COVID-19: The 'New Normal' or the 'Old Disruption'
Sorry, folks; this isn’t the new normal, it’s just the old disruption.
It isn’t decent to be glib in times like this, so I will acknowledge things are particularly bad - as of last week there were over 26 million unemployed in the World’s most prosperous nation (USA Today), there are close to 3 million infections of the coronavirus pandemic, Worldwide, and we are entering the fifth week of an unprecedented nationwide lockdown here in India. It’s not ‘asteroid hits earth, glaciers melt, continents drift, fire rages’ kind of bad, but it is definitely bad as far as mundane living goes.
And when bad things happen, like they do on average every eight to twelve years, globally, what comes to fore are the best human traits - resilience, ingenuity, and grace. Doctors and health workers are risking their lives to care for people everywhere, nations have come together to fight the pandemic, People have found love from across terrace tops, musicians and artists have collaborated to make art beyond borders, and people have figured a variety of ways to keep themselves occupied gainfully when quarantined, including learning how to cook and clean while spending more time than otherwise with the family.
The last time something similar happened in 2008, I was fresh out of college in my first sales job. Getting the phone slammed on you enough times can lead you to believe this is the end of the World. I couldn’t tell then how long this would last and if this was fundamentally life-altering. I can tell you now looking back, some of that worry was warranted for but mostly, we were going to be just fine.
There is a shift in the median, no doubt. But, sooner rather than later, people get back to business as usual. In what can be a poignant marker of that, after over a decade of decline, the CDO (Collateralized Debt Obligations) market, which was the kryptonite of the previous crisis grew for the first time in 2018 (Bloomberg). Of course, as the old joke goes in Wall Street - this time it will be different!
Some of the best enterprises around us, today, grew stronger out of the crisis era. Companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Dominos grew sales in 2009 and have continued to grow stronger and more resilient. Multi-billion dollar startups like Dropbox, Github, Uber, and Slack were founded in 2007 - 2009. If history is any indication, we will all rebound stronger and more resilient from this crisis. A great many successes will be born out of this era.
This is not some kind of pick-me-up fluff piece that can put a smile on your faces. If it has, then it’s entirely incidental and owes no credit to me. The broader point I’m trying to make is that the world has a way of leveraging and deleveraging itself and sure, some things stay fundamentally altered - for example, having realized the virtues of video conferencing we may avoid unnecessary commutes to offices far and wide unless absolutely necessary. We may also write better emails and check in on our colleagues; those perfunctory “hope you’re doing well's may actually be sincere and thoughtful for a while after. We may not also want to outsource manufacturing of PPEs or other innocuous but important goods to countries far and wide.
But, this is not the new normal.
So, what should a right-thinking business leader do? Adjust tactically, not strategically. Reorder things on your product roadmap if it's more relevant now. Get the hell out of markets that haven't been kind to you. Relook your monthly cash burn, see if you can optimize it further. In other words, do all of those things that you should be doing anyway. In fact, use this crisis to bring greater focus to your business. Fundamentals don't change. You still have to turn over a dollar for your products or services. Customers will still want things and pay for them. Listen to them, care for them, and continue to be useful to them. Continue to invest in your growth.
But, do not start an online grocery business on the down-low.