Same storm, different boats, shifting perspectives, and seizing opportunities

Shifting perspectives were a central theme of this week’s Coffee and Jam, with our speakers emphasising a multi-faceted approach to enduring and thriving as individuals, businesses, and communities amidst COVID. 

Read on for some key takeaways from this week’s Coffee and Jam, where we heard from Kaila Colbin, Co-founder of BOMA Global and CEO of Boma New Zealand; Scott Arrol, CEO of NZHIT; and Ben Reid, Director of Memia and former Director of AI Forum NZ.  

Missed the webinar or want to rewatch it? We got you sorted, check out the livestream on our Facebook Page.

An exercise in empathy

Are we really all in this together?  Yes – it’s true that we are all facing the same storm, but some of us are in seaworthy vessels while others are not.  Thus, it’s important to remember that this crisis will not feel the same or have the same impact on everyone.

For example, of New Zealand’s 1.1 million children, 100,000 don’t have access to the internet, presenting a notable roadblock for educators who intend to move to learning online.  A failure to acknowledge these different situations will hobble our steps towards recovery.

Another unsettling example of our diversity of experience under lockdown is this: domestic violence calls in New Zealand have almost tripled since we entered Alert Level 4. To some, the phrase “safe at home” is an oxymoron, ensuring memories of COVID for many will be immensely painful.

By following this link, you can help keep families safe during lockdown with the help of Aviva.

There’s a distinct possibility that, when the history of the first half of the twenty-first century is written, a sharp line will separate the periods before and after COVID.

Unfortunately, there is no crystal ball that will tell us what the world beyond that line will look like. This is because we are charged with making it. On the basis of this key point, Kaila emphasises the importance of creating a resilient post-COVID society that places equity at the heart of recovery.

How can this be done?

Empathy. The act of shifting perspective in an effort to understand how others are experiencing this time of immense financial, physical, and mental strain. Acknowledge the fact that everyone’s emotions are heightened, and that kindness to others (as well as to yourself) will go a long way towards preserving our collective strength.

Inciting change and finding opportunity

The Chinese word for crisis, wēijī, is made of 2 characters; one representing danger, the other representing a crossroads.

From an entrepreneurial perspective, our current crisis represents a juncture where businesses will have to make decisions as to which path they follow. To Scott, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Quite the opposite: choosing the right path can instead lead to opportunity and growth.

How do I pick a path?

Scott uses the example of GP’s in New Zealand to illustrate his point. He describes a network of practices that have been, until now, stuck in the past. 70-80% of GP practices did not have systems for receiving payments online, fewer still had webcams. Of the limited number of practices that had remote capabilities, those that knew how to use them hardly ever did.

Consequently, when COVID-19 shifted almost everyone online, practices that had since been reliant on walk-ins were at a vital juncture. Scott uses this example to showcase the transformational nature of a crisis on this scale.

In recent weeks, New Zealand’s public health sector has seen massive change. 50-year-old legislation that prevented GP’s and pharmacists from collaborating effectively was struck down. Applications are being developed to ensure practices are more customer focussed, thereby making it easier for GP’s to communicate and share records with patients and each other.

By embracing new methods and technology, New Zealand’s public health sector is using COVID as an opportunity to spur change and overcome past inefficiencies.

As a startup, these lessons can also apply to you. Look behind you at the path you’ve travelled. Has COVID highlighted any glaring inefficiencies along this path? Are there any old methods, ideas, or relationships holding you back? If so, now could be the time to adopt new practices, or embrace new technology. In time, you may have this crossroads to thank for spurring much-needed change.

Axis of uncertainty

Ben Reid seems to ground this optimism by reminding us that the future is still very uncertain. COVID-19 is an unprecedented moment in human history, showcasing the never-before exercised powers of states, medical communities, and tech sectors. Nevertheless, an analysis of scenarios – pessimistic, optimistic, middling – presents us with a sound grasp on how some sectors of the economy will weather the storm.

Supply and demand

Supply chains that were maximised for efficiency now need to focus more on resilience. In a consumer culture powered by calls for “more more, always more”, it will be interesting to see how individuals and collectives apply the breaks and begin shifting focus towards long-term sustainability.

For instance, businesses that were reliant on a ‘China+n’ model with respect to demand or their supply chain may need to adopt a more localised view. Cloud automation, robotics, 3D printing, and the accompanying reduction of onshore labour costs will be areas worth watching.

Infrastructure minus machinery

‘Shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects have remained the time-honoured tactic of governments looking to ease the negative effects of the recession for almost 100 years. However, Ben emphasises the importance of digital infrastructure and its relevance to New Zealand’s post-COVID recovery.

New Zealand’s recent investment in Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) is an example of investing in digital infrastructure to increase and improve citizens’ access to information. However, Ben hopes that more projects will follow as decision-makers realise the benefit of investing in improved telecommunications and broadband over shiny new freeways.

What should be a part of your start-up survival strategy?

Ben answered this question by drawing from the Fantail Ventures piece, “Start-up Survival Through Covid 19: Hope is Not a Strategy.” Here were some key takeaways.

Cash is king

After your employees and yourself, cash is the most important thing to look after when it comes to preserving your business. Remember also to hunker down and preserve your capital. Right now, your goal should be to become a long distance runner, not a sprinter.

Tough decisions ahead

There may come a time when you have to make the hard choices every leader and business owner dreads making. For example, maybe you have to let employees go; perhaps you have to dramatically downsize your business, or pivot away from a major goal that was just within reach.

If (or when) this time comes, empathy and kindness are essential. Be clinical to an extent; it’s up to you to decide if/ how you should but the survival of your business first. But, don’t forget that the human element is what all ethical businesses run on. Be upfront. Show strength and resolve through transparency and honesty.

No pressure, no diamonds

Great companies are built during hard times, as hard times test and strengthen the agility, endurance, and initiative of businesses. Remember, tough times never last, tough people do. Think deeply on key questions and be ready to take decisive action when necessary.

Your business’s success rests on you and your employees’ capacity to look after themselves, have space to think, and keep themselves in fighting form.

In summary, Kaila, Scott, and Ben each spoke frankly about the current situation by covering some hard truths. Yet, while tough times never last, tough people do.

Your capacity to show empathy, think on your feet, and spot opportunities will help promote positive growth for you, your business, and your community. Keep an ear to the ground, be willing to learn and take on new information, and look after one-another.

Thanks again to our Coffee and Jam speakers, Kaila, Scott, and Ben, and to the amazing South Island startup community who made the time to join us at Coffee & Jam.

Aroha Nui.