Once the dust settles on the COVID-19 pandemic, the business books will inevitably be penned. But what will they say?
They may posture that many firms were too exposed, that many risks were not well managed. Startups were too reliant on VC money, supply chains were not sufficiently diversified. And leaders were complacent.
Rarely in history have so many companies and sectors faced such a colossal threat to their existence. But while many organizations struggle during and after, there will be those that triumph.
One book that already seems more prescient in light of recent events, is Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, by the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
In the book published in 2012 book, Taleb argues:
“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors.”
He defines antifragility as “beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
Only the strong survive? Intrapreneurship
So how can we all use this crisis as a way to get better?
The obvious answer is to innovate. As fast as you can. And, I’d argue, you can do this more effectively if your entire workforce has an entrepreneurial mindset.
Strength doesn’t come from running your company like a dictatorship. But still, many companies structure themselves like 19th-century textile mills (with factory production lines and top brass responsible for all ideas and direction). And a lack of fluidity of roles and purpose.
Traditional ‘command and control’-style organizations are least equipped to weather this crisis, as they are too reliant on a tiny proportion of staff to solve problems. They don’t encourage creative input from people throughout their organizations.
Companies don’t win just by robotic execution. They have to have fresh ideas. They have to innovate to stay in business. Your people can help unearth your organization’s next big idea.
Antifragility in business
I speak from personal experience here. Among other things, I run a co-working space (a four-story hub in Bali). Even in good (non-COVID-19) times, the co-working sector is a low-margin industry.
And while this crisis is affecting us, we’re growing in new ways as an organization. We’ve always offered other services beyond co-working (from consultancy on how to grow remote capable-teams, recruitment services, acceleration retreats, finance and legal for startups, to education and training).
But in this climate, our work has changed. Our team has risen to the challenge by being flexible, open to new possibilities and ways of working and they’ve helped us move swiftly to create and take advantage of new opportunities.
We encourage our employees to think bigger with their careers. And beyond job descriptions and titles. We try to cultivate curiosity and a love of learning. Like a lot of organizations, we fund learning and development, but we allow (and even encourage) team members to choose topics that have little relevance to their day job.
This helps a culture where team members follow their curiosity, are more motivated and are more likely to see new ways they can add value. A sizable number of ex-employees have started their own businesses. From online coaching companies and companies specializing in retreat accommodation, to tour operators and a property investment consultancy.
“That’s not my job”
Being excessively rigid is the enemy of the entrepreneurial mindset. Standard operating procedures help drive consistency across your business but they can foster a lack of initiative if they are excessively stipulative. We create procedures but leave room for manoeuvre allowing employees autonomy on how they implement.
At Livit, we see roles as potentially fluid and redeploy team members frequently. We’re currently upskilling four of our staff in different areas, from finance and online events to HR.
We’ve also redeployed some team members as online trainers, entered new partnerships and we’re creating and selling new products and services. We’ve developed a module of online lectures on entrepreneurship for an international university, launched a premium work-from-home service for remote workers and we’re offering “drive-thru” meals and other services.
Livit also recently launched the Remote Skills Academy, an online academy, to teach remote work to Indonesians, many of whom are out of work due to the pandemic.
Running a business always requires operating within uncertainty. But this is one of those pivotal moments in history. How we as leaders respond will shape the future of our organizations. It might even consign the old command and control model to the history books.
Former intel chief Andrew Grove released his attention-grabbing tome Only the Paranoid Survive, before the dotcom boom. He later wrote that “This title has nothing very much to do with the book but has managed to get it on bestseller lists.”
Well I’m minded to start mine now. And it would be provisionally named: Only the intrapreneurial survive. It might not get onto The New York Times bestseller list, but it’ll make sure that our business and our community survive this pandemic — and probably the next one, too.