Jay’s Straight Talk CXIV…A Call for “Creative Leadership” I-85 bridge collapse in Atlanta illustrates how adversity brings challenges and opportunities for all leaders

Written by Jay McDonald on .

Recently, Atlanta experienced a terrible fire and bridge collapse, altering the lives of residents and visitors and significantly disrupting commerce. Gratefully, no one was hurt. When disaster strikes, it forces leaders who live and work in the affected areas to alter their lives.

For example, I just had a lengthy discussion with a colleague whose business (and life) has been greatly impacted by the I-85 bridge collapse. She and her employees cannot access the facility – or the company’s inventory, records, and documents to complete current projects. In the blink of an eye, this transportation disaster struck the company. Now the business owner is in full-on disaster recovery mode.

If you live and work in Atlanta, do business there, or travel through the city, you know that life has changed, at least for a while.

It will take months for Georgia DOT to demolish the current bridge and engineer, design, and construct the replacement I-85 bridge over Piedmont Road. At this busy junction, roads are closed in every direction. Sadly, the tongue-in-cheek saying, “You can’t get there from here,” may be all too true.

Clearly, businesses located in the immediate vicinity of this transportation disaster (like my colleague’s company) will be significantly disrupted for quite some time. Yet others are impacted as well:

  • How will employees, customers, and suppliers create alternatives to I-85 as a critical north-south route to access businesses and residences?
  • How will traffic corridors be modified to distribute products or deliver services?
  • If customers cannot readily access their preferred businesses, what will happen if they change their travel route – and their buying habits?
  • What will happen to businesses relying on the tourism industry? Will they suffer an economic loss if these people cannot readily travel to those businesses?

The solution requires Creative Leadership.

As an executive coach and Vistage chair, you may have heard me talk about Creative Leadership. In fact, you may have heard one of my favorite stories: In 1914, Thomas Edison’s factory burned to the ground – a $1 million loss of products, research notes, and physical inventory. Yet he was able to view the devastation as a fresh opportunity. While looking over the ashes, Edison was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “Although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again tomorrow.” He viewed it as an opportunity to look at previous ideas and inventions through fresh eyes and with a new perspective.

This is a great example of Creative Leadership. Most people would be distraught! They’d be wringing their hands and pulling out their hair. Edison, however, looked at the situation as an opportunity to start fresh and creatively envision – and build – a new and better business.

Perhaps I have a special affinity for this story, since Atlanta is commonly referred to as the Phoenix rising from the ashes. After the Civil War, Atlanta rose from its ashes, rebuilding itself into the magnificent city we’re so proud of today.

Here are some Creative Leadership ideas to overcome the challenges of Atlanta’s current transportation disaster …
  • Regarding your employees: Take a fresh look at employee job descriptions and specific tasks. Which tasks can be done remotely? If your business has several locations, can certain tasks be combined and addressed in just one location? Or perhaps this is the right time to embrace telecommuting, carpooling, and outsourcing solutions.
  • Regarding your customers: Can you drop-ship products directly to them from your vendors? Can you encourage customers to access your business via public transportation? Can you offer more services over the Internet? Can you ramp up marketing and advertising campaigns, so customers continue to patronize your business and don’t change their buying habits?
  • Regarding your organization’s disaster recovery program: What would happen if your company was struck by fire, flood, tornado, or some other disaster that changes your business (and life) in the blink of an eye? Are you prepared?

When adversity strikes, this is when CREATIVITY is at its best.

Any time disaster strikes, we can look at it as an end or as a new beginning. Adversity gives us the opportunity to look at things in a totally new light – and with creativity. As individuals, each of us can be creative. Better still, when people collaborate as a group, the creativity is amazing! Our collective solutions can be truly astounding!

From a leadership standpoint, this is a time for the business community to come together to find creative solutions. Pulling together to combine our creativity, positive attitude, and resourcefulness will ensure our success.

A call to join the conversation:

What are YOUR ideas for Creative Leadership during this transportation disaster?

Here is a challenge for leaders, not only in the Atlanta business community, but throughout our nation and the world. Share your ideas! Let’s combine our creativity. Let’s think about how we can each do our part to lessen the burden of this setback on the lives of others: our employees, customers, and suppliers – as well as fellow leaders whose businesses and lives have dramatically changed overnight.

Here in Atlanta, as the Phoenix rises, we know we have the resilience and determination to make things better. That kind of spirit and resolve will pull us through this tough time.

Share YOUR ideas: No matter where you live, please take a moment to comment on my blog or on my LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter pages. Let’s collaborate on Creative Leadership solutions!

Jay McDonald

With a unique breadth of knowledge earned through decades of hands- on experience, Jay is recognized as a strategic visionary whose high energy, quick wit and straight talk combined with a passion for mentoring others allows him to help executives achieve greater results and enjoy more rewarding personal lives. Connect with Jay McDonald on Google+

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