In 1933, when FDR delivered his first inaugural address, U.S. unemployment stood at 25%, and 7,000 banks had folded in three years. Even as he cautioned his fellow Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he also conceded that “only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.” The realities of that moment still appear at this instant to be grimmer than those of the current one. Yet with a staggering 26 Million American filing for unemployment over the last five weeks, it’s challenging to dismiss projections of jobless rates reaching or even eclipsing the Depression-era peak that confronted FDR on that very first day of his presidency.
Today’s Americans may not emerge from the coronavirus siege embracing anything approaching the extreme of those directly impacted by the Great Depression, and no reduction in federal responsibilities in the current situation is likely to take the country back to pre-New Deal mode. However, it would be unwise to assume that the severe jolt to our sense of physical as well as material well-being inflicted by this crisis will leave no mark on our human behaviors going forward.
Obvious ones that may never return include handshaking (a tradition long gone in Japan), full-service toll booths, buffets, and sadly free samples at Costco. However, as we dig deeper into the business world, there are less obvious ones that can transition into new ways of doing business. This article seeks to highlight letting go of the past and what to look for in the new COVID-19 World.
We have often heard two widely accepted quotes that seem to contradict each other. The first describes a stonecutter who strikes the rock 100 times with no result. However, on the 101st blow, he sees the rock split. In short, it was not the 101st blow alone that split the stone, but the 100 that went before reinforcing the message of persistence and “staying the course.”
However, the second quote is that the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing again and again and expecting different results. The message here is if what you are doing is not working, change what you are doing.
In this COVID-19 World, the question the entrepreneur faces is when to persist and when to change course. The answer depends on the circumstances. To be successful in business in today’s world or any other endeavor, you must be willing to persist when times are tough.
Like the stonecutter, you must be willing to continue working hard through patches where there are no visible results. At the same time, success also requires that you be ready to change course when the current path is not getting you where you want to go, especially during a pandemic. Pivoting now and reinventing yourself may help you thrive later.
Depending on the type of business, we see shifts and pivots in commercialization strategies to help organizations recapture, maintain, and ultimately grow revenue. Obvious ones include storefronts to Direct to Consumer or “you come to us” vs. “we come to you,” adding guaranteed supply of hard to get essentials into unique offerings. Less visible but impactful pivots for CFOs include choosing profitability overgrowth. Government Subsidies, forgivable loans, and grants are the preferred option during these times vs. dilutive funding, and traditional bank business loans or lines of credit.
Looking inside and redefining, your organization should include using this crisis to define a new mission. Instead of ducking from the crisis, refine your company, and embrace it. Externally getting to know your clients better and looking at your client’s challenges from an outside perspective is essential. From a business development standpoint, look ahead at tomorrow’s needs. Ask the question: “What’s my unique selling proposition, and what should it be?” This will allow your organization to pivot and redefine itself appropriately.
Most importantly, believe in your business! See the light at the end of the tunnel. The changes you make to your business model will eventually add to the bottom line and improve profitability. When you believe your business can make it now, you will be a stronger, more resilient, less vulnerable company for the future.