Doing business in times of uncertainty is like twirling your skirt

Written by Josephine Palermo, Director Geared for Growth, and co-creator Higher Spaces.

During this very strange time of uncertainty, I often feel both optimistic and pessimistic. I err on moving forward which means taking calculated risks, and investing in, rather than contracting, my business efforts. I focus on challenging myself to be relevant in the new normal, whilst hoping that I’m going in the right direction before I have to change, pivot and twirl again!

colourful Baiana skirt

For the co-working business I co-created with Shu Shan Tan two years ago, this has meant many pivots. We closed our business in March, then re-opened in a staggered way a month later. We invested in new physical and digital spaces in an attempt to be relevant and on point when demand comes back our way. We are banking on people needing us again when they feel safe enough to work outside of their homes. We hope they will have shifted their expectations about where work happens after months of working remotely. We envisage that more people will demand more from their working lives having discovered that productive work isn’t conditional upon going to the office every day.

My friends see this and think we are brave, and say “well done” for our innovative drive and perseverance. I am grateful to have a business partner I trust, because at times I am not brave, but scared.

And at times, she is scared, and I can be brave. Sharing the burden of uncertainty relieves the burden somewhat.

Going brave into the future with so many unknowns reminds me of how I feel when I dance. When I dance I throw my whole body in, and hope to execute my movement well enough to land back on two feet. There is no time to doubt whether I will or not. I twirl, leap and land, and then leap again. But the twirling and leaping bring me so much joy that it’s unfathomable to think about stopping just so I can be more certain on my feet. If that were the case there would be no highs in my movement and no excitement or surprises.

Perhaps doing business right now is a lot like dancing: you need to throw your whole body in and then land on your feet.

Note, I’m not advocating for blind faith and a lack of discipline. Leaping and twirling is well executed because of my many hours of training and conditioning. I have spent 1000s of hours studying and performing cultural dance. Pivoting in business requires the same sort of discipline and effort. It requires taking calculated risks rather than leaps of fancy. You need foresight and strategy to know where your feet should land, and adaptability to redefine your services as you go.

The Brazilians have a saying that perfectly describes the courage it takes to pivot in the face of uncertainty; “Roda a Bahiana”. It basically translates to “I twirl my skirt”.

My Portuguese colleague (thank you Stephanie Silva!) described it this way “a Baiana is typically someone who was born in Bahia, Brazil. The Bahianas are famous for amazing food, and a beautiful, colourful and culturally rich society of people. The typical dress of the Bahianas is layers of colourful skirts – and traditionally, many follow Candomblé (Portuguese pronunciation), “dance in honour of the gods”. When they dance for the gods, they typically twirl in circles with speed and ferocity”. So in Brazil, you say ‘Roda a Bahiana” when you mean I’m just getting stuff done, (in a Nike ‘Just Do It’ sort of way), even when you don’t know what’s in front of you.

For me, right now, doing business during the Covid-19 pandemic means I am frantically and ferociously twirling my skirt – Roda a Bahiana! If you’re inspired to twirl your skirt too, here’s some music to get you started!

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