The Black Swan of 2020
Novel Coronavirus and the related COVID-19 is clearly a Black Swan event of unprecedented scale and scope. Regardless of how we respond individually — as communities, cities, states and countries — we are in the midst of a vast and unexpected transformation that will reshape us in ways we can’t anticipate or imagine.
As a business person, strategist and marketer, with a strong vested interest in the local and regional entrepreneurial ecosystem, I am inspired to ask: do the economic impacts of this Black Swan event call for all of us, no matter the scale, age or focus of our businesses to seriously consider committing to a strong pivot to respond and adapt for future viability and survival?
How many businesses are even able to make a pivot at this time? Even if they are prepared to do so, how many have the resources?
I believe we have an obligation, and an opportunity, to step up, to reach beyond the distribution of loans and grants and handouts, to bring our experience, perspective and resources to support a transformation in our business communities.
It is not enough to #stayhome and #stopthespread—though both are crucial to safety and life—we also need to attend to the economic challenges we are facing, supporting the #bigpivot to help those businesses that can #getdigital and #getdispersed.
This is not a trivial matter. For example, consider how the disruptions of travel bans and stay at home orders are challenging those businesses that have relied on in-person interaction either internally or between employees and customers—spas and salons, call centers, to name a few—and also those businesses that have relied on either their customers or employees traveling—tourism, for example, among many others.
To survive it is critical that these kinds of businesses invest the time and energy necessary to adapt to current conditions.
We can imagine several possible approaches to this:
- Slap together a short-term solution in the hopes the situation will resolve quickly and then quickly return to “normal.”
- Commit to adding a strong online offer that will sustain the organization through the crisis—that is designed to continue to be viable in the long-term and add to growth when it is possible to return to F2F and travel-based operations
And the third option, really a more aggressive #2, is to commit now to a fully online play sacrificing prior modalities for a completely digital/dispersed future.
In “Lean” terms we might call these three options
a). pivoting without committing to the pivot,
b). pivoting strategically and
c). the full pivot.
While we might intuitively advocate for the third option, the complexity of the situation is too great to resolve to a single answer or approach. The notion of making a “pivot” is in fact limiting on what may be necessary, or possible. Indeed it is quite possible that the answers cannot be framed at all at this time and will likely only emerge situationally through application and experience over time.
Of course, we don’t have a lot of time. And (a final assumption) the vast majority of businesses don’t have the internal resources of vision, expertise and capital to take action on their own. If we are to respond we cannot respond simply, with a competitive mindset and an eye on our own bottom line, we must also act as a community with the goal of strengthening ourselves as we help others.
In closing, let me revise the question I asked at the outset; For those of us who are and have been involved in creating the conditions for growth in our region—through investment in infrastructure, economic development, expanding the entrepreneurial ecosystem or the provision of capital and more—does this Black Swan event produce an obligation and an opportunity for a more aggressively engaged, collaborative, response that will surely transform us and the business communities we participate in and serve?
In other words, how might we contribute to the increased viability of all businesses challenged by COVID-19 in our region and beyond?
John Walden, March, 2020
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This essay was written from my new “living room office” while experiencing mild flu-like symptoms. I won’t say I “have” Coronavirus as there is a limited supply of empirical tests in my area at the moment, but in a sense, in that uncertainty, we all have it, and it’s not going away soon.