If you believe in astrology, then you know when Mercury has gone retrograde. That means the planet Mercury passes between the earth and the sun, appearing to move in the opposite direction of the earth. As it slows down and appears to stop, it creates the illusion of a planet spiraling backward. According to believers, during this three-week time frame, the planetary influence wreaks havoc with your life.
Because Mercury governs communication, travel and technology, it seems everything that can go wrong does. Technology malfunctions. Business deals are botched. Flights are missed. Communications are misunderstood. Computers and cell phones go haywire. You may even find yourself getting into bizarre arguments with people for no apparent reason. It feels like swimming against the tide. Everything that can go wrong seems to go wrong. Even though there is no scientific proof to back this up, if you are wondering what in the world is going on, chances are Mercury is retrograde.
Recently, I felt the effects of Mercury going retrograde. It started when prior to presenting at a well-attended leadership event, my computer refused to project. No matter what we did, nothing worked. Despite precautionary measures that included having all of my slides and videos on a memory stick and stored in the cloud, even the professional IT staff couldn’t figure it out. The show went on without my slides and videos.
Then there was the car rental issue. The windshield wipers didn’t work which I discovered in the middle of a tropical Florida rain storm. During the same time period, at it’s debut, my newly released book Ordinary People: Extraordinary Lessons had a printing issue and had to be re-printed. At home, the washing machine broke. The TV cable box went on the fritz and our phone lines went out. I should have known it was a sign of bigger trouble to come.
The date was March 2. A friend called to warn me our company might have been hacked. I thought she was wrong. Then other friends and business colleagues started calling to say they received what appeared to be a suspicious email from me. My friend was right. Within minutes, malware had invaded our company database, deleting contacts and sending out emails to hundreds of people from my personal email address asking them to click on a document which would corrupt their database as well. Unfortunately, some clicked before we realized what was going on and alerted everyone.
Here’s what happened. Earlier that day, I had received an email from a magazine editor I knew. She asked me to open a link and approve some edits to an article I wrote that she wanted to run. It appeared to come from her email address and a program called DocuSign that looked like the real DocuSign. Since I use that program, I clicked, thinking nothing of it. Unfortunately, the email tricks you into opening an attached file which downloads and installs malware on your computer. Since then, DocuSign revealed they were the victim of a data breach of customer email addresses that led to massive phishing attacks.
For us, the damage was devastating. Even though our company has multiple back-up systems, while attempting to restore current information, much of it was compromised and unable to be restored. Not only did we lose years of contacts and notes, but current information was replaced with outdated information. Today, nearly six months later, we’ve recovered, but are still feeling the effects when looking up contacts that no longer exist.
Advice to take precautionary measures before a retrograde spell is common sense business advice that we should all heed. Back up your computer, calendar and cell phones. Expect travel delays and double-check contracts and documents before you sign.
However, there is a bigger lesson that applies personally and professionally other than being extra careful until Mercury returns to direct motion. What can you and your business do that you haven’t done to prepare for the unexpected? Even if you’re prepared, as we thought we were, what other steps can you take to manage chaos if it arrives at your doorstep? Consider these ten tips:
1. Back up important data every day. Whether using an outside service or doing it manually, just do it!
2. Have a crisis communication plan. Who will manage the issue? How will you communicate information? Who will be the spokesperson?
3. Establish social media accounts and monitor them.
4. Anticipate most likely situations in advance and draft basic message responses for each.
5. Like going to the dentist, it’s important to get regular checkups to assess where the holes and weaknesses are.
6. Identify subject experts who you can call immediately. If dealing with a public crisis, these people may also be able to speak on your behalf.
7. Hold practice and training sessions which will help you identify strengths and weaknesses as well train your key spokespeople.
8. Re-read all important contracts, documents and bank transactions
9. Re-confirm appointments and travel arrangements
10. Google yourself. Are the results positive or negative? What can you do to improve or enhance your digital footprint?
Like the period before Mercury retrograde, quiet times are often the best times to prepare for the future. In our case, I never thought something good could come out of something so awful. Yet there was. Our database is now updated and more organized than ever before. This has led to more efficient and productive email notifications. We’ve also implemented an additional backup system that we didn’t have before. I am more careful than ever when it come to clicking on links and opening attachments. That means taking extra time to check email addresses even when an email appears to come from someone I know.
Whether the planet Mercury is to blame or you’d rather label the circumstances bad luck, the key to both is planning in advance so you survive the ride; then recognizing how you can improve so you’re better prepared next time. Yes, next time.
Mercury goes retrograde three to four times each year. Astrologers say it’s important to be extra cautious during these times. Crisis management experts claim a number of small problems occur in companies every week. They say sometimes managers don’t recognize the crisis or they refuse to accept a crisis is happening.
When my friend first called to advise we may have been hacked, at first, I didn’t believe it either. I remember thinking, how could this happen to us? After all, we have precautions in place. Despite that, it did happen to us.
If you think it can’t happen to you, perhaps you need to think again.