There’s saturation of Covid-19/coronavirus blogging these days, so I’m mostly avoiding it. Naturally with a caveat like that, this’ll be a post about…Coronavirus of course. But this isn’t about coping or stress or health-in-a-lockdown or how-everything-will-be-different or whatnot.
Right as everything was beginning to hit, I was actually in Las Vegas speaking at a conference. Of all places, at all times, I know. It was early March, and we were right at the cusp of realizing that things were not good. Nothing had really been shut down yet, I recall talk of ‘social-distancing’ as a novelty, people were cautious about shaking hands. In all, it was a weird precipice where we all kind of had an idea that things were going to get weird and bad, but not how badly and even not really how. One thing was for sure, even before politicians started shutting our communities and states and economies down: This was going to negatively impact business.
One of my fellow participants and I struck up conversation over a drink and she said something like, “so how do you plan to take advantage of this?” She wasn’t being evil or cynical. She was just acknowledging that times of crisis often also offer opportunities. After all, it’s Warren Buffett who’s credited with saying to be fearful when people are greedy and be greedy when people are fearful. But as we spoke, she went a little deeper and said even more bluntly: “This is a dream for anybody in investor relations, don’t you think?” And she’s right. To put a finer point on it, she said, “You can try something new, a new business venture, a new product, be experimental in your business; and anything that goes wrong you can just blame on the virus.”
She was advising boldness in the face of danger. Now, on the one hand there are some stories so obvious they’re legend: Uber, Venmo, Pinterest, Instagram, Groupon, Slack, WhatsApp, and more were all born during the Great Recession. (You could go even further back in your time machine and look at companies like GE, GM, Microsoft, and FedEx, all born in their own recessions.)
But even if you’re not looking to start a brand new venture, there’s room for you on the mountain. Now may be the time, with everything up on the air to change how you do things…wherever you are. In fact, I’m not sure she was even thinking from that literal entrepreneur’s perspective anyway. She was actually recommending that established organizations should be bold as well. And she’s right.
It’s easy to look at the romantic starting of all those organizations when chips were down, and that’s a good reason for the allure of these stories. But even if you’re churning away at an enterprise that’s been going on for some time (and successfully!), this may be just the sort of opportunity to try something new and bold. With the economy at a standstill, fewer people have the wherewithal to make big-ticket purchases. That may be the case for a while. Now may be the best time to innovate and revolutionize your current products or offerings.
The best part is you’ve got nothing to lose. Well, maybe not nothing. But perhaps nothing more than you may have been set up to lose in the first place. With everything seemingly metaphorically swirling the drain, might you have any chance in surviving anyway? As dark as that may sound, think about it this way: If you try something new and things don’t work out, were you otherwise going to be doing any better anyway? And on the other side of that coin, if you come up with the next great mousetrap, guess what? You’re a genius! (And you did it in such difficult circumstances, etc…)
It’s kind of a no-lose situation if you see it in a particular light: Try nothing new and forces outside of your control may destroy you. But people will understand…it was coming and there was nothing you could do about it. Try something new and that may also happen. People will still understand, but you got to try something (and obviously learn from it). But, if you knock it out of the park (and let’s be honest…in a situation like we have now, perhaps even surviving is knocking it out of the park), you’ll go down in the history books. And if you don’t, you can always say, well…it was that damned virus.