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Crisis as a catalyst for change

By: Georgina Safe

The pandemic has forced us to re-evaluate almost every aspect of our lives, in particular how we work. With Victoria in its second lockdown and New South Wales experiencing a “second wave” of Coronavirus cases, it seems likely that when we finally emerge from the current crisis it could drive us to go beyond recovering to finding new and better ways of doing business. The year 2020 has seen other big issues come to the fore, not least the Black Lives Matter social equality movement that began in the US. Locally, the small south coast NSW hamlet of Manyana is fighting development of bushland saved during summer’s devastating fires. It’s one of many community environmental movements rising up around the country.

This troubling trifecta has produced much discussion and debate about questions fundamental to how we live, work and walk on this earth. And the clear need for a change in thinking and actions. But where does the rhetoric stop, and the measurable results begin?

Crisis can be a profound catalyst for change, through generating opportunities to connect a new sense of purpose with improved productivity. As we focus on getting through these challenging times, there is also an opportunity to learn from them to generate greater value for business and improvement in how we live our lives.

Critical Thinking

To really thrive in the future, we need to question basic assumptions about how we’ve being doing things and anticipate new opportunities – then act on them. “In times like these when there’s a lot of fear and panic a lot of reactive stuff happens,” says Investible head of global programs and partners, Elisa-Marie Dumas. “It’s important to build in some critical thinking and challenge the way you look at your business - to explore opportunities, to embrace resilience and build your capability through innovation.”

Investible is an organisation that supports business founders with vision, with the tools and opportunities they need to thrive. Thrive is also the name of the program it runs to help retailers, manufacturers and the hospitality sector to future-proof their businesses and take them to the next level. With current partnerships underway with the City of Sydney’s Retail Innovation Program and the LaTrobe University Covid-19 Industry Response Program in Melbourne, Dumas is well placed to offer insight on how businesses can not only survive these difficult times but, well, thrive. “I have a lot of hope for what can happen out of times like these,” says Dumas. “Many unicorns were born in the tech sector out of the last GFC, and in retail and hospitality right now there’s also a wealth of opportunity for growth and innovation.”

Dumas advises companies to look at where the Covid-19 pandemic has been most disruptive and use it as an opportunity to begin to redesign that part of the business. If the products are no longer a good fit, focus on developing new products and if manufacturing has been disrupted, focus on evolving supply chains into networks that can accelerate performance improvement. If customer relationships have been disrupted, perhaps leverage digital infrastructures to connect with customers in deeper and more flexible ways.

The key is to remain flexible and forward-thinking while identifying new opportunities, then employ courage and a can-do attitude to implement them immediately. “When dealing with massive things like a pandemic, what you choose to launch may only be relevant for the next six months, so you have to be prepared to have a plan A, B, C and even D,” says Dumas. “What you choose to build now may not be a long term strategy, so you need to be comfortable with the fact that the business is going to continue to evolve with many different iterations.”

An Open Mindset

Being open to new ideas is crucial. “We get businesses out of focusing on the day to day, which of course right now has been quite gruelling, and instead infuse them with new ways to test and validate fresh ideas for them to move forward,” says Dumas. In turbulent times there’s a temptation to react quickly to whatever is happening at the moment, but she advises taking the time to anticipate where the economy is headed and what specific business opportunities might arise out of that. “You then need to test and validate your ideas with people in your immediate network or community,” says Dumas. “Many people launch things without going through that validation process and they end up building a solution for a problem or opportunity that doesn’t exist. You need to really do your homework to understand if there is a market that actually exists for your product or service and never rely solely on your own opinion.”

Dumas employed this approach to help Illa Kim from SOUL Dining to pivot her fine dining business during Covid as part of the Thrive program. The result was the Surry Hills restaurant launching a completely new sub brand called BOWL by SOUL with new social accounts and a website up and running within three weeks. Since reopening the restaurant SOUL has kept the sub-brand as a complementary delivery-only model which now provides an additional revenue stream. “With what we learned from the program, we could react fast in face of the coronavirus crisis and came up with a new concept,” says Ila Kim from SOUL Dining. “We could validate our ideas and decisions faster and get valuable feedback from our peers.”

Be Proactive

Sina Klug and her business partner Jacques Dumont took a similarly proactive approach to reposition their Nutie gluten-free donut and vegan sweets company during the pandemic.

With the threat of Covid keeping customers indoors, the pair set up a new online platform to facilitate takeaway orders and leveraged Instagram to keep customers engaged. Reaching out to fellow participants of the Thrive program, the duo was also able to test new products and form partnerships to offer joint products to drive growth. “We have been able to develop new strategies for our brand, work together with other businesses and grow our product portfolio based on advice and feedback,” says Klug. “It was probably the main factor in getting us through this and moving the business forward.”

As the founder of The Broad Place, a school for creativity and clarity that helps businesses foster a culture of positivity and productivity to drive success, Jacqui Lewis also understands how to move from rhetoric to results. “Research is vital – not just executing on a whim – and planning with excellent execution is incredibly important,” says Lewis. “Simply filling a hole in the market in the current climate won’t provide longevity for a business and while stop gap measures might get us through, long term thinking and planning must be the precursor to execution.”

By looking far ahead, as well as focusing on what matters today, she says businesses will be in a much better position when we emerge from Covid, and while she agrees with Dumas that soliciting feedback can be helpful, she cautions against relying on it too much. “Asking an audience and going off feedback is on one hand incredibly important but also can become misinformation when trying to work out a larger picture,” says Lewis. “Diving deeper into the why, the purpose and the rationale behind any pivoting or changing is so important. Frantic and wild throwing out of ideas can harm more than help a business and confuse an audience. That said, creative adventure and experimentation is key, so softer investment and a steadier approach is where the ideas can move into actualisation for the longer term.”

The pandemic has brought panic and pause, pain and bewilderment – and also a chance to take stock of how we live and work and the impact we are having on the planet. Conclusions reached, it’s time to walk the talk and set meaningful change in motion. Let’s see it as an opportunity, to make decisions that will see our personal and business lives thrive, along with the planet. This is the moment to press start, flick the switch and ignite the change.
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