It’s probably safe to say that none of us had “navigate a global pandemic” as part of our strategic plans for 2020. But here we are, thrust into this reality and forced to evolve extremely fast. We’ve been living in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world for some time now, but this is an entirely new definition of VUCA. It makes the plans for success—that were so clear just a few months ago—fuzzy and inadequate. Our already unpredictable future has become ominous.

But therein lies the opportunity. While there are many things we can’t control about this crisis, we can control how we respond. It’s a matter of choosing whether you want to be in survival mode or reinvention mode. A growth mindset, agility, and pragmatism are critical to forging through the challenges ahead, both present and future.

Confidently moving toward reinvention

Simply put, things will not be returning to what they once were. It’s not about riding out the storm and waiting for things to “settle down.” The world is different. Consumers are different. Businesses are different. In a crisis that everyone is experiencing, it is easier to empathize with our customers because we are going through it too. The quote, “We may not be in the same boat, but we’re in the same storm,” has been making its way around social media and perfectly captures that sentiment.

All-time emotional highs

Consumers are experiencing a wide range of feelings and want to talk about them. The ups and downs of the world reopening will likely cause their emotions and reactions to sway back and forth. Consumers are asking themselves: “Do I prefer the discovery of exploring outside my comfort zone, or the certainty of sticking with what I know? Do I want my uniqueness to shine, or to be part of a tribe that unites around similarities? Do I like the simplistic side of social distancing, or long for community gatherings?” Consumer data and our own hearts are proof that behaviors and attitudes will continue to change. And as the world looks to data more than ever for insights, we need to truly hear the human stories that underlie it.

Acceleration of trends

As much as this pandemic is accelerating pre-existing trends, we probably won’t invent new behaviors and habits out of thin air. Barriers to using online grocery have been stripped away, and consumers who wanted to pick their own produce before, now calculate the risk of doing so themselves. Channels were already blurring, but even more so as companies like Panera push the envelope and sell groceries from their drive-throughs. With everyone working remotely, we are seeing at-home offices gain equal footing with corporate workspaces and often more productivity from everyone. And the biggest wow: telemedicine has evolved more in the last few weeks than it has in the last 10 years.

Shifting rules of innovation

For years we have been trying to get faster, but we also have processes to follow and favored ways of doing things. Now, the interrelationship between value, speed, and the amount of change needed to innovate is evolving. We are seeing that incremental innovation is delivering a ton of value. Quickly employing sanitary practices in restaurants or putting glass at the cash register are small, but extremely purposeful and timely revelations. We are also seeing that the time it takes to reach transformational innovation has been cut dramatically. Farmers and CPG companies are selling direct to consumers, while world-famous chefs are streaming cooking lessons on Instagram.

Like any earthquake, this pandemic is going to have aftershocks that constantly reshape our world. Humans are beginning to accept that things are not going back to normal—for a long time or maybe ever—and to realize they need to evaluate and mitigate risk in ways that make them feel most comfortable.

Consumers are looking for companies to go beyond empathy to compassion. They expect organizations to not only gain a deep understanding of their needs and aspirations, but to also deliver on them in meaningful ways. While these are not necessarily new challenges, the pandemic is accelerating pre-existing trends and putting the onus on companies to adapt to evolving consumer demands. We can all feel the pressure.

Over the last few months, businesses have proven an ability to pivot faster than we ever imagined under any circumstances, let alone a global crisis. While there is no going back, we can go forward together, navigating the aftershocks, reinventing ourselves, and building confidence in our new future.

Four steering strategies for your new future:

1. Really see your consumers

Consumers are feeling anxious, but hopeful. They want to share their feelings and ideas to build a stronger future for themselves, their families, and their communities. To test, fail, pivot, test, and win, you must involve consumers in multiple, interactive touchpoints. Don’t be afraid to show work in progress and be transparent about what you are trying to do. People are loving that their favorite talk show hosts or fitness instructors are filming from their homes and creating more intimate connections. Embracing this raw, more casual environment reduces a lot of red tape, shortening the path to success.

2. Never lose sight of your why

You may have heard of Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle,” which includes what you do (products and services), how you do it (what makes you special/sets you apart), and why you do what you do (reason you exist). When all three of these elements are aligned, they provide great clarity into organizational purpose and focus. The problem, however, is that very few organizations know their why, which can be detrimental—especially in times like this.

The plans and strategies being developed right now will continue to change and evolve, as they should. But your purpose, the very reason your business exists, shouldn’t—pandemic or no pandemic.  As you change course, the values you demonstrate internally and externally matter more than ever. They should be amplified. So, make sure you know your why and use it as your guiding light.

3. Focus on success in 45-day increments

The pace of change is forcing many companies to function on a more day-to-day basis. Attention is being focused toward immediate challenges rather than longer-term strategic planning. But the demands of today and tomorrow are both important, and there are a variety of ways to find the right balance, depending on your organization, role, and sphere of influence. Here are three frameworks we like to use to help our client partners prioritize resources and efforts:

  • What should we start, stop, continue?
  • What should we reevaluate, realign, redesign?
  • What should we execute, develop, strengthen, abort?

Instead of thinking on an annual or even quarterly basis, focus on the next 45 days, and don’t be afraid to walk away from existing plans. This shift to shorter-term strategizing will allow you more agility and flexibility to navigate this unparalleled VUCA environment. Monitor often, be honest with yourself in terms of desired progress, and if you need to course-correct, do it fast.

4. Right-size your innovation

With some companies implementing a two-year pipeline in just six weeks, innovation doesn’t look like it used to. Pace, preparation, and testing have reached warp speed. It is time to evolve from isolated, methodical perfectionists to connected, collaborative, real-time strategists and throw in some hustle. Feel empowered to choose only the combination of steps that are absolutely necessary and evaluate quickly with simple success metrics.

Whether you’re leading product, experience, or operation innovation, the magic is in striking a synergistic balance in your portfolio between the short and long term. Micro-level, incremental innovation will give the quick-hit advancements to existing capabilities and customer value. Radical, breakthrough innovation will prepare your business for future growth and leadership.

This practical framework will help you right-size the innovation of any initiative by asking the critical questions, determining appropriate next steps, and confidently championing your point of view among stakeholders:

Seeing the rainbow at the end of the storm

Despite the darkness and murkiness we’re experiencing right now, the weeks ahead will grow brighter and clearer. Your perseverance will undoubtably make you stronger and more resilient, proving the importance of reinvention. It’s about counterbalancing the devastation this storm has caused with grit, tenacity, energy, and hope. Afterall, your stakeholders are counting on you—and the version of you at the end of the rainbow.