Things go well, I take them in stride. Something doesn’t go the way I want it to go or worse, something crazy bad happens and again, I tend to take a deep breath before cracking into figuring out what’s gone wrong.
When you work in technology, you need to be pretty cool under pressure otherwise you end up often making things worse. The number of times I’ve seen people take a stupid course of action in a panic and make things worse when a system was down or something was offline is unbelievable.
Just over ten years ago, I got a phone call late one afternoon from someone in the treasury team where I worked. They told me that my staff were having trouble recovering a backup of the treasury system and it had been offline for a couple hours. They wanted to know if I wouldn’t mind having a look and seeing if I could hurry them up a little bit.
I walked over to the area where the support team was and I could tell by the looks on their faces that something pretty severe was going on. The database was nuked and not coming back up. Worse still, the vendor who looked after the system for the treasury people had gone out of business two months earlier and backups hadn’t been working for over a year – despite that not being my team’s job, that was a major problem.
The treasury system held over $1B (billion with a B) worth of our bond data – in essence, we issued bonds to clients to guarantee the work we did and now our electronic record keeping system for that billion dollars was gone.
I would have been well within my rights to start freaking out at that point, but I didn’t, I called the head of the treasury team, explained the problem and he said, “Mate, that’s annoying, we’ll have to manually recompile that list so anything you can do would be awesome. This is one of those material things we’d need to report to the stock market, the regulators and our insurance companies.”
That didn’t make me feel better.
I swung into action and just started working on the problem. I spoke to Microsoft who told me that the data was irrecoverable and we needed to restore from a non-existent backup that we didn’t have. Luckily it was Thursday and the Friday was a public holiday because I worked on that issue until Sunday morning. I finally fixed it – literally went in and manually rebuilt the database’s system tables by hand. I even took the time to write a blog post about the process for that version of the Microsoft SQL Server we were running before finally going home.
The thing was, I didn’t panic. I could have had a meltdown, blamed a bunch of people and chucked all my toys out of the pram, but I didn’t. That rarely solves anything.
Why am I telling you this?
Every so often we get clients in our SEO or Content businesses who call up in a panic and have a tantrum about something. Everything is “URGENT” and the world will end completely if something isn’t attended to right away. Their whole business will completely implode if this issue isn’t fixed this very second.
In just about every one of those cases, the person is overreacting and usually not by a little bit – they almost always have gone off the deep end. The worst are people who don’t have a good handle on what’s going on in their business in the first place – they are generally the biggest panic merchants. When you have no idea what’s happening, everything is a catastrophe.
The first piece of advice I would give you is to just calm the hell down. Seriously, panicking never solves anything. You can be concerned and have a sense of urgency without acting like a complete and utter porkchop. Making decisions when that kind of negative energy is flowing through you always makes things worse.
The second piece of advice, don’t call your suppliers or staff and get stuck into them when you’re in that headspace. Again, this makes this worse. I said to someone recently, “If you’ve accidentally set yourself on fire, don’t call the fire department and yell at them for not getting to you faster.” Blowing a gasket at others when you need their help is a very bad idea, so keep yourself in check.
The last piece of advice, save recriminations and post postmortems until after the problem has been resolved. The number of people who in the midst of a crisis decide to perform an autopsy and assign blame is unbelievable. It’s like they’re running around pouring petrol on things in the midst of a fire. I’ve fired multiple people for doing stupid stuff like that.
Entrepreneurs are the bearers of risk, so it’s inevitable that at some point in the lifecycle of your business the wheels are going to fall off something. These are the times when your character gets tested and you come out the other side better for the experience or worse – most times, the result of the crisis is almost secondary to the impact it has on you personally.
If you don’t deal with pressure and stress well, then I highly recommend you develop this skill right now because being a business owner will test your limits in this regard. It can be absolutely relentless. Just when you think it can’t get worse, some days it does. Those are the days where if you keep calm, stay focused and behave like a rational human being you end up growing more than you ever thought possible.