Facing uncertainty, businesses must strive to be significant not successful

'Maybe, helping customers is the fresh approach that we all need.'
20 March 2020

Passengers wear protective face masks as they travel on the London Underground ahead of widespread closures. Source: AFP

A few months ago, our newsfeeds were bombarded with predictions of how technology would transform the world of business in 2020. As business leaders from all over the world prepare for a period of unprecedented uncertainty, it can be difficult to comprehend how much has changed in the last six months.

The IFA 2019 event in Berlin saw 245,000 people from 160 countries exploring the power of co-innovation. Although tech events like this already feel like a lifetime away, the words of CEO of Messe Berlin, Dr. Christian Göke, feel more poignant than ever.

He warned that trade wars, trade barriers, and political barriers would not only make products more expensive, but it would slow down innovation itself.

“Einstein would call on the best and the brightest minds in the world, whoever they are, and wherever they live, whichever country they call their home, to pool their knowledge and co-innovate to create a better world.”Dr. Göke

Businesses have often neglected disaster recovery. A chaotic worst-case scenario situation that would require every employee to work from home was dismissed as unlikely at best.

The unsexy side of IT involved investing in the right tools, ensuring the necessary software applications are available remotely and securely. Many are now paying a heavy price for ignoring this belts-and-braces approach to business continuity.

Self-isolation has forced businesses of all sizes to leverage technology and embrace remote working. An international state of emergency has finally retired short-sighted school of thinking forever. The challenge of increasing business revenue when your entire workforce is stuck at home is now a reality for every business owner in the world.

The Coronavirus has changed how we work, collaborate, and learn. Zoom has emerged as a direct threat to Microsoft by stepping up to become the primary platform for people of all ages across the global community.

In a new period of social distancing, companies such as Matchbox Virtual are also becoming inundated with requests from businesses that are turning to virtual events designed for high engagement online rather than offline.

Many smaller businesses are pivoting due to the Coronavirus. Gin distilleries are making hand sanitizer gel, and some are even making home-made facemasks. Sales for niche products such as soap for phones are increasing by over 1000% as the needs of every consumer dramatically change. Businesses need to take note.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. These are just a few stories that highlight how thinking differently and helping your consumers with their new primary concerns is now critical to the survival of many businesses.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new level of uncertainty. But how can you or your business actively shape the future?

My search for answers led me to the New York Times Bestselling Author and Technology futurist, Daniel Burrus. He told me, “If you look around, nobody’s moving or buying, and everybody is hurting. But this presents every business with an opportunity to help their customers and grow their brand by doing something extraordinary.”

For too long, many are guilty of solely focussing on being a successful business or person. But Burrus argues, this will always limit you as an individual or as a business. He advised we should all shift our focus to be a significant business and a significant leader. Success is all about you. Significance is about what you do for others.

It’s easy to look inwardly and make the crisis all about us or our business. But a quick look around reveals that everyone is battling with uncertainty and unsure what to do next. Maybe, helping customers is the fresh approach that we all need. 

Or, as Burrus told me, “Instead of success, significance should be the goal. Success is one of the after elements of being significant.”

Long after the Coronavirus, we can expect more challenges and a debt overhang that will also become a global urgency. However, greater international collaboration combined with human creativity, imagination, and technology will help the global community overcome this period of uncertainty together.

A people-first approach, supported by innovative technology to solve real-world problems, is what we need right now. Jack Ma, former Alibaba Executive Chairman, and Co-founder, recently advised that “We can’t beat this virus unless we share our resources, know-how and hard-earned lessons.”

As the global community faces unprecedented challenges, it’s time to put our differences aside and prove that technology really does work best when it brings people together.