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2020 saw the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout all aspects of our day-to-day and working lives. Many of us saw, or were involved in, sharp changes to accommodate the impacts of the pandemic. What is most interesting is the rate of change and innovation that we saw take place through last year. Largely driven by fear of the unknown, businesses were more willing to try new things, to take chances and this led to arguably one of the most innovative years in recent memory.
As businesses shut their doors, retailers switched focus to other means of doing business which of course was largely online. In hospitality take out became the ‘new normal’ with pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants offering premium meals for collection and takeaway. Outside of the direct B2C environment, businesses strived to find ways to make their teams effective when working remotely.
Initially, these changes were sharp, unexpected and were done on a needs-must basis. But as it became clear that the impact timeline of the pandemic was longer than many had first thought, businesses started to innovate in efforts to differentiate themselves in the rapidly changing environment. This led to brand new services and experiences being offered to customers, and more effective and structured methods of remote working, team collaboration, and customer acquisition.
The wave of uncertainty caused by COVID-19 forced open people’s minds. It opened people’s minds to taking calculated risks to maximise opportunities, or to minimise the impacts of the situation. There was less conservatism in the approach. A recognition that maintaining the status quo was a sure way to ensure the rapid demise of many businesses.
The external force of the pandemic led to one of the most innovative years we have experienced. Some argue it has fast-forwarded technology adoption in areas by as much as 10 years. But it’s not just adoption of new technology that’s important, it’s the culture that saw businesses become so open to change, more ok with taking risks and more ambition to try new things that is equally, if not more important.
In Silicon Valley, they have a saying. Fail fast, fail often. Many will be familiar with that saying, some will love it, some will be more cautious. The saying has been born out of the need to grow and grow fast, to adapt as new rival technologies appear on the landscape to a technology business in its early life, or simply the fear of not growing in-line with VC expectations. The culture that has seen the rise of some of the most influential companies has largely been driven by fear. I would argue that we experienced that same fear in 2020. The fear that not moving, changing, innovating results in inevitable failure.
The innovations, the changes, the new things that we saw throughout 2020 will have longevity beyond the pandemic. Maybe not all of them but certainly some. I read once that someone only has to do something repetitively 13 times for it to become a habit. Well, I think that’s true for consumer and workplace behaviour. The percentage of consumer commerce conducted online will fall, sure, but it will remain considerably higher than pre-pandemic levels. The same goes for remote working. We will go to the office eventually, but, for most, the 5-day work commute is probably gone.
So those businesses that have successfully, and quickly implemented changes, adapted their businesses and business models to survive and thrive through 2020 are ahead and are ahead in an environment that has changed permanently. And they will continue to pull ahead of the pack if they can foster the ‘change culture’ that led to remarkable changes and technology adoption that happened in such short order.
It is critical that as we exit the pandemic, we do not suppress the cultural change that led to real change and innovation. Maybe we can do so with less panic and more structure. But the urgency should remain.
You see, whilst less immediate, we all face future disruption, potentially on a larger scale than we have just experienced. Climate change, social change, economic change, changing international trade relationships. All of these are real and will have significant and permanent impacts.
It is therefore critical that we build aggressively on the culture that we saw through 2020. It is vital that we maintain and encourage the willingness to try new things, that we accept that some failure is an inevitable consequence of innovation but that the alternatives to not innovating are far bleaker. It is more important than ever to embrace change, help others to do the same and drive forward to a better future.
At Entopy, we can’t wait for this next wave of innovation. Ready?