One of the funniest comments I heard about Brexit this morning, as we awoke to its being a reality, was in response to the question of how Brussels will react. The answer was given “they will be completely shocked”. If it is true, it tells us all we need to know. There was a referendum in the UK yesterday; it was always going to be close. This is not a shocking result, and anyone who is shocked by the outcome must surely be open to accusations of some degree of arrogance.
Politicians will disagree about the political, and economists will disagree about the economic effects. In my previous blogs I have been clear that I do not believe we can predict what will happen in this Brexit scenario, so speculation is as good as we can get. A look back at history does tell us that humans, economies and people generally are far more resilient than we fear and no doubt we will be living in very interesting times. We should be more than cautious as pundits supply endless opinions on how Brexit will impact on business.
But what of your business and what can we learn?
After an initial, nose-dive it took moments to see the markets start the upward part of a sinusoidal swing and improve after Mark Carney gave his excellent and calming speech. The markets will fall again when someone else says something silly, and then they will spring back another time, etc etc. That is what markets do. While I may have preferred not to have a Brexit, we will simply have to adapt to gradually changing business patterns. Every business person has been doing that forever anyway. I am more interested in what we might learn from this.
What we have really learned here is that we should not take people for granted. The big lessons are to be careful what you ask for, remember the laws of unintended consequences, and show humility. Cameron and the EU did none of this. He should never have offered the referendum, if he had truly believed that Brexit will be as bad as he warned. Therefore, we must either assume he lied about his views of the consequence of Brexit, or he knowingly led his people to their downfall. Either way, it was not glorious, and his resignation is unsurprising.
On Wednesday, (watch for obscenities) the NME quoted Noel Gallagher (not a person I ever thought I would quote, and even now, cannot endorse all he says) as saying we should not have had the referendum in the first place. In 1969, Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac, wrote in “Oh Well”:
“I can’t help about the shape I’m in
I can’t sing, I ain’t pretty and my legs are thin
But don’t ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to.”
What we saw here was an attempt to negotiate by the UK being squashed by an EU that was too self-assured to imagine the possibility that the UK might vote to leave. Meanwhile, the UK Government was too conceited to listen and understand the feelings of its people. Pride comes before a fall, they say, and it is most likely that the EU has much to lose. Germany has just lost its most important counterpart in the EU. Wise politicians will accept the people’s decision and play nicely together. Similarly in business, we must always be prepared to discuss, negotiate and consider the opinions of others, including our partners, staff, customers and suppliers. We must never be too greedy, too rigid, too focused on our own intentions that we are dismissive of and fail to accommodate others.
For owner-managers in business, the next few years may be rocky, but taking a calm and thoughtful approach, listening to the people around us, and avoiding the arrogant condescension which in the end was what resulted in the exit vote, are likely to place us in a stronger and profitable position in the longer run. We don’t have a choice now, but we can choose how we play the cards we have been dealt.
And so now is the time to start building a future. We should not wait for Mr Cameron’s replacement, but we need to start working now. We have decided collectively to jump from a larger ship where most of the waves of fortune would have a diluted effect and now we need to start swimming. The people, and especially entrepreneurs, should now stop looking to politicians to lead us, because they clearly have no idea how to do so. We should take this as a chance to insist that the UK is not EU-Light, but is a new breed of enterprise, and not politician, led economy.