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For months,I have argued that a down economy can be a great opportunity for companies to try something different or start something new. I don’t mean to minimize the pressures and setbacks that are part of unleashing real change in tough times. If all you’ve got is a spreadsheet filled with red ink and dire forecasts,it’s easy to be paralyzed by fear. But if you’ve got some leadership nerve,and can muster a few good ideas,then hard times can be great times to separate yourself from the pack and build advantages for years to come.

Don’t believe me? You can read it for yourself in The New Yorker. In a wonderful column last month,James Surowiecki reminded us of the bold strategic moves that repositioned companies and redefined industries during periods of turmoil. He told the story of how Kellogg,during the Great Depression,"doubled its ad budget,moved aggressively into radio advertising,and heavily pushed its new cereal,Rice Krispies." As a result,Kellogg became (and remains) the industry’s dominant player. It’s also worth remembering,he points out,that Texas Instruments introduced the revolutionary transistor radio during a recession in 1954,and that Apple launched the iPod six weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks — hardly the best time to start a pop-culture phenomenon.

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