The Thing About a Crisis

My Great Uncle Jeek says “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” He did not make the quote up, but I’ve never forgotten it. I think it may actually come from Albert Einstein.

Jeek is also pretty happy right now watching the show Gold Rush and cooking beans in a pot. The quarantine works for some people, I guess.

Over the last few days, I’ve been reading about some businesses who are still trying to build despite the Corona Crisis. I heard the Texas Roadhouse CEO is slashing his own pay. I’ve never had food at that restaurant, but I respect it. He’s trying a takeout-only menu that is as contactless as possible. I think of Amazon hiring 100,000 workers to fulfill the sudden surge in shipments or General Motors now making ventilators. I even heard the f’ing My Pillow guy switched his entire manufacturing plant into a place where 40,000 protective masks are made. I love that attitude. Don’t wait for someone to save you. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

Back in 2008, when I was just getting started in the trading world, I was fascinated by all the moving parts and people. I took notes. I did not know if those notes would come in handy again, but today, they are. One thing has perplexed me, however: the same people who were there in 2008, say in media, politics or a position of corporate power, are largely here again today giving advice. Why would I listen to anyone who was bailed out? I’m looking for the new leaders. What companies and people can not only survive this, but actually adapt and get stronger without a weak bailout.

The world is really good at balancing itself over time. Even the moon pulls bodies of water from one side of the Earth to the next while maintaining perfect balance. I wonder if the great 2008 bailouts will ever come back and ask to be “balanced.” I think modern finance, for example, could actually benefit from a wave of creative destruction. There are so many old and terrible processes in finance, many of them carried on from 2008 in both corporate and retail.

The other month, when I was traveling, I was surprised by how many people and businesses had completely adopted digital payments. Not a single credit or debit card, besides my own, was seen in my travels. The US still needs to push this. Fintech companies, it would appear, have an opportunity right now with everyone so spread out. I think Venmo and Square could deliver government stimulus 100x faster, especially to an unbanked population, than any other solution. Intuit and GoFundMe recently created a system to let people support their local businesses online through donations and small investments. I love hearing stories like this. I respect the adaptation.

The opportunity goes far beyond business and banking. In DC, our politicians average age is over 61 years old. The three most important positions on either side, POTUS, Speaker, and Majority Leader average 77 years old. Yet the majority of the country is aged 25 to 50. Are we so sure our political leaders really understand the dynamics of the country? I think, in times of crisis, quite a few doors can suddenly swing wide open. The Corona Crisis, as bad as it’s been, just might need young people to step up in a big way. Those who have been waiting for their chance, will get it.

When the Black Death swept through Europe in 1346 they were still huddling near candle lights, wearing muddy rags, and struggling to even get a cup of porridge. Europe was never the same after that. Today, we are all inside connected, gaming, working, and binging TV shows. There is still plenty of opportunity and while this isn’t quite Europe in 1346, the changes and opportunities today will have a lasting impact on how we do things for years to come. There is no better time to strike than when a crisis rages on.

Thanks for reading. I’ve wrote a lot in the last week, so please read more if you find it interesting.

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