There has never been a better time to be a start-up.
Amidst this shut-downs, fear, uncertainty of businesses opening their doors, people stuck at home and unemployed, how is this even possible?
#1. Disruptors and Dinosaurs playing the same game
For many years, disruption and innovation have been hot topics in business, education, and health. I’ve read numerous books that address these topics: how to build organizations and teams to invent new products and services, how to avoid the perils of not changing, and how to effect philosophical change with employees and their leaders to name just a few. In almost every one of these books, however, the authors take an almost theoretical approach. Sure, they name companies that have gone out of business due to their own hubris and blind spots, and they also cite several key examples of how the little guy took out the big.
But, now, we have a different world wide health and economic situation. Innovators and stodgy, inflexible companies operate in the exact same environment. With no more status quo to protect, the nimble company can more effectively neutralize competitive advantage and leap over smaller barriers to entry.
#2. Talent sitting on the sidelines
Yes, many people are out of work, so consider for one moment how many potential ideas, how much experience and knowledge are just waiting to be tapped. A friend of mine recently placed a post on LinkedIn to hire for some freelance work. Normally, he gets 20 replies to his query. He informed me he received hundreds of responses. Does this reveal the desperation of many people searching for work? Yes. It also demonstrates how many fresh ideas, energies, and abilities await to change the organization where you work and change it for the better. But if you don’t want it, some other leader does and that person will find new employees who will make it happen.
Furthermore, a lot of people I know are re-assessing their professional priorities. If they can find companies offering meaningful work aligned with their values, and more importantly, leaders who understand people do best when they have a stake in the outcome of their efforts, then these people will not return to old systems and old incentives. If you lead a company that has recently furloughed people, you will have tremendous difficulty re-hiring them if they are returning to the same old, same old.
#3. Real people want real connections
I have written several posts about the great clarity we are now experiencing. I’ve recently concluded we now place more value on authentic human interactions. Just as if we’ve been walking in a desert, the water we seek is real relationship, real conversation about real issues. Most of us have spent considerable time on Zoom or some other form of digital conversation. Now, we want the real flesh and blood.
People will start to love even more organizations that offer meaningful, real, and substantial human connection. Winning companies will tell stories that have real human feeling in it. You can build loyalty now if you believe what you say.
#4. It’s Alive! New business models emerge
Similar to point number one, new models are emerging. Take, for example, one of the most stilted industries in the United States: higher education. For years, colleges and universities have resisted change. Costs have escalated, and people keep paying tuitions to attend large lecture classes. These institutions have built enormous and opulent facilities, financed by cheap money. Students have accrued shockingly high levels of debt.
Look at a recent prediction from Inside Higher Ed. The authors outline 15 different scenarios for college instruction next year, and only one is a return to business as usual. Do you really think colleges will open in the fall doing things the same way they always have?
Thus, COVID-19 has done what nothing else could: forced colleges to change their business models. (A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes the inevitable closing of many schools and the hard choices for others.) I don’t know what best practices and models will succeed, but think of the numerous opportunities for nimble organizations to solve instructional problems.
Take that thought and apply it to your organization. New models mean yours must change.
In the past five years, I’ve worked with a variety of companies and organizations. Some would qualify as a traditional “start-up” and others would qualify as more entrenched, established organizations. But, when I say there has never been a better time to be a start-up, I don’t necessarily mean some fresh company with a swash buckling entrepreneur at the helm. No, I mean a mentality. Can your company and can you adopt a start-up mindset? If you do, a return to the “new normal” will look quite good.