Creating The Silver Lining

By: Vessela Igntatova (Labs Manager, London)

Why getting through the global pandemic is less about runway and more about resilience.

In my current position, I get a lot of questions from the WeWork Labs founders about “how to cut costs to survive this pandemic?” There is a mix of despair, optimism, fear, hope, and heightened emotions. Each of them is in a unique situation, which requires a bespoke analysis and solution to go through this period.

As someone put it, I have turned into a Chief Resilience Officer.

I find myself being reasonably optimistic about the outcome come the end of this. I am not alone in my attitude: some 4000 business leaders from around tuned into an LBS leadership series last week, and 43% voted they were optimistic about their company’s prospects after the crisis. So about 1700 of the people in that online session saw a silver lining.

I can’t speak about them, but here it is how I got here.

In May 2008 I graduated College in the US, thinking the world was my oyster. The economy was booming, and I saw no reason why my plan for a glamorous career in advertising wouldn’t work out. I went on countless interviews, proving an International Relations major who should have been a diplomat, is interested in brand strategy. I spoke about my involvement in marketing and business classes, study abroad in China, Princeton conferences, sports team wins. I also spoke about a study I had done on the American Presidential election of ’08, examining the quantity and quality of communication in “Social Media” by the two candidates. Based on primary data I had collected, I had drawn conclusions to show Obama was going to win. A few of my interviewers even asked for a copy of that paper. I was hopeful I had done something of value, and people were going to notice. Then Lehman Brothers went bust, the housing market in the US went down the drain, ad agencies started laying off people en masse, and the world didn’t seem like an oyster any more.

One day, I got a call. It was the HR of BrandPharm (now Saatchi&Saatchi Healthcare) who called to ask me if I could start work on the following Monday. He went on to elaborate, that my paper had caught attention. It showed critical thinking, hustle, and an understanding of an emerging field. Even though they had let some people go, they wanted me, and they wanted me fast.

I had done something of value; it got me a cool job; and top it off, it got me that job at a time of mass layoffs. It was the night of the Presidential Election in the US. I came into a pub in Midtown in NYC, to a party with my mentor. Greeting me from the door he said: “How did you get hired?! I just had to let go of people. But what I know is they can take away your resources, but they can’t take away your resourcefulness!

This comment stuck with me, and I purposefully have always looked for ways not excuses: like finding a way to become an ad strategist, to create an IoT from within the advertising industry, to go to business school, to do a full 360 through the tech and VC industry in London. Every single leap in my progress is based on a perceived adversity turned into an opportunity. On some level I managed to create a silver lining.

Now at WeWork Labs, I have done a number of dedicated sessions with our founders to help through the crisis. Conversations on how to analyze supply chains, how to determine if and what costs to cut, how to find pockets of opportunity in this environment, how to repurpose products or pivot if needed. There are a ton of strategies and case studies one might examine. Each of our start ups has to adopt a unique stance and work through this in a way no other company could. All of these strategies are worth a separate post.

But there is one common thread to conquering the crisis. We must first conquer our own minds. We should start by adopting the right attitude. When despair hits, one freezes, goes into a frenzy or goes into overdrive. Resisting that, and training your mind to preserve its clarity and creativity is how we all go through the darkness and find the silver lining. These 1700 people on the LBS leadership series all found the silver lining. I am glad I am one of them.

It is not optimism. It is resourcefulness.

If you're interested in connecting with Vessela Igntatova directly, please visit the Mentor Directory on the Member Portal or ask your Labs Manager for assistance.

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