Life,  Wealth

4 Strategies to Survive and Thrive as a Professional in Times of Economic Uncertainty

Some time ago, a 52-page presentation titled ‘Adaptation and Tolerance’ showcased during Sequoia America’s internal symposium issued a rather profound warning:

The era of unrestrained growth driven by monetary and fiscal tools has elapsed, marking the arrival of the direst times where growth without constraints is no longer endorsed. This recovery period won’t resemble a swift V-shaped rebound but rather a protracted phase of restoration.

Additionally, the report emphasized that amidst this bleak juncture, the paramount skill is the ability to pause and deliberate, with those adept at navigating change being the ones to endure.

So, what is the strategy for survival amid a global economic downturn?

1. Opt for the appropriate domain, embark upon the fitting vessel, and trail the right mentor.

Making judicious decisions at pivotal life junctures akin to a secondary rebirth is no hyperbole in an age when ‘hard work’ has become the norm.

For professionals, the crux lies in selecting the apt domain, vessel, and mentor.

Choosing the right domain involves delving into a sector with minimal competition – a ‘blue sea’ industry.

While some may contend that all sectors are now saturated, rendering the concept of ‘blue sea’ null, I concur to an extent. Nevertheless, significance only materializes through comparison. Amidst this comparison, there still exist relatively new, cutting-edge, less competitive, and more remunerative industries.

The National Bureau of Statistics has enumerated factors contributing to wage disparity among the populace. Among these factors – industry disparity, regional discrepancy, and occupational divergence – the primary determinant is the variation in industries.

In essence, if one aims for a lucrative occupation, the initial prerequisite is entering a promising industry. To a large extent, the choice of industry determines a professional’s income ceiling.

Therefore, eschew the herd mentality; disregarding claims that no ‘blue sea’ exists or that all industries resemble each other, opting for any job is merely camouflaging strategic indolence with tactical diligence. Regardless of the timeframe, an industry worth selecting is always worth considering.

Boarding the right vessel entails joining a swiftly burgeoning enterprise.

Stepping into a rapidly evolving platform can yield substantial returns, as evidenced by the story of Ali’s Tong Wenhong.

When Tong Wenhong first entered Ali, she served as a mere receptionist. However, Ali was on the brink of a rapid eruption at that time. Tong Wenhong’s transformation into Ali’s ‘most inspirational’ partner worth billions, progressing from a humble front desk role, can be attributed not only to her personal attributes but predominantly to Ali’s vigorous potential energy fostered by rapid growth. Such returns are unattainable solely through personal endeavor; one must join a platform brimming with potential.

Associating with the right individual implies aligning oneself with a leader willing to acknowledge, utilize, and afford opportunities.

Wang Huiwen, formerly the second-in-command at Meituan, hailed from the rural northeast. Wang Xing, Meituan’s founder, shared a dormitory space with upper and lower bunks occupied by Wang Huiwen. Wang Xing, a scion of wealth, exhibited the audacity to drop out of school and venture into entrepreneurship. Conversely, Wang Huiwen, born in the countryside and eventually admitted to Tsinghua University, also displayed the courage to abandon academia against familial objections. Subsequently, she became Wang Xing’s indispensable support and altered her life trajectory.

For ordinary individuals, life necessitates traversing numerous stages. However, fortuitously aligning with a leader, even if one cannot emulate Wang Huiwen’s accomplishments, can significantly diminish detours and facilitate crossing certain stages.

2. Embrace the Barbell Strategy to Enhance Resilience

In his work ‘Antifragility’, Taleb delineates three categories of attributes: fragility, robustness, and antifragility.

Fragile entities crave stable environments and succumb to uncertainty-induced disruptions, akin to glassware on a table or individuals lacking immunity.

Robust entities remain relatively indifferent to their environment, enduring minimal impact from uncertain changes—comparable to stone tablets or metals, resilient but unaided by fluctuations.

Antifragility denotes the capacity to thrive amidst uncertainty. The more severe the disruption, the more adaptable the system becomes, akin to a torch enduring stronger winds.

Taleb proffers a specific strategy to exploit uncertainty, coined the ‘barbell strategy’.

Fundamentally, in resource allocation, it advocates mitigating risks by pursuing stability and assured returns while concurrently embracing risks and engaging in swift trial-and-error initiatives. Successful ventures may yield limitless returns.

The barbell strategy’s rationale has been corroborated in business and professional realms.

Huawei’s contingency plan serves as a prime example.

Huawei’s core business lies in telecommunications, a domain ensuring steadfast and sustained profits. Leveraging these profits, Huawei invested in long-term, intensive chip research and development to counter the eventuality of a ‘neck-breaking’ situation.

