“Our business was right on track – scaling exactly as we planned it, even better in fact, until this hit.” The exasperated words seemed like they didn’t belong coming from a man of such success and accountability. His eyes too reflected a cry of hopelessness that I’d never seen before from a serial entrepreneur who had handled so many ups and downs in a 20 year career. “Now outside forces have driven our pipeline down the toilet and it seems like there is nothing we can do about it.”

That was a snippet of a private Zoom call I had with the CEO after I shared a webinar with his 200 person team on the mistakes leaders make in a crisis. He, like many of us, has wearied looking for certainty in an uncertain time. Why?

Because that’s what our brains are made to do – they are prediction engines and they strive for certainty. They seek out the known. If the CEO of one of the USA’s fastest-growing fintech companies feels frustrated, you can bet there are plenty of other business owners out there who share that sense of disempowerment. The best solution is to take a queue from neurobiology. 

Systems go through big changes as they evolve and if you adopt a two stage mindset you can dominate your industry in a time of uncertainty. If you wait to see how things work out it will be too late.

Bain and Company did a longitudinal study of 700 companies amid past major financial crisis and they found that after the crisis of all the companies in the top quartile of market share – 25% were new because of what they did during crisis. Even more shocking is of the once high-flying top companies 20% of them dropped to the very bottom of performers. They waited too long.

To make the most of this opportunity – for yourself or your company you need two actions plans:

–      A Destruction – Creation approach

–      Courage to move into the unknown 

If you want your business to be more adaptable, then you have to be able to react when outside forces push you into an innovation cycle. That’s just the thing to look at now. What area or areas are most in need of innovation. If you first cut to preserve cash in this crisis – what areas did you cut, and do they need to come back. That’s the start of Destruction-Creation.

John Boyd was a famous Air Force fighter pilot instructor, and he came up with a way of describing the idea as a challenge: Imagine your plane crashes over a remote Alaskan Army storage facility in the winter. You break into the warehouse to find a bunch of fishing boats, with motors and gas tanks, a few bicycles, some skis and a couple of bobcats with track treads. What could you build to save yourself? The answer of course is take the engine from the boats, put it on top of the treads and add the bicycle front end on skis and violá – you’ve got a snowmobile.

What’s the snowmobile in your business?

Covid-19 has likely destroyed the way your business used to be, think of this as a forced innovation cycle:

  • Old Normal (Ended March 2020)
  • Covid-19 Normal (we’re in that now)
  • New Normal (likely starting in September)

With that mindset, how do you choose the optimal or highest value innovation and then scale it for the coming New Normal? Get your teams working on innovation sparked by destruction and creating unique value.

The second stage of the cycle is moving into the unknown. You don’t know how your innovation will be received by employees, by customers, etc but you have to press ahead. You need courage to march into the unknown, and the confidence to learn from every moment and keep reinventing until you get it right. Once you do that’s when you have to scale – how can you do more of what’s working, how can you come out of this like a Falcon-9 rocket!

The biggest thing you need to address is how you make decisions. This requires getting as much data as possible. There are so many sources of public data – from SBA to Johns’ Hopkins and what you need to figure out is what is important to your business in the new normal and create a dashboard that has your top 5 or 10 data points to track. This are going to be different from what you tracked in the past. If you tracked orders in the past for your demand planning – you might have to go further up the chain and start tracking website visits so you have longer time to plan, for example.

Now is the time to be aggressive, because companies that are normally passive and milk their cash cows are having to do different things to survive. Many of those competitors who would not instigate their own innovation cycle are being forced into it – so the stakes are higher and the field has become, whether you like it or not, more competitive.

I’m happy to report that the systems our serial entrepreneur put in place to help stay productive in the pandemic, have been optimized and refined and now their recruiters sell the flexible work environment as a hiring perk. Their dashboard has created the resiliency they need to respond to a second wave, a demand spike, and a change in product features. They used to be big on “face time” but now are encouraging their top coders to move to Hawaii to surf, or Yosemite to climb, knowing that they now have the systems in place to make remote working productive, engaging and objective driven. They are in the midst of an entire new product line that will revolutionize the way banks compete world-wide by balancing geographical latency, something they figured out during their real-time work sessions. They innovated and will come out on top. Where will you be?

To have Patrick work with your team, live or virtually (he’s a certified virtual speaker) check out his website for motivational speaker and virtual presenter Patrick Sweeney.

For more work on personal courage and learning to use fear as fuel check out #5 on the Wall Street Journal Best Seller List – Fear is Fuel a life-changing book.