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Is this your Kellogg moment?

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in Leaders & Managers

In the late 1920s, Kellogg and Post dominated the market for ready-to-eat cereal.

When the Depression kicked in, Post followed the crowd and cut costs. Kellogg, however, doubled its ad budget and came up with Snap, Crackle and Pop. By 1933, its profits had grown nearly 30%.

Kellogg based its decision on research showing that companies won during the 1921–22 recession if they kept advertising.

Plenty of research shows the same thing since then, including studies of the 1981–82 and 1990–91 recessions.

Research also shows recessions create openings for upstarts. In 1990–91, twice as many firms as usual leapt from the bottom to the top. That’s what Chrysler did during the Great Depression, and that’s what Hyundai appears to be doing now.

Kraft brought out Miracle Whip in 1933. Apple introduced the iPod in 2001.

In times of uncertainty, it’s natural to want to control what you can: minimizing losses and hoarding cash.

But business professors report two kinds of failure: “sinking the boat” with poor decisions or “missing the boat” by letting opportunities pass. These days, most leaders are standing to the side, paralyzed by the thought of a decision that will sink them.

That’s what makes this a Kellogg moment. And that’s why it’s so hard to be Kellogg.

— Adapted from “Hanging Tough,” James Surowiecki, The New Yorker.

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