We are all tired of COVID-19. Staying at home, isolated from friends and co-workers is hard on all of us. The impact that this pandemic is having on the economy is devastating. And, frustration for everyone is building by the day. I understand why and, trust me, I get it.
But I also see something happening that gives me considerable hope that I think is worth paying attention to. If you weed through it all, there is a sparkle — shining examples of resilience — that are valuable lessons to us all.
The Greek philosopher Plato said, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Roughly explained, this means when something becomes imperative, you are forced to find ways to get or achieve it. I am seeing awesome examples of this every single day and I applaud the efforts that people are taking to adapt amid the pandemic.
So, in the spirit of helping share some positivity, here are a few stories I’ve seen that I think are worth sharing and I’m sure there are a zillion more I’ve not experienced. I encourage each of you to take the time to search for some shining moments of innovation in your world as well, because they’re fantastic examples of what it takes to weather this storm and, if I’m being truly honest here, they can help you feel hope.
Small Town Living; Big Time Creative
I live in Maine. While Maine has not been hit as hard by the coronavirus as other states, either in spread or death toll, Maine’s economy is taking a beating. Maine relies heavily on the tourism and hospitality industries. With breathtaking coastal towns, beautiful mountains and tranquil lakes abound, Maine is chock full of quaint hotels and inns, fantastic restaurants, and adorable retail shops, all depending on seasonal activity and tourism. With stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements, these businesses have taken the brunt of the impact.
Disruption travels up the supply chain. The seafood industry that relies on a complex network of fishermen, processors, buyers and distributors has been affected by the virus because there are no longer establishments to sell to. The same goes for farmers and their supply chains.
But Mainers are tough. And they don’t sit back on their laurels. In the Kennebunks alone, I’ve seen many amazing transformations of business models conducted in mere days to help keep businesses afloat and people employed.
I’ve seen lobstermen who lost their markets develop a new market, starting direct sales-to-consumer sales with delivery service and leveraging Facebook networking to drive their business. Another seafood business set up a drive through store to order and pickup fresh seafood with no contact.
My favorite little plant place, Snug Harbor Farm, started up a little roadside honor system farm stand using Venmo and a good old-fashioned money jar to sell farm fresh eggs, plants and topiaries in addition to beefing up their online store.
Minka, an adorable home and fashion boutique with handmade goods, stood up an ecommerce site for online orders with curbside pickup.
Restaurants have smartly adapted. Old Vines launched a takeout menu and bottled up their famous signature cocktails. The Pilot House is doing old-style car hop service. Batson River brought in a pizza oven and shifted from a tasting room to a take-out wood fired pizza business. More than a handful of restaurants have implemented curbside pickup. And many establishments have launched new menus of family meals you can buy and cook at home.
Even the Big Companies Can Adapt
A client of mine is a $50M business that relies on 3 large call centers to operate. Without people answering phones, their business is not in business. On Monday, March 16th, I spoke with my main contact there and she described for me how they had moved their call centers to remote, practically overnight. They had to get equipment for hundreds of employees including monitors, desktop computers and headsets, stand up the networks for all this to run on, test them, and train everyone in new procedures. It was painful and they did it, even though it seemed impossible.
A company I spoke with while doing research is a 185 year-old company cracking the Fortune 500 list. They rely on a proprietary business model that requires lots of hands-on training in a physical learning lab to get employees up to speed. Admittedly old school, they pivoted their entire learning approach to bring those classes online using 3-D renderings of their lab environment. And they did it in 2 weeks. In an environment that didn’t even use video conferencing before the pandemic.
I’ve seen ads on TV with touchless takeout and dealerships letting you buy cars online with home delivery of your vehicle. What these businesses are doing to adapt —to survive—not only gives me hope for these businesses, it gives me hope for all of us.
A Lesson for All of Us
Over the last half million years, humankind has been forced to adapt. The different types of human adaptation to biological stresses include genetic changes (evolution over time) as well as responses without genetic change, such as cultural practices and technology. For example, we invented technological aids that allow us to occupy varied environments without having to first evolve biological adaptations to them. Houses, clothing, and fire help us to live in temperate and, ultimately, arctic regions despite the fact we essentially have the bodies of tropical animals.
This is not business as usual. The pandemic is placing biological stress on us. And the test for all of us is how we adapt in these unusual times. Whether you own a business, work for a business, or you stay at home, the pandemic is forcing your hand to adapt. I am hopeful that these stories of innovation I’ve shared are just the beginning of many great stories of perseverance and adaptation that will come.
Necessity is the mother of invention. What are you going to invent today?