Why Business as “Unusual” MUST Be Your New Strategy

“You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” -Walt Disney

 

Have you ever thought about the amount of force it takes to change human behaviour?

While humans want to believe that we are in total control over our decisions, we are actually driven largely by habits and routines. Ones that, once set, are incredibly difficult to change. It often takes a massive outside force for us to modify the way we do things – like the smoker that refuses to quit until they have an unfortunate health scare.

Even as someone who has studied consumer behaviour for many decades, I am still surprised to see just how large an outside force must be to disrupt our daily habits. Take driving, for instance. Where I live in central Florida, I-4 was the main interstate for decades. As population grew around Orlando in the 1970-80’s, traffic grew as well – to the point where rush hour on I-4 was always bumper-to-bumper. To alleviate this problem, a new tollway called the GreeneWay was developed and opened to the public in 1988.

Can you guess what happened?

Nothing. Traffic remained bumper-to-bumper on I-4, as Floridians refused to adopt the new tollway. Even though it was an objectively better option for hundreds of thousands of commuters, it didn’t matter. Drivers just didn’t want to change.

That is until 2004, when one of the deadliest hurricane seasons on record ravaged the State of Florida.

As the Orlando area was pounded by three separate hurricanes in six weeks – Charley, Frances, and Jeanne – I-4 was shut down for an extended period of time. And guess what? All of a sudden, the GreeneWay became immensely popular, and saw continued use by commuters even after I-4 reopened. In fact, to this day the GreeneWay remains to the most popular commuter roadway in the area.

All because a large outside force drove people to adopt new behaviours – behaviours that ultimately stuck, even after the force was gone. Which makes you wonder: if a regional disaster can alter the habits of an entire city, what will a global pandemic do to our collective habits and behaviours?

 

Change is Coming…Fast

As we live through an event unlike anything our planet has experienced in modern times, it is important to stop and think about our behaviours. What will happen to our habits and routines when all is said and done? With a force as large as a global pandemic, odds are things will change, right?

Of course, they will! And they’re going to change fast. Which for some industries, means that their traditional way of doing things will be challenged very soon (if it hasn’t already). And if they don’t innovate and adapt to these changed behaviours, these industries are going to experience a drastic acceleration in their decline.

Let’s take a look at 7 industries most likely to be affected by changing consumer behaviours:

 

Retail

Though many of us live in an Amazon Prime, one-click ordering world, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, online shopping still comprises less than 12% of all retail sales in the United States. Driving most of this slow adoption to eCommerce? Baby boomers.

This group currently has more money to spend than any other generation, and they have traditionally spent the bulk of it at physical retail locations. That is, until just a few weeks ago, when they were forced to stay at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Now, thanks to this outside force, Boomers are adopting online shopping habits that they never would have otherwise. And for many, these habits are likely to stick.

For some retailers, this habit shift has already forced a death blow. JCPenneyJ.Crew, and Neiman Marcus all filed for bankruptcy protection in early May, a sign that these once-dominant retailers were behind the times in finding a way to blend their in-store experience with an online experience that resonated with new consumer habits. And there are likely many more retailers to come.

Whether it’s building out an improved online retail presence, or educating customers on how to recreate their in-store experience via apps and websites, retailers that want to survive must quickly adapt to the new behaviours of their customers, ensuring they can continue to serve them, even after their shopping habits have changed.

 

Office Buildings

With the coronavirus thrusting millions of employees into an immediate work from home situation, employers who previously wouldn’t have dreamed of testing out a remote workforce are now starting to see exactly why this is becoming a preferred means of work for many companies around the globe.

Even with the chaos of employees’ entire families being home all at once, teams everywhere armed with just a cellphone, laptop, and internet connection are proving they can be as effective at home as they are in the office. Which for employers begs the question: are the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars spent on office space annually worth it?

Many employers have already answered that question. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey made headlines recently when he announced that nearly all Twitter employees will be allowed to work from home forever. JPMorgan made a similar announcement, telling employees that a permanent, rotational work from home schedule was in the works. And more companies are following suit as this work from home “experiment” has proven that their employees can be trusted to get the job done no matter where they are, and that the millions they spend on office space could be better invested elsewhere.

If I owned a corporate office building, I’d already be thinking about ways that my space could be used outside of traditional corporate leases. Because with such a massive forced shift towards the adoption of remote work, it’s really only a matter of when, not if that pivot will be necessary.

  

Restaurants

With nearly every restaurant across the country closed to in-person dining, many owners have quickly adapted their business models to take-out and delivery only.

While I and many others cannot wait for our favourite restaurants to welcome diners back with open arms, depending on the outcome of this current shift in the industry, many may end up deciding to never return to their old way of business again.

With the rise in tools such as Uber Eats and DoorDash, creating a delivery system for a restaurant is as simple as adding a few menu items to an app. And in an industry with razor-thin margins, some restaurant owners may decide that it’s more profitable to move their menu and a handful of chefs to a remote “virtual kitchen,” and shut down the in-person service of their restaurant altogether.

For other restaurants that remain focused on welcoming back diners in person, the way in which they serve their guests may change. Copenhagen’s Noma, widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world, reopened on May 14 with a pretty noticeable change: instead of their usual $400 per person tasting menu, they are serving nothing but $15 cheeseburgers.

While chef-owner René Redzep doesn’t know how long they’ll stick with this a la carte, family-friendly, outdoor seating only arrangement, his decision is one that speaks volumes. The way restaurants used to operate is not the way of the future…much is going to change.

And we’re not just talking about the food. From leases to staff to furnishing companies and more, imagine the drastic overhaul the restaurant industry will experience if even a relatively small percentage decides to transition to a delivery-only model, takeout-only model, a new style of serving, drastic new menu, or any other number of changes we can expect to see as restaurants reopen.

