These are chaotic times. And we are in crisis mode. And while there are significant problems, there are also great opportunities. We can re-create our companies and ourselves for the future. No doubt it’s going to be very different. The challenge, however, is that people are uncomfortable when there’s no certainty. What I am suggesting is that this is the time for us to begin to use new tools and to see how we can adapt ourselves, our companies, our staff and our customers in innovative ways.
What the future could bring
What are we going to see down the road? If I were to take a good educated guess, it would be a re-weighting of our channels of distribution much more toward ecommerce and away from traditional retail. I am not sure I would like to be an owner of strip malls or even malls right now.
But the retail/commercial real estate industry is not the only thing that will change. What about basic industries that produce “in the ground” products? Who is going to produce raw wood products or be in the fields to pick vegetables? How do we protect these workers, given the current pandemic? And even if we have workers to produce goods and food, how will we distribute these to customers? And, who is the customer of tomorrow and what can they afford after this economic disaster?
Some organizations have anticipated this change even before the virus and are delivering fresh produce along with many other goods direct to the end user. So, think about these examples and use them as a perfect opportunity for you and your company to rethink how you might meet your customers’ needs. Is it ecommerce, is it telephonically, is it something else, or a combination of all the above? What might have been an afterthought in the past maybe should be the only thought in the future.
The one thing about looking into the future is that the future is going to create itself. For you and your company, this is actually a great opportunity to think about how you are going to create your own future.
How do you begin to re-invent yourself?
At Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), we like to use a business-centric, thought-provoking game with many of our clients called Reverse Everything. It actually works well for all categories of products and services, and is as relevant for B2B companies as it is for those in the B2C sector. People playing the game rethink what their customers need and how they can help solve those needs. It’s not about just making something and selling it. It’s about how you and your customers can together build a better solution for whatever problem you’re trying to solve.
Reverse Everything is also a great opportunity to rethink all the costs that went into your product or service. Perhaps there’s a way of reducing your outlay by eliminating elements that aren’t necessary. In other words, what are the relevant features and what are you hanging onto but that really have no relevancy to the final product?
Here is an example of how to use Reverse Everything
Restaurants have been hard hit in this current crisis. So let’s use this as an example. And even if the category isn’t yours, it helps illustrate the Reverse Everything game.
Whether you have a restaurant or you don’t, it’s a great time to rethink the use of space. Some of this was already happening before the whole crisis started. You don’t have to look too far into the past to see what Uber Eats was doing and how lots of restaurants were finding out that people wanted food delivered more than they wanted to come in and eat. So, this isn’t so new. Nowadays, competition for dining customers is everywhere. And it’s hard to figure out how to get food into the hands of more people. So, let’s come up with some ideas.
Let’s start with what we do today (or actually, what we used to do not so long ago). Restaurants provided food, sat people at tables, and customers came in and ate. Some served wine or other alcoholic drinks. Some provided entertainment and an atmosphere and even companionship. And, there were different categories of restaurants before COVID-19 hit. But today, these restaurants can’t exist in their present form.
A new construct
Now let’s circle back to the Reverse Everything game…because in today’s environment, what we used to do is not what we can do today! Let’s try to add value innovatively within our new construct.
Here are some ideas. Let’s tackle entertainment: In China during this crisis, paid video streaming of entertainment into people’s homes has increased. If you were a restaurant owner, perhaps you could connect with entertainers in their quarantine locations. I suspect they would love to get paid to stream into the homes of people who are buying your food. So now you have takeout with entertainment!
Next, think about birthday parties. Maybe you could add flowers to food orders. And find ways to provide gifts for the birthday person. And maybe even set up a Zoom meeting so they can tie in with their entire family across the world for a dynamic family event. Maybe you can send food to that family even if they’re not necessarily in your neighborhood by teaming up with another provider in another city. Think big!
Isn’t this the reverse of what a wedding planner does? Your restaurant could be an aggregator of all these additional services.
Just one more Reverse Everything idea. What about cooking classes? Today, kids are at home. Most don’t know how to cook. What about offering cooking classes to kids? This can be done virtually, and their home kitchen now becomes a learning center. And what’s in it for your restaurant? You provide the portioned raw foods and provide the cooking lessons.
