It was 2 AM Saturday morning. Suddenly I was wide awake. Why? I listened for strange noises, a hint of something bad that had just occurred on the streets below me, or in the hallways outside my loft. All was quiet. I settled back and drifted off to sleep.

4 AM! Awake again. Suddenly it dawned on me. There was no impending doom in the hallway or on the streets below. It was stress, 2009 style. I was thinking about projects that have been delayed or postponed. I was thinking about my employees, rent, the mortgage payment, and all the bad news from the week, including the loss of another 651,000 jobs in February.

This is stupid. This preoccupation is nonsense.

Hours later, as I groggily browsed through the Saturday morning edition of the Dallas Morning News, I found this interesting article.

Barrage of bad news can get in your head, affect judgment

By ERIC TORBENSON and BRENDAN CASE / The Dallas Morning News;

“If you managed to avoid Friday’s statistical contribution to the economic apocalypse by hiding in a closet, here it is: The nation’s unemployment rate shot up to 8.1 percent last month and we lost 651,000 more jobs.

“Chances are you heard it on the radio, television or our Web site, maybe through a Facebook update or a Twitter tweet. The conga line of bruising news blankets consumers in a headline bombardment that’s probably making things worse.

“The play-by-play of this downturn accelerates what some call the psychology of recession: how bad news makes people feel worse and spend less, resulting in more bad economic news.”

Recipe for Bad Decisions

The article went on to say that people who become obsessed with the daily data dump of increasingly bad economic news, are more likely to make mistakes in critical business situations.

I am a former newspaper reporter and editor, probably the only former investigative reporter working in the search industry today. One of my early newspaper jobs was as the Telegraph Editor, the person who edits copy from the wire services. So I come by my addiction to monitoring news developments quite honestly. However, after my restless night, I am going to swear off the bad news habit and focus on what is really important – my wonderful clients and competing for the business that is still there.

Times are tough but, in fact, the number of CEOs and other senior executives who are leaving their jobs – or are being forced out – continues unabated. Thus the demand for executive search consultants continues as well. Yes, we have had a couple of projects postponed, but the end of the world has not arrived. Yes, these are worrisome times, but I am not going to make it uncomfortably worse by focusing on developments over which I have no control.

This is not the time to hide in the closet. There will be big winners and some spectacular losers in these tumultuous times. You can let the bad news set your strategy or you can plot a course to take advantage of new opportunities that will certainly present themselves while everyone else is watching the doom and gloom on the 24/7 cable news shows.

Come out of the closet. With all due respect to my colleagues in the news business, it is time to stop listening to the endless bad news.

My Suggestion

For those who still have jobs, and that is the vast majority of Americans, do not fall victim to the trap of becoming so busy trying to keep your job that you forget to do your job.

If, like me, you are an equity partner or if you own your own business, now is the time to focus on strategies that will allow you to thrive, not just survive. Stay focused. Let your competition listen to the drumbeat of bad news. Let your competitor make the bad decisions.

Recognize that clients will appreciate a value proposition that emphasizes top-tier service at reasonable prices. Customers will value companies that are willing to share risks and own the quality of their work in a true spirit of partnership.

There will always be potential customers who feel they must pay the biggest firm the highest fees. After all, that is the safe strategy – pay the big fees and hope for the best. But big firms, with high fees and big overhead, are like a battleship trying to turn around in a narrow channel. They cannot turn quickly. They are not flexible. In the bad times, their high overhead, expensive fees and costly project expense budgets are not so popular. Regardless of your industry, there are smart clients will be looking for a better answer. Think clearly. Stay focused. Give them the solution they need.

Quality service, exemplary results and reasonable fees – as the Chairman of an executive search firm that is exactly where I want to be. That is the value proposition that I want to own.

Besides, being safe and hoping for the best are lousy business strategies.