Although we all knew the term, “black swan events” were such a mysterious

and distant notion, you’d give yourself a mental high-five for dropping their

existence into strategy or Board meetings. Well now we all know. Covid-19 is

calamitous for businesses large and small. Worst fears have been realised if

not superseded. I took my eldest daughter who was about nine years old at

the time, to school in fancy dress once, to find that we were a week early.

Being an introvert, the entire fancy dress thing was an absolute nightmare for

her, so when I said to her on the drive home to get her uniform,

“See darling – your worst fear has been realised. It wasn’t that bad was it?”, her stunned silence and saucer-like eyes said it all. For an extrovert like me, the opportunity presented itself to be hero for a day. My pivot would have been to turn what many would have perceived as a disaster, into a glorious opportunity. My daughter’s pivot was to retreat, regroup and return, ready for the new day. And both would have been perfectly acceptable as far as pivots go. Pivoting is action and solution-oriented. It’s the antithesis of cowering or standing down.

Nobody was feeling too heroic at the outset of this pandemic of ours. Sure,

there have been some very obvious and much heralded winners, but even

they would have been shocked by the speed at which their businesses,

stakeholders and business models were disrupted and discombobulated. (I

never want to hear or say “unprecedented” again. Milky Bar to anyone who

catches me henceforth.) No one company has been without challenges.

Some are going to come out stronger, and many will very unfortunately cease

to exist. I remember being in the schoolyard at pickup time when we first

moved back to Australia from London. One of the mothers, who was

absolutely charming and became a friend of mine, told me that I was the

reason she and her husband went bankrupt. They’d had boutiques and she’d

heard that I was one of the founders of Net-a-Porter, which was one of the

.25% of dotcoms to survive the bust, and which changed the way people

perceived online shopping. I was gutted for her and her family, but equally

knew that they hadn’t kept up with constantly evolving wants and needs. They

hadn’t pivoted their business to give their precious customers 24/7 access to

products and services they desired. Similar challenges and opportunities exist

today, with new paradigms such as economic insecurity, higher digital

engagement, remote working, social distancing, a focus on hygiene and

wellness, nesting at home, the redefinition of purpose and introspection,

shortened supply chains, supplier instability and de-urbanisation, all of which

we need to attend if it impacts any of our stakeholders. This is where we pivot,

to ensure we evolve our offering so that it keeps pace with the evolving state

of what it is to be human in today’s society.

There’ve been a number of stages throughout the pandemic, once we all

realised and agreed that it ain’t no flu. Bigger businesses needed to dig out

their Crisis Response Plans and hope like heck they were robust enough to

cope with total and utter disruption on every level. Smaller businesses needed

to create theirs on the fly. Where there was still a pulse, business as usual

needed to be protected and bolstered. It’s from this point where organisations

started to diverge and deviate. Some retreated and too quickly, retrenched.

In most cases it showed a lack of leadership and imagination and a total

disregard for their stakeholders. Team members, suppliers and customers

were treated as though they were expendable. How very last century. Others

immediately started the process of how they could pivot to survive in the

short-term while creating sustainable and profitable growth for the long term.

There have been innumerable businesses that have done a sterling job of

catering to the evolving need states of their customers. Even the smallest

pivot can make a big difference. Take Guerilla Tacos in California for

example. They introduced “Emergency Kits”, which were supplies for forty

tacos and a roll of toilet paper. While I find their ratio intriguing, I love the

concept for our time.

We can’t fall in love with where we were, and we certainly can’t and shouldn’t

rely on historical cycles to repeat. To paraphrase Tadashi Yanai the founder and CEO of

Uniqlo, you can’t predict the future, so why don’t you just go out and

create one. The idea of imagining and creating a better future for ourselves,

our stakeholders and our businesses sounds rather delightful. This Black

Swan and her pandemic present us all with an opportunity and catalyst to

pivot for purpose and profitability, and in doing so, create something infinitely