And what about all the collateral businesses associated with restaurants? We live in a fairly rural area, about 40 miles north of Manhattan. I don’t think our local restaurants do a particularly good job of marketing themselves in these changing times. So, there’s a whole business here waiting for somebody to create that helps restaurants market their different preparations to different audiences. People would be delighted to buy their food and have it delivered if they knew about it. And then tie into Uber Eats.
Remember, this crisis may be here with us for a long time. Perhaps it is a time for you to go into a new business. Maybe not the restaurant business per se. But how about providing good healthy food to people in their homes? With maybe better margins. Less waste. And more satisfaction. It could actually be fun. What do you think?
At SAMC, we are big believers in testing, testing and testing. We like the idea of rapid prototyping. You don’t really know what’s going to work. These are new times. And you are crafting new solutions. You can turn all the people who cooked inside into people who deliver on the outside. After all, people want to be healthy, and it starts with the food they eat.
New ideas and opportunities are blooming
What I suggested earlier is a deliberate process to create something new, something different. But there are a lot of people who intuitively find an unmet need in their particular community and quickly build something because of that need.
Just pick up a newspaper and you get an idea of what people are doing in this time of need. Sunday’s New York Times described a ski area in upstate New York that closed because of COVID-19, but then pivoted and turned their parking lot into a grocery store and their kitchen into a delivered food operation.
Or look on social media and you will see that companies that produced one type of product are now producing and selling PPE (personal protection equipment) or face shields or hand sanitizer.
And what about the West Jefferson, Ohio lab run by Battelle, a nonprofit research and development firm, that saw the unmet needs of PPE gear and is now decontaminating thousands of used N95 face masks for doctors and nurses on the front lines of the pandemic. Each day, it collects masks from more than 100 hospitals, clinics, fire departments and nursing homes, ensuring supplies of these crucial items stay stable.
Just one last example. We know a lot of people who are members of health clubs who have personal trainers. They can’t go to their clubs now. Suddenly there are a lot of virtual trainers whom you can sign up with and receive instruction via Zoom. Not a new service but certainly a new delivery mode.
So, while these enterprising business people did not necessarily go through a deliberate process to find unmet needs, they did understand gaps in our society and are quickly filling them.
Deciding what to do first
Well….if you are smart enough to see a gap (like the examples I suggest above) and fill it before someone beats you to it, I don’t think you need me to give you advice.
But if you want to follow the deliberate path I described and have some great ideas, here is what I suggest. Those great ideas can’t all be your #1 priority. So how do you sort? At SAMC, we use a game called Now Wow How. Not too sophisticated. It’s designed to make it easy for you to see what you can do “now” that’s doable.
Then there are the “wow” things, the big ideas that could really open a new market for you, like advertising local restaurants’ new home delivery services.
The “hows” are things that really stump you. Park them somewhere. These are big ideas that you don’t know how to do, or at least not yet.
Then give it a try
I invite you to use my suggestions to create a prototype that is testable. And then make sure you set up a way to capture the data so you can measure what is working and what is just a good idea. The act of failing fast and often today might just be what you need. But be sure to engage your customer audience and talk to them. Contact them and ask what they like and what they don’t like. Ask them for their ideas. Listen, not to argue, but to learn.
This is a time to learn along with your customers. Only great things will come from it. Give it a try and let us know how you are doing.
For more on how games can help you “see” gaps you can quickly fill, check out these 3 blogs
- Blog: Can Games Help Your Company Innovate?
- Blog: Why Innovation Games Can Change The Way We Work
- Blog: How to Convert a Great Idea into a Successful Innovation
Got a big idea you want to launch? Let’s talk
At Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), we are culture change experts who specialize in helping companies “see” unmet needs and great opportunities that are all around them. Contact us to discuss how our team of specialized corporate anthropologists and business change management advisors can suggest ways you and your business can change, adapt and pivot, particularly during this crisis, to achieve even greater success. We look forward to hearing from you.
From Observation to Innovation,
Partner, Simon Associates Management Consultants
Don’t miss a single episode of our On The Brink podcast!