When this crisis eventually struck, Huawei’s contingency measure swiftly ascended to the pinnacle, not only ensuring survival but also fundamentally altering Huawei’s landscape.

Similar tactics have found application in professional pursuits. Yu Hua, Mingyue, and Liu Cixin—eminent personalities—all adeptly employed the barbell strategy during their formative years.

They balanced an undemanding, low-pressure ‘idle job’ while discreetly pursuing their creative passions. Through stable, low-risk employment, they secured a certain income while accruing recognition and popularity through sustained creative endeavors, eventually reaping boundless rewards.

Cultivating a personal brand and garnering visibility is a prowess.

Thomas Peters, an American management scholar, emphasized in ‘Your Own Brand’: Irrespective of age, position, or industry, recognizing the importance of building a brand is paramount. In the metaphor of one’s career and life, we serve as our CEO.

The rule for surviving in 21st-century work environments is establishing a personal brand.

I resonate deeply with Peters’ assertion.

As a technology executive at a publicly listed firm, I commenced my journey in the realm of self-media around four to five years ago. Initially, my intent was to share technical and managerial insights post-work. Unforeseen was the burgeoning popularity—heightened readership, active commercial engagements, and invitations for forums and consultations from business proprietors and publishers. The consequent income eventually surpassed the annual earnings of an executive at a listed company by my third year in the media domain.

My personal experience underscores the significance of cultivating a personal brand in the digital age.

The more competitive and despondent the era, the greater the necessity to reinvent oneself and manifest one’s value.

Once one’s value gains recognition and dissemination, a burgeoning personal brand and influence ensue, presenting hitherto inconceivable choices and opportunities.

Conversely, confining one’s thoughts and actions limits visibility. Even possessing the requisite skillset would remain futile without exposure, leading to perpetual anonymity and precluding opportunities.

4. Save, Save, Save

In 2023, the ‘Double 11’ not only witnessed a diminished fervor but also registered record-low turnovers. According to third-party monitoring data from Star Map Data, the total turnover on that ‘Double 11’ day barely exceeded 270 billion yuan.

Previously, this turnover was the domain of singular mammoth entities. This downturn stemmed not only from consumers developing immunity to common sales tactics but fundamentally from an inadequate financial standing, instigating a newfound frugality in

spending.

Our current milieu epitomizes a confluence of a ‘K-shaped era’ and an ‘M-type society’. Despite the grandiose terminology, its essence lies in a single notion: the polarization and disintegration of the middle class.

Enterprises mirror this dichotomy; some expand extensively, venturing into diverse sectors, leveraging brand premiums, higher value additions, and elevated gross profit margins. Conversely, others decline steadily, experiencing diminishing scales, shrinking market shares, waning brand influence, and dwindling gross profit margins, sometimes dwindling to the status of OEM workshops.

Similarly, individuals bear witness to this social stratification, with high and low-income classes at extreme ends and the ‘middle’ stratum teetering on a precipice.

In the past year, I’ve observed at least 5 or 6 friends who were considered part of the ‘middle class’ by societal standards. Their large residences gave way to smaller abodes, and their children transitioned from private to public schools. The common thread among these shifts was the instability of their workplaces, a drastic decline in income, and an inability to sustain substantial fixed expenditures.

During the epoch of rampant consumerism, many adopted patterns of excessive and overdraft consumption, disregarding the prudence of saving, deeming it regressive, conservative, and lacking in prestige.

Yet, this notion belies the profound truth. Transitioning from an offensive to a defensive asset allocation and consumption mode is imperative.

Warren Buffett dethroned Bill Gates as the world’s wealthiest individual in 2008. When queried about surpassing the former richest man, Buffett attributed it to his frugality, stating, ‘I surpassed Bill Gates because I spend less.’

Financial mavens among the affluent comprehend the virtue of prudent savings. When earning 3500 a month, what rationale precludes us from cultivating a robust saving habit?

Some may argue that wealth is earned, not saved. However, consider the ‘latte effect’, where seemingly inconsequential expenditures (such as buying coffee or opting for a taxi over public transport) accumulate into substantial outlays.

In times of instability and uncertainty, financial reserves provide assurance and confidence.

Effectively managing savings embodies the pinnacle of self-discipline and represents meaningful delayed gratification.

Formula 1 driver Alton Senna once remarked, ‘In good weather, you can’t surpass 15 cars, but in rainy weather, you can.’ In essence, while harsh environments harbor peril, they also conceal unforeseen opportunities.

Crucially, one must discern a path not merely to survive but to flourish, continuously bolstering one’s resilience.

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