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not superseded.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