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Lessons for Startups: Don’t Neglect Important but Not Urgent

businesswoman noting down important tasks

Most of us by now are familiar with the meltdown of Southwest Airlines’ most critical systems at the height of the 2022 holiday travel season. Though preventable, this failure is on some level understandable. It epitomizes the important-and-urgent trap that Stephen Covey warned against in his seminal 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Important but Not Urgent

All of us are susceptible: it’s quite natural to react only to matters that are both important and urgent while neglecting those important-but-not-urgent actions like disaster prevention and ongoing education that can both minimize vulnerabilities and foster longer-term growth.

On the surface, Southwest was functioning fine, living up to its unique value proposition and entrepreneurial creed. Its unconventional scheduling system was transporting countless planeloads of satisfied customers each day, often at bargain fares.

One snowstorm then abruptly unmasked the neglected cracks in Southwest’s systems as seismic fault lines, jolting the entire organization into crisis-level urgency.

In business, it’s easy to dwell almost exclusively in important-and-urgent. Particularly for new businesses whose survival depends on running lean and just-in-time, longer-term risks can easily fall off the radar.

As an entrepreneur or new-business founder, it’s critical that you channel some of your discipline into proactively identifying potential problems – with accounting and security systems, with customer privacy, in your supply chain, and especially among your staff (if you’re at the point where you have staff) –  before these problems erupt into catastrophes. And for goodness’ sake, if a team member raises the alarm on any legitimate issue, honor their vigilance and protect your business by confronting that issue head-on.

Southwest has the resources to recover from a calamity. Most smaller, newer companies do not. Always be nimble and efficient, but also take the time to honestly assess and address any issues that may be latent or manageable for now but could upend your company on some unlucky day in the future or gradually erode your competitive advantage.

How can you adopt more of an important-but-not-urgent mindset? What will you do today to fortify your company for tomorrow and beyond?

Feras Alhlou

Feras Alhlou

Feras has founded, grown, and sold businesses in Silicon Valley and abroad, scaling them from zero revenue to 7 and 8 figures. In 2019, he sold e-Nor, a digital marketing consulting company, to dentsu (a top-5 global media company). Feras has served as an advisor to 150+ other new startup businesses, and in his current venture, Start Up With Feras, he's on a mission to help entrepreneurs in the consulting and services space start and grow their businesses smarter and stronger.

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