Google launched just before the dotcom bubble burst. Facebook hit our screens shortly before the big recession of the early noughties. Clearly, they did ok through the tough times. In fact, plenty of businesses thrive during times of crisis - and not just the big brands.
So, what sets the successes apart?
According to the father of evolution, Charles Darwin, it isn’t the strongest or the most intelligent individuals in a species that survives but the ones that are most adaptable to change - and the same goes for business.
Look at Blockbuster, which started to struggle when Love Film began posting out DVDs direct to consumers and then disappeared entirely with the advent of streaming services. By not observing changing trends and adapting to meet new demands, they soon lost customers and ultimately went under.
Whereas Netflix, which was founded in 1997 and also sent out DVDs by post originally, saw the way things were changing and responded by stepping up and ultimately leading the streaming revolution.
Change is one constant that businesses always face and a crisis like the one we’re currently facing just accelerates that change. Which means that if we are to get through it, we need to learn to adapt and innovate.
Innovation doesn’t have to mean inventing an entirely unique product or service, or completely disrupting the market. Sometimes the simplest changes can offer huge benefits, whether that’s in terms of customer experience, operational efficiency or cost structures.
A good starting point for innovation is to look at the Business Model Canvas - a strategic management tool popular in lean startup circles - and choose one of the building blocks to focus your efforts on.
For example, you might decide to look at a new customer segment or create new products and services for the customers you already have. You might have to be innovative with your supply chain if your usual suppliers have been hit or change key partners.
You might even have to rethink your value proposition if your industry has been particularly hard hit. The key here is to think about your audience - what they’re going through, what they’re struggling with, what they need - and use that as a starting point for creating value they’ll be willing to pay for.
One clear opportunity for businesses right now is to move their operations online. From Joe Wicks conquering the world of virtual fitness classes to training providers investing heavily in technology to support webinars, social distancing has forced organisations to look at where they can create and take advantage of the opportunities afforded by tech.
Channel innovation can be hugely successful in a saturated market - just look at Uber. The result for the customer is still getting from A to B without having to drive themselves. But the delivery mechanism of an app that allows you to track your driver, pay with ease and give instant ratings means it now has an estimated 110 million users worldwide.
Think about how you usually do business and whether one or more aspects could use technology to be more efficient and effective in today’s climate.
Consider internal opportunities
Innovation might not be outward facing. This year employers who had been putting off the idea of remote working for their teams were forced to reconsider fast. And employees are unlikely to be willing to go back to business as usual now - “It worked during lockdown, why shouldn’t I work from home in the future?” - which will have enormous implications on digital transformation strategies around the world.
But this could be a really great time to consider where else an innovative approach could both help ease the current challenges and also deliver genuine business results in the future. What pen and paper processes could be streamed into an online system to bring greater efficiency and cohesion across the business?
Are there any processes that are being duplicated because teams are working in silos without a common system to streamline operations between departments?
For better or for worse, the coronavirus pandemic has changed society and business for good. Customers and employees alike will have higher expectations coming out of lockdown than they did going in. They will demand slicker digital experiences, greater flexibility, genuine value.
Businesses need to understand where their customers and clients are right now, how their worlds have changed, and adapt in order to serve them.
Those businesses meeting changing demands right now will be the ones who are able to not only survive but thrive over the coming months. Whereas those who are rigidly holding onto the past, who are doggedly patching legacy systems and following strategies set in January, may well fall behind.