business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There’s a bit of wisdom passed down from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche through pop singer Kelly Clarkson. It reminds us that anything that doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. In many ways, it’s a great business philosophy too.

In recent weeks we’ve had discussions here on the growing challenges facing businesses from outside the usual competitive box. What’s more, for years we’ve all talked about the vicious pace of change and growing hurdles that confront everyone. Who knew that was supposed to be good news?

But in reality, it is good news.

Earlier this summer, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an excellent piece in the New Yorker on the value of struggles and failure. Gladwell, a master of discerning lessons from large tendencies, data, correlations and even happenstance, cited a number of wonderful examples of well-meaning projects that went array. And he makes a powerful argument that it was due to those unexpected challenges that solutions were found and greater achievements were made possible.

You can read the entire article here.

In other words, necessity - whether it arose through need, accident or simply poor planning - was the mother of great inventions and solutions.

Taken in that light, some of the major trials facing the food industry might well be some of the reasons for greatest optimism.

Sure the emergence of Walmart and other non-traditional players meant numerous companies couldn’t survive, but those that did are likely stronger merchants and better at monitoring costs that ever. That makes them better able to face the challenges of the future, whether those challenges come from Amazon, Whole Foods or some force we cannot yet even identify.

There’s no two ways about it: competition makes life hard, yet it makes us better if we can survive. As Gladwell’s article also makes clear, there’s tremendous risk of stagnation when competition and challenges are absent. Anyone doubting that need only consider the increasingly uncompetitive state of individual Congressional elections.

Likewise the growing challenges of the new economy, changing consumer demographics, altered eating habits, technologies and even government regulations make life harder from one moment to the next. But those same challenges also have made companies more nimble, more flexible and better able to react to local market issues.

In short it might be why a long-time industry stalwart like Kroger is so heavily praised these days because the company (and others like it) found the way to evolve and grow despite all the hardships. Who knows, in time we may even look back at failed experiments (Fresh & Easy anyone) and examine all the incredible lessons it taught Tesco and the industry at large.

Obviously, the goal isn’t to make mistakes, but neither is it to avoid risk. As a skating coach told me many years ago, you never learn to do anything new on ice that doesn’t involve you falling down a lot of times.

I’m thinking the same hold true for pretty much everything. It’s only a failure if we don’t learn from it. Otherwise, it makes us stronger.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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