Today I had a call with Derek Notman and asked him how his business was going. “Excellent,” he said. “Business is booming, and I am very busy.” His response may sound very strange amid the Covid-19 crisis when unemployment is soaring, and most small businesses are struggling to survive. You would be even more surprised to learn that Derek works in a very traditional industry that depends on face-to-face human interactions.
Derek is a Financial Advisor. But he is also a pioneer and Founder of Conneqtor, a business that helps other Financial Advisors create a virtual advisory system. Derek saw the benefits of digitizing his business long before the industry caught on. He runs his entire practice remotely from his home office and has the freedom to run his business from anywhere, anytime. When Covid-19 hit, most businesses panicked and scrambled to figure out how to survive, while Derek saw his business rise to new heights. What was Derek’s secret? He stayed ahead of the curve.
The benefits of holding virtual client meetings are now obvious to everyone but they were not so obvious just a few months ago. Holding virtual client meetings is no longer a competitive advantage. Those that stayed ahead of the curve were able to establish a leadership position that is now difficult to challenge.
But change does not stop here. If you have an eCommerce store, can the buyer click a button and immediately have a videoconference call with a knowledgeable customer service rep that can answer questions? That might give you a competitive advantage today. But once everyone is doing it – and it will not take long – if you have not established a position of leadership in that space, what used to be an opportunity has now turned into a threat.
Change is very hard. Humans prefer to keep the status quo. It is what cognitive psychologists call homeostasis. We are very uncomfortable with the unknown, and that is what makes change management so challenging.
The interesting thing is, once we are forced to make a change, and realize the benefits, we often ask ourselves: “Why didn’t I try this earlier?” I can’t tell you how many clients have told me that they will never go back to the "old normal". “Why should I spend endless hours on an airplane, away from my family, if I can conduct business just as effectively online?” they tell me. What is fascinating is that video conferencing has been around for a very long time, but only now, after being forced to social distance, people are realizing its benefits.
The changes we are currently experiencing were caused by what Nassim Taleb calls a “Black Swan.” An unexpected event that changed the course of business and societal norms. But the reality is that Covid-19 was just an accelerant for the inevitable. We all knew the world was going digital. We all knew that the economics of obtaining a college degree was unsustainable and that something had to change. We all knew that sitting at a doctor’s office waiting for an overscheduled doctor just to get a simple diagnosis was expensive and inefficient. Yet, we resisted online education and telemedicine. Now, these changes are here to stay.
The question is, what other changes are just around the corner, as Rita McGrath says, that we can’t see? What signals are we detecting, but resisting, that could threaten our business? We are living in the Exponential Era, a time when changes are occurring at unprecedented speeds. We need a new way of thinking - a new planning process that allows for continuous monitoring and flexible prioritization. We need to constantly consider new information that is gathered in real-time as we make strategic decisions about our business.
In the Exponential Era, the only way to survive is to stay ahead of the curve. Those that do, like Derek, will do quite well. Those that don’t, unfortunately, will likely face catastrophic decline.