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Pivoting Business Models in Changing Times

Aleka Bhutiani

As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our communities, we are working to adjust to a new normal in trying times.

Many businesses have had to close shop or downsize their workforce adding additional pressure, outside of health concerns, to employees and their families as well as entire industries. There is a clear divide emerging in the current environment between industries that have the ability to pivot and adapt their models to meet the changing demand dictated by the virus and those that are becoming obsolete as human behavior adapts and retains some of the new habits we now find ourselves in.

Equally, we are seeing moments of humanity that are crucial now more than ever before. Communities are stepping up to help those in need and increasingly, individuals are looking to businesses in the private sector to help meet the critical needs and changing requirements of populations around the world – from those working from home, home schooling or on the front lines.

Pivoting is not a new concept in business continuity. In fact, many of the globally recognized brands that our part of our everyday lives – Starbucks, PayPal, Instagram and Groupon – have found success as a result of a business pivot. Here are some unexpected innovative pivots and the lessons businesses can learn from each, when humanity must outweigh profitability.

1. From Passenger Pick Up to the Delivery of More Than Just Food

The ride-share app Lyft has pivoted towards a delivery model and expanded its services to support the delivery of medical supplies, meals to kids and seniors in need, non-medical and routine transportation for low-income homes.

Lesson: By utilizing the core business model asset – cars and drivers – and identifying critical needs that are impacted directly, or indirectly, by the pandemic, Lyft has been able to support local, low income or in need communities that require ongoing care for existing conditions as well as ensure that vital supplies reach the front-line staff looking to slow the curve of the virus.

2. From Liquor to Sanitizer

Across the US and Canada, distilleries including Caledonia Spirits, Westland Distillery, Breckenridge Distillery and Claremont Distilled Spirits are shifting their production lines to use the alcohol they normally make to develop hand sanitizer for distribution to those in the local community and local emergency services free of charge.

Lesson: By tapping a unique skillset that is required to make safe alcohol and even re-distill finished product to get it to the necessary alcohol levels for effective hand sanitizer, these distilleries have been able to support on a local level to meet the demand and in turn reduce the strain on national and global supply chains. By solving locally, they are creating a positive national and global impact.

3. From Scuba Gear to Ventilators

Decathlon, the French sporting goods retailer, in partnership with the Institute of Studies for the Integration of Systems managed to convert their line of Easybreath scuba masks into ventilators with the help of a product hack and the use of 3D printing technology to provide the required parts. They even uploaded a video detailing the process they undertook so it can be replicated.

Lesson: Collaboration and diversity of thought is key. Combining expertise across different sectors can unearth new thinking and innovations that could not have been achieved by one industry or business alone. Whilst this is a last resort option for the growing demand for ventilators in Italy, and still needs to be certified, it has certainly served to provide temporary and urgent relief to those regions that have been hit the hardest, helping to save lives.

Many businesses are seemingly well placed for some of the more permanent shifts and habits that are developing. For example, Hollywood may shift to more early streaming release dates, online learning could become an optional alternative for students at all stages of education, and we may find more business and personal engagements becoming virtual meetings through Zoom and Skype to save on cost and time.

However, the businesses pivoting their models (albeit temporary, in most cases) during this pandemic and putting humanity and community before profits are making their mark in the most important way possible – through acts of kindness. These acts will afford them recognition for their ingenuity and compassion; loyalty from employees they are keeping on payroll and the vulnerable communities which they are supporting during this time; and unearthing what makes mankind so resilient, an ability to innovate and create the new to survive. An English proverb comes to mind that embodies what we are seeing, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” 

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