My First Rule for Everything: Don't Panic - How Douglas Adams Changed the Way I Manage My Business

Bring A Towel, Ditch The Potatoes

In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker's Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects. First, it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words DON'T PANIC inscribed in large, friendly letters on its cover.

- Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 

Along with priceless information regarding the massive usefulness of a towel and inherent mistake of thinking you can solve any major problem with just potatoes, Douglas Noel Adams (‘52-’01) cemented his place as a modern-day social philosopher. His mantras have been echoed across countless mediums and have maintained their relevance throughout generations. Wise words, no doubt, but they still pale in comparison to what is perhaps the most important advice he had to impart; “Don’t Panic”. It may seem like it goes without saying, but we’ve all forgotten this tenet before. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of tossing reason to the wind as we run back and forth, exhibiting all the symptoms you would expect from a patient currently having a stroke. How often has that ever helped us? Not once. The reason is obvious; as long as you remember not to panic right off the bat, of course. A reasonable and rational approach will produce tangible results. I find it hard to achieve this in a panic, but if it works for you then turn back now and accept my sympathy for what must be a neurotic existence. Panicking, for the vast majority of us, doesn’t produce much other than a trail of destruction made up of strewn belongings, with bemused, if not slightly offended, onlookers.

Less Stress Means More Productivity

It said: The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases.
For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?

- Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 

Now, what weight does a social philosopher carry when it comes to business? A lot, it turns out, especially if you’re starting out or getting ready to expand. There can be a lot of reasons why you may want to flip the switch and push that big, red PANIC! button, but many more reasons why you should absolutely, positively avoid even getting close. I’ve never really been prone to panic, preferring to spend my time planning how best to proceed when it’s actually time to act. I believe that if you can’t immediately do something meaningful to change your situation, then you may as well direct your pent-up excitement toward formulating a plan of attack, instead of simply worrying about how you got there. Considering why you are in your current predicament is always a solid first step to ensuring that you’re able to avoid further catastrophes in the future, but there’s no reason to dwell on what you could have done better or get yourself any more worked up about it. Rafiki put it rather well when he said, “It doesn’t matter; it’s in the past.” Yes, I quoted a baboon from a Disney cartoon; go ahead and judge me, but I stand by it.

A Cup of Tea With a Dash of Optimism

This planet has—or rather had—a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

- Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 

Building and maintaining a business, or anything for that matter, means running into these roadblocks from time to time. You really can’t do much except to hope for the best, while planning for the worst. And if the worst does come to call, please do me a favour: Suppress the urge to tear down your wallpaper and ask yourself whether or not you can immediately and realistically do anything about your situation. If you can’t, panic will only lead to eventual, and entirely preventable, health issues that we’d all rather not hear about. It’ll also get you nowhere fast, and that’s not good for anyone. Instead, pour some tea, crack a beer, or grab yourself a glass of whatever it is you have hidden away in your cupboards. Next, figure out exactly when you are able to react before working out how you can make things better in the meantime. Having a solid timeline can have an immense psychological impact on your productivity, much like the security felt by those who remembered to bring their towels.

Have a Plan and Adjust it to Fit

"I checked it very thoroughly," said the computer, "and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is."

- Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 

Fact is, if you’re right in the thick of it then it’s time to work out how you’re going to play the hand you’ve been dealt. The best laid plans take time and careful preparation, but sometimes even plan ‘B’ gets knocked flat. Taking a hit from time to time can be a good thing. Setbacks keep us grounded and growing, as long as we’re properly equipped to turn a negative into a learning experience. It helps to remember that industry leaders and heavyweights all started out right where you are. Nobody is born with an innate sense of how to navigate uncharted waters, and it will always take dedication and perseverance on your part. Your mindset and how you approach obstacles ultimately determines how far you will go. You certainly won’t end up anywhere close to the podium by forfeiting a few steps into a marathon because you got all flustered and put your shoes on backward, or, even worse, showed up with no shoes and brought a sack of potatoes instead.

Deciphering the Double-Speak

The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards-somersault through a hoop whilst whistling the 'Star Spangled Banner', but in fact the message was this: So long, and thanks for all the fish.

- Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 

 So how does this relate specifically to you and why should you care? Well, if you’re about to dive unprepared into the world of online marketing , you’re probably going to want to take a deep breath and get ready to spend a lot of time struggling to grasp what amounts to simple concepts, meaninglessly spun, self-styled, and acronymed into gibberish by every ‘guru’ out there. It all boils down to the value in information and data. And there’s a ton of value there; always has been, always will be. When less people know something, it becomes worth far more. People like to finish on top; it’s just in our nature. I, however, believe that we will all be better off the more we collectively know. All you really need to know is that nothing is intellectually out of your reach if you take the time to learn it properly and cultivate exceptional resources. The only issue is finding the right information. There’s plenty of room up here, and we’ve reserved a seat with your name on the it. Now it’s time to step on up, accept your potential, and claim what’s yours, with maybe just a little help along the way.

Get Your Feet Wet

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.

- Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 

What I’m trying to say is that everything you need is easily obtainable, basically open-source, and ready for you to soak it all in. All it takes is a deep breath, and sometimes a few preliminary baby steps when starting out. The road can be daunting, and even seem pretty treacherous at times, but that’s why I’m here to remind you, “DON’T PANIC!” It’s really not as bad as it looks.The internet, for example, has made our lives much more mundane in certain ways (because nobody cares about what Jennifer and Patrick had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but we still pat them on the back for showing us). On the other hand, it has also opened up a fascinating network that allows us to connect with some of the best and brightest minds on the planet for a one-on-one brainstorming session or pull up today’s issue of The Jakarta Post to catch up on the latest tourism news from Tidore, all from the comfort of your home. The only real issue for newcomers is how to sift through all the nonsense, or, better yet, how to avoid the nonsense altogether and get right to the good stuff.

