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How to Start a Successful Business in Times of Change

Laura MacPherson April 9, 2020

There’s no doubt that times of uncertainty cause us to feel uneasy, and the current COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. We aren’t sure what lies ahead. We don’t know how long the current situation will last or how it will affect us.

But with uncertainty comes opportunity. Change creates new behavior and forms new habits. Entire markets are generated that didn’t exist prior to the disruptive event. Plenty of founders were able to start a successful business during challenging times of change. Disney got started during the Great Depression, when people were desperate for a bit of levity. CNN launched during the double-dip recession of 1980, as Ted Turner noticed people’s appetite for news didn’t die down during off-hours. Steve Jobs invented the iPod during the dot-com bust, creating a new way of selling and consuming music. And WhatsApp came into existence during the most recent recession in 2009, as people were looking for affordable ways to connect with friends and family.

What are the keys to start a successful business during times of crisis? While there are never any guarantees, we can learn from the playbooks of companies who have gone before. Here are three insights.

1. Look to See Where New Behaviors are Being Created

Identify newly-forming behaviors by keeping your eye on social media feeds. During the current pandemic, look at conversations around remote work, financial management, family time, outdoor activities, home exercise, virtual services, creative leisure activities, and food preparation.

For example, with no one able to eat in restaurants the way they traditionally have, creative alternatives are showing up. Restaurants are offering takeout with wine-pairing suggestions and tips on how to best enjoy their food at home. Some have even come up with ways of offering foods in takeout form usually reserved for dine-in only. A quick glance at social media feeds shows that people are liking these new options, saying things like, “One thing I won’t change when the world returns to normal is our new once-a-week takeout treat! Loving how relaxing it is to enjoy our favorite foods in picnic form on the porch!” 

2. See How People are Forming New Habits

If people are unable to continue existing habits and are forced to create new ones, will they go back to their old habits after the crisis is over? Maybe, maybe not. What if they continue their new habits? What will they need to support them? 

A prime example of this possibility is people who used to go to the gym. People are now buying home gym equipment, doing live yoga sessions in their homes, or discovering new methods of exercise, like running or biking, that they never tried on a serious basis before. Companies like Peloton proved to be ahead of their time — what if other companies offering different forms of workouts followed the same model?

3. Take Advantage of Your Downtime for Creativity Exercises

If you are one of the many workers who are now WFH, you no longer have to spend time commuting, and online meetings usually don’t last as long as in-person meetings. And you aren’t spending time going out to restaurants, concerts, art shows, or community events. You may have extra time that you didn’t before. Even if you don’t have extra time, you may be able to reallocate time to devote to creativity exercises that will help you think outside the box.

Allow Your Mind to Wander

Research shows that physical activities that allow the mind to wander, such as walking, and even knitting boost creative thinking. The mental state of scatterfocus, as creativity expert Chris Bailey terms it, allows the brain to make fresh connections and generate new ideas. 

Do a Quantity Experiment

When you’re trying to come up with new ideas, challenge yourself to generate a list of thirty or even fifty ideas. The obvious ones will come out first, and then your mind will get working on new, innovative ways to solve the problem.

Do an Alternative Uses Challenge

For this exercise, choose an object and see how many alternative uses you can invent for the object. This exercise will force you to think in new ways that will get the creative juices flowing.

Take Advantage of the Opportunities Change Creates

It’s tempting to focus on the dangers and threats involved in the current crisis. And they’re there — there’s no sugar-coating it. But while it’s important to be smart, follow guidelines from the experts, and take care of ourselves and those we love, there are also opportunities. By shifting our focus from time to time and searching for these opportunities, we may find the next great business idea. And now may be the perfect time to start a successful business.

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