Survive or Thrive During the Crisis

At the time of another great crisis, in 1932–33, American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the Serenity prayer commonly quoted as “ God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

This black swan pandemic has exposed so many vulnerabilities in our present global systems and tests our resolve and resilience. Many of those are beyond the control of most of us. Those who have survived, so far in 2020, by your wits and federal help- Congratulations!

As if it wasn’t tough enough, several other factors may further complicate life. When writing this column, we have several other uncertainties still hanging; we do not know the status, efficacy of the long-awaited Covid19 vaccines, and any escalation of the flap with China at the South China Sea, etc.

Looking at the aftermath of past great crises like the Spanish Flu of 1918, other pandemics, or World War II, we can confidently anticipate a similar dramatic restructuring of the economic and social order. We will see long-term transformative shifts in how we work, shop, relax, educate, manage our health, and maintain relationships with friends and family. No organization is exempt from being impacted by all these transitions. This extensive passage is inevitable, and something we cannot change. We must accept it.

Take heart in the fact that there is opportunity buried in all this chaos. Many successful startups were born during a crisis. The Tech world enjoyed many startups such as Airbnb, Pinterest, Uber, Square, and Slack after the 2008 financial crisis. Similar examples of innovation can be found after the great depression. As the saying goes, “Investments are made in the downturn and collected in the upmarket.”

A shock of this scale has already created a profound shift in all companies, their employees, and customers. The pandemic has blown all the carefully crafted plans of every organization. Things may never return to 2019 normal. A new normal is inevitably around the corner. Whatever will be in it, we see the glimpses of it already. The wisdom is looking at the present problems that we encounter as a gateway to conceive the new order and the courage to act on them now.

Here are a few thoughts for all my entrepreneurial brethren:

  • Prioritize your own health. Heed the pre-flight announcement of flight attendants, “In case of an emergency, put your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”
  • Take advantage of consumer sentiments. Based on no scientific poll, I assess that customers believe that larger companies can take care of themselves; we have to support the little guy. Could you take advantage of it?
  • Create good customer experiences. It leaves a lasting impression that won’t be forgotten.
  • Use a platform and established methodology for generating ideas. Generate many ideas and select a few key ones from among them. Dig for the many risk factors inherent in those. If you can mitigate most of those risks, you have the kernel of something new to launch.
  • Cast a wide net. Collect, retain, and brainstorm ideas for a broad swath. Some are defensive moves, and others are offensive ones. Some ideas can be deployed now, and others may be opportune later.
  • Redefine failure. Many of our assumptions will fail. It is a given. But failure is not defeated; it is something that did not work out. Remove the stigma of failure; position it as a learning opportunity. Learn and provide support to try again. The single most important skill at this time is the ability to take a well-calculated risk.
  • Evolving innovation management. Don’t be bogged down by it-hasn’t- been done-before. Precisely, that is what innovation is all about! Unlike the corporate process of a small elite group managing innovation, engage all employees to provide constant real-time information and ideas, and pay heed to them. Such an endeavor is not only a source of innovation but also dispels the odor of doom.
  • Embrace improvised and unorthodox solutions. We can learn from the age-old Indian concept called Jugaad that has been honed under adverse conditions and severe resource constraints. It is a tried-and-true system of seeking opportunity in adversity, doing more with less, thinking and acting flexibly, and serving marginalized customers who are neglected during the crisis.

If we plan to thrive rather than merely survive, we must muster the courage to position ourselves at the forefront of this crisis. A structural break is the very best time to apply such thinking when old sources of competitive advantage have weakened, and new sources haven’t gelled yet. The window is still open wide, for some more time, before the pandemic risk eventually blows over or is tamed.

A version of this article first appeared in Twin City Business Magazine in December 2020.

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Dr. Rajiv Tandon is executive director of the Institute for Innovators and Entrepreneurs and an advocate for the future of entrepreneurship in Minnesota. He is an adviser to fast growth Minnesota CEOs. He can be reached at



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