Find the Right Communities

Many (people) were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.

- Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 

Simply signing up to social networking platforms, popping up a template profile, and adding some of the people closest to you can go a long way towards finding the right people without having to do much maintenance. I have personally had people with some serious titles add me on LinkedIn because of things like my interest in cycling, coupled with a distant acquaintance who neither of us can actually remember meeting. This was after I had been inactive for years and then spent a half hour adding some old friends who popped up in my feed as possible connections. The two of us have had some great chats, with awesome ideas bounced around on both sides, as well as personalized, applicable advice for any issue I may be having. The thing is, I’ve never met the guy in real life. I honestly have no concept of where he lives, who his friends are, or where he likes to eat out, but that hasn’t stopped me from getting some superb pro-bono ‘meetings’ and project advice on multiple occasions. All it took was the click of a button and a simple, “Hey, thanks for the add. If you don’t mind my asking, who are you again?” A little engagement goes a long way

Put Open-Source and Crowdsourced Information To Work For You

Only those of us who do not know where our towels are would ever notice that the cool people know where their towels are.

- Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 

Open-source communities will always be a superb way to tap into any field and end up looking like an expert. I personally maintain a running list of resources, and run through my bookmarks monthly in order to keep them fresh and relevant. I always recommend everyone do the same and on a regular basis. Don’t ask, it’s just one of my quirks and it makes me feel better. I guess warn you that I’m also known for being a little overzealous when it comes to keeping my entire hard drive immaculately organized, occasionally deleting important files and folders while irreversibly stuck on autopilot. Question-Answer platforms like Quora are a superb resource and efficient way to tap into some big talent with great advice, completely for free, on a much shorter-term and reliable basis than hoping to connect with a distantly-related Partner at an accounting firm who also organizes international bicycle tours in his spare time. ‘Experts’ on platforms like Quora range from weekend warriors to long-time professionals, and just about everyone is ready to give a detailed answer, put in layman’s terms, to your most basic questions. If you do have a question on Quora, make sure to find me first. I’ve got you covered.

Get Educated

A slow stupefied silence crept over the men as they stared at the computer and then at each other.
"Well, you know, it's just Everything ... Everything ..." offered Phouchg weakly.
"Exactly!" said Deep Thought. "So once you know what the question actually is, you'll know what the answer means."

- Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 

Another big step is to look into relevant certifications that you can earn. Usually, punching in your industry, followed by +certifications in your search engine, will give you a rundown of everything you need to know. There are now a ton of platforms that will teach you just about every element you need to get caught up or completely teach yourself a new set of skills. If you’re just looking to get the most out of what the internet has to offer, you don’t even have to take the certifications, most of which require a small fee to be paid, to become an expert in whatever field you wish. If you’re looking to get hired, then take the exams when you’re ready. At the end of the day, the fees are minimal in comparison to the benefits down the line. Not only will you make yourself more of a commodity, but you can also do it all from the convenience of home during your spare time, with no added stress. You get to set your own schedule and go from there.

Know Your Limitations

The chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the sense of it and keep yourself occupied ... Look at me: I design coastlines... I'd far rather be happy than right any day.

- Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 

With every possible piece of information literally at your fingertips these days, it can be easy to get a touch overzealous. It’s important to remember to keep in mind that being able to do something doesn’t necessarily make it a sound decision to go for it. There’s no real rush (remember, we’re not panicking here) and overloading yourself with too much input can be seriously detrimental. Learning is wonderful, but if you push yourself too far, you end up not properly ingesting the material. There’s a reason why you hear, “Quality over quantity” so often, and that’s because it works. Focus on one task at a time, plan them out, and leave space in between as a buffer, just in case anything goes awry. Dropping the ball isn’t really a big deal. Dropping a bunch of balls, however, leads to a much larger mess. Furthermore, you just won’t end up being able to get it all down in a meaningful way. I mean, it would be fun to have the time to sit down and just teach myself whatever I fancied, but the reality is that prioritizing and limiting your options is probably going to be a good call. Remember, there are a team of professionals ready to help you with whatever you need, so focus on what’s important to you and let the pros handle the rest. Once you satisfied with a given skill, feel free to start on the next, but don’t feel like you’re in a race. Trying to shotgun too much at once is, to me, just a focused focused form of panic, and for no real reason. Too long and it’ll suck all the fun right out of you, assuming the complaints of my better half weren’t just a hallucination after a near-sleepless week on my part, trying to squeeze in that one, last task. Maybe that bowl of petunias can help me to bed? Okay, but just one, last ...

Expand Your Horizons

Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now.

- Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 

It all boils down to maintaining the right outlook. Yes, obstacles present challenges, but those challenges, in turn, present new opportunities and avenues for growth. Building a successful business is all about finding a niche that you’re good at, and then approaching in a reasonable manner. Engaging relevant communities, cultivating the right relationships, and taking things one step at a time in an applied, structured way are all you need to succeed while ditching the stress that doesn’t need to be there. So, at the onset of any challenge, first stop to make a pot of tea, then step outside for some fresh air and think about how far you’ve already come and the obstacles you’ve already cleared. Once the pot’s finished, you can then more properly address ‘Why’ there’s an issue, ‘When’ you are able to reasonably address the issue, and deciding ‘How’ best to address it in the meantime will save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run.