I Survived an Earthquake. The Lesson I Learned Will Change Your Company...and Your Life

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

Note from author and educator, Lynn Hinderaker: "My wife and I survived the San Francisco earthquake of 1989, the largest in America's modern history. Our apartment building didn't collapse although many others did. How will your business 'remain standing' in the face of unpredictable turbulence? How will you, personally, deal with a psychological emergency?


The tectonic plates of commerce and community are shifting underneath us.

“Although humans have steadily adapted to change, on average the rate of technological change is now accelerating so fast that it has risen above the rate at which most people can absorb all of these changes. Many of us can’t keep pace anymore.”

We must learn to become more vigilant and to act faster, according to George Day, Wharton professor. Otherwise, we are going to experience an "industry earthquake."

Tech-driven earthquakes are already disrupting industries such as taxicabs, auto and apparel retailing, hotels, travel agencies, shopping malls, broadcasting, tax preparation, publishing and agriculture. Insurance, banking, manufacturing and transportation are next.

The key is to notice the "fault lines" that precede an earthquake. "Fault lines" are non-obvious signals that foreshadow opportunities or threats to your business. To understand what they mean, we need to cultivate candor, high curiosity and exploration within our company culture.

If you are late in picking up on a fault line or a "weak signal," there is a good chance that someone else inside your organization has actually noticed it. If you ignore the fault line, research proves you are vulnerable.

If you have peripheral vision and spot the earthquake coming from the "sides" of your industry, you can outperform your competitors by 200%. In other words, after the earthquake subsides, your company will be worth about twice what your competitors will be worth.

The earthquake often comes from digital technologies that ignore traditional industry boundaries. Start-ups may bring in a new technology to destroy an old one or create a hybrid of the old and the new that is superior.

Sometimes the technology lowers costs. Often, it enhances the customer experience.

The companies that ignore the fault lines because they are not obvious are going to be vulnerable. Those managers are often short term oriented and stay within their familiar settings. They don't step outside the bounds of their industry. They don't challenge themselves, nor do they invest in foresight.

To gain foresight, these traditional companies could conduct research with "lead users." The point is to stop reacting and recapture "strategic freedom."

For instance, CPAs focus on interpreting historical financial performance. But many of their clients want them to be more proactive, more big picture and more communicative. These desires can empower accounting firms to become strategic consultants. They have that freedom if they want to truly serve the younger client's needs.

The key is what the leaders in your company are paying attention to. If they get sucked into internal politics, they don't have time to fully anticipate scenarios for the future that could be vastly different from the status quo.

When the fault lines that precede an earthquake are weak, it's hard to build a strong case that you should make a bold move. By time those fault lines become obvious, it could be too late.

Many managers avoid this entire discussion because it is rife with ambiguity. Even so, you must start asking, "What is happening in our environment that people are curious about?" Next: "Why is this happening?"

These questions will help you survive an earthquake. It takes time to prepare and the realization that what you've been doing in the past will get scrambled into irrelevancy when the earthquake finally erupts.

Just because you can't see it clearly right now doesn't mean it's not coming.

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