The New York Times referred on Friday to the Dismal Jobs Report that showed a fat zero in job growth for August. Six million people in the U.S. are out of work, and many more are underemployed, or involuntarily working part-time.

From the Times article:

“The problem is less that companies are laying people off than that they are not hiring. Consumers and employers alike seem almost frozen in place, with many economists saying they seemed paralyzed by uncertainty about the future after the brinksmanship of the debt ceiling debate, the ensuing cut in the United States credit rating by Standard & Poor’s, stock market whiplash and more bad news from Europe.”

If fear exacerbates our economic ills, we need to start thinking about working from a place of UNFEAR.  We are going to be in a world of hurt if we don’t start stoking the fires of innovation AND the fires of big-picture thinking, and those things don’t come from fear-based paralysis.

Where are the business leaders who are stepping up to re-hire their laid off workers? Where are the leaders who are saying something about what needs to change? Where are the leaders who are investing in R&D and focusing on innovation?

They do exist! I’m here to give you a positive story as an antidote to the bad news.

Karen Barnett, President and CEO of Valley Screen Process, is a second generation owner (her father founded the company in 1967). The company has grown into a large format graphics manufacturer with customers in multiple industries. They provide digital printing, signage, decals for recreational products, vehicle wraps, kids decor, and decorative graphics for architectural applications.

Karen let me know about her leadership challenge: “As the RV industry grew, we became specialized in graphics for RVs and boats. In 2008 when the recession hit, people weren’t purchasing RVs and boats – our sales dropped by 70%. In 2007 we were enjoying our best year ever, we had 75 employees, and in 08 we were down to 30 employees. We were in survival mode to try to get through this experience.”

“We did a lot of creative things to survive, and we asked our people to help us develop products for new markets. What helped us do that is that we were no longer too busy to stop and think. All of a sudden we were able to innovate! We were able to talk to people about what the market needs were. We were not only able to service our RV customers when that business came back, but to address new needs.

We have two different new businesses – an online store called Olee Kids www.oleekids.com for children’s graphics. We do architectural graphics for windows and walls- www.OleeCreative.com. We make custom wall decals, we take photos and do giant sized prints.  We make canvas art. We also do what I call “cute kid decor” – monograms, names, etc. We looked at our equipment and what we could do with it in a new way.”

“We had to be persistent.  It took all of 2010 to develop what we wanted to do with our capabilities. We are now so excited to say we’re kicking off new websites, our core business has come back, and we’ve made it through the crisis. We were able to retain the 30 people, and call back 20 more. We brought all of our employees back with benefits and at the wages they had when they left. It’s a success story!”

Karen practiced UNFEAR!

Remember the four practices?

  1. Accept the real & focus on the future
  2. Build relationship & community
  3. View challenges as opportunities
  4. Practice physical and mental discipline.

Big business listen up! Follow the example of inspiring leaders like Karen Barnett. We need some Unfear in here!

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