Natasha Miller is a WSJ bestselling author, the founder and CEO of Whole productionsand she runs Memoir Sherpa.
As we emerge from the global pandemic to face an impending recession, business leaders may be at best moderately concerned about how their companies will weather further economic stress. At worst, they may be tempted to hit the panic button full throttle. Any reaction is understandable: As the founder and CEO of a global events and entertainment production company, I witnessed them all in March 2020 when two things became clear: that personal events wouldn’t exist in the near future, and that if I didn’t act soon. , my company – without exaggeration – would go down completely.
There is a scene in the movie Apollo 13 where NASA scientists are all trying to fix what appears to be devastating, irreversible damage to the spacecraft of the same name. One of the scientists pessimistically notes that they are on the brink of “the worst disaster NASA has ever witnessed.” But chief flight director Gene Krantz (played by the great Ed Harris) responds defiantly: “I believe this will be our best hour.” This is the spirit that business leaders must embody in times of crisis. Like the Apollo 13 team, they need to think differently about what they do, how they do it and what they have to offer their customers. And all these changes must be represented in their daily activities.
Don’t be afraid to delegate
In times of crisis, it can be tempting to close the shutters and go it alone. While reductions in effect (RIFs) In many cases, an unfortunate result of an economic downturn (and indeed, my company had a number of pandemic-related layoffs), business leaders must resist the urge to try and save a few bucks by cutting down to a skeleton crew and doing everything themselves — especially if someone else would be much better suited to the task.
It may sound counterintuitive, but during the pandemic, I doubled down on delegating. I became even more “hands-off” with my business and trusted my small team to do what had to be done. That gave me the freedom to focus on innovation, including the critical task of coming up with ways to scale and evolve amid pandemic shutdowns.
Accepting Change and Reinventing
Conventional wisdom dictates that persevering through hardship is best, but that doesn’t mean you should do things the way you’ve always done them. If we had refused to accept the turn of events when the world shut down and kept trying to sell a product that was no longer in demand, the company would certainly have failed.
Instead, we reinvented it. I knew that people would meet a lot on Zoom. I also knew that those meetings were often terrible. Building on my background in entertainment production, I created a framework to turn Zoom events into immersive and interactive variety shows that allowed viewers to interact with magicians, mentalists, musicians – headline entertainment, often performing from the privacy of their own kitchen or living room. We still had the usual segments related to the core messages and learning from our client organizations, but the fun boosted what would otherwise have been the same old boring Zoom conferences that everyone else had, and made them delightful.
Increase the limits of available resources
I like technology. If someone says there’s a cool new app, I immediately download it. Being open to different forms of technology, expanding the tools we used and the ways we used them proved invaluable in creating a great product.
Instead of feeling limited by video conferencing and thinking that we had to be constantly in “presenter” mode, we remained agnostic of all platforms and used technology like AllSeated’s ExVo Platform to create virtual events that were as close as possible to their personal counterparts. For example, you can decorate the room by changing the decor or the carpet. Producers and designers can place plants and flowers, or you can have videos appear as they ‘walk’ into the room. Then, when they wrap, these videos can disappear into a static image or an animated GIF.
We had headliners playing with all the band members in different locations with AV people mixing the sounds virtually. We’d start an event with a CEO giving a “rah-rah” speech, but then we’d have music, or entertainment, a stretching exercise or a caricature artist pulling individual people into the event. Using an iPad, participants could watch him sketch live, in real time.
By thinking about available technology and then using it for unusual, surprising and downright cool use cases, we were able to create an attractive product.
What It Takes To Be A Pioneer
I’m not suggesting that the pandemic wasn’t a disaster, or that I didn’t have to go through the same process of self-examination and difficult choices as my peers. But while many business leaders may be tempted to face market turmoil with doomsday forecasts and scaled-back ambitions, that approach limits the potential for long-term growth. Companies that manage to thrive in challenging times are sloppy, resourceful and good at thinking outside the accepted MO. They get straight into difficult situations, looking for silver linings, new opportunities, and ways to consistently deliver the unexpected.