On top of all this, there is also the rise in innovators looking to create a future where we 3D print our food at home on demand. Which raises a serious question: if restaurants as we know them have changed, and nearly any food we can dream of can be delivered or created with the push of a button, will we reach a point where we never go out to eat again?

A question most certainly worth pondering…

 

Conferences

I’ve spoken at length before about why the conference industry needs to change. And with recent events, this change needs to happen now or never.

Even with the virus under control, it’s going to be a long time before businesses are comfortable exhibiting at and sending employees to live conferences. Meaning that many conferences are going to find themselves face-to-face with an early demise. That is, unless they can find unique new ways to create value for attendees, exhibitors, speakers, and sponsors.

From the attendee perspective, the promise of live conferences is two-fold: to make connections and to learn something. While many conferences often fail to deliver on the latter, most do a great job in bringing like-minded people together in one place to meet each other and develop relationships. Unfortunately, it’s this component that is missing with most of the events that have quickly shifted to digital in the wake of the coronavirus. And if conferences can’t deliver relationships, attendees will stop showing up, and exhibitors and sponsors will soon follow suit.

But imagine if conferences took advantage of the one real benefit of a digital-only event: unlimited real estate. Instead of shuffling from speaker panel to speaker panel, what if every attendee spent the last 20 minutes of each session in a small virtual discussion group whose attendees were carefully curated by event staff? Imagine meeting new folks virtually every hour, and spending time discussing the ideas and questions raised by the previous panel. How quickly would you establish rapport and connections with your virtual group members? By the end of a virtual conference like this, you’d have an amazing list of new relationships that would rival any you’d ever have created at a live event.

As someone who runs workshops and gives keynote speeches at over 150 events per year, and who has already participated in multiple large-scale digital events hosted since the pandemic began, I can tell you first-hand that this transition to digital can work wonderfully. I especially love the ability to interact directly with individual members of the audience. Traditionally, most event Q&A’s get cut short for time since programs are always running long. But with digital event platforms, audience members can ask a question, participate in polls, “virtually” raise their hand, and engage with me directly through the entire speech.

Events have become much more collaborative. I’m no longer speaking to a room full of people…I am speaking with a group of people. And the difference is amazing.

 

Sports

The true gravity of the coronavirus pandemic set in when major sports leagues began postponing or cancelling games, events, and seasons altogether.

Several years ago, the NBA hired me to help them build out a pilot program for virtual gaming. The idea was that with rise in video game streaming on sites such as Twitch and YouTube, fans would be responsive to watching their favourite players compete virtually in video game form. Many thought the idea was crazy, but I truly believed we were on to something.

Now, as leagues continue to debate when they’ll return to live events, and if anyone will be there in person to watch, virtual sports viewership is skyrocketing. The NBA2K League is in full swing, with upwards of 8-10 virtual teams playing nightly, their games broadcast in primetime on Twitch and YouTube Gaming channels. And other sports leagues have taken notice as well. In early April, NASCAR, IndyCar, and F1 Racing all unveiled live “virtual” racing events that were broadcast on national television. During these events, professional racers climbed behind the wheel via computers in their own homes, and raced each other in simulated events taking place on virtual copies of real-life tracks.

Think about how incredible this is…these events are nothing more than pixels on a screen generated by a computer, yet they have announcers, commercials, sponsors, and even live renditions of the National Anthem – all the things you’d expect from an in-person sporting event. Yet not a single athlete, employee, or spectator has to leave the comfort of their living room.

Which again causes us to think – if consumers are adopting the habit of watching virtual sporting events, will they ever return to spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on attending the real thing? I hope leagues everywhere have this question top of mind as they debate what to do next.

 

Gyms & Fitness Centers

Prior to social distancing and stay-at-home orders, I went to the gym every single morning. Even with all the travelling I do, I always made it a point to stay somewhere with a fitness center so that I could kickstart my day with a sweat.

Now, that’s not to say it was always a glamourous workout. Anyone familiar with the standard hotel gym knows that it’s almost always a complete afterthought. A dark, dingy room with a couple of poorly maintained cardio machines and a misfit collection of free weights and other resistance equipment. Of course, with no other option, I would take what I could get, and adjust my workouts to the limitations of the gym where I was staying.

But now, as I am stuck at home like everyone else, I no longer even have the sad hotel gym to look forward to. So, what did I do? I found a new way to continue my morning fitness routine, using an online program called PIIT28 – a 28-minute Pilates workout that I stream right from my laptop in the comfort of my own living room. And just a few weeks in, I can say with certainty that even when this is all over, I am never going back to the uninspired hotel gyms again.

As exercise enthusiasts find solutions to stay fit at home – from low-tech online workouts to the fancy at-home fitness experience being built by Peloton – it makes you wonder if people will ever return to their expensive monthly gym membership again. My guess is that for many (myself included), the answer is a resounding “no”.

 

Housing

For many across the globe under lockdown, the pandemic has forced us to spend more time at home over the last few months than we did for the entirety of several years prior. And not surprisingly, a revelation has occurred…a lot of people want to move.

In fact, a recent study of London residents showed a nearly 22% increase in those planning to move away from the city as compared to this time last year. As employees get permission to spend more time working from home, and families look for ways to spread out and have access to more green space, an exodus away from city centers looks to be imminent.

But for many suburban areas, the issue will quickly become housing supply and affordability. That’s why I believe we are ripe for the wave of 3D-printed houses. While fun to watch them work on the local TV news tech segment, most have written off 3D printers as something with no real commercial value. Which is why it may come as a surprise to hear that these devices are actually being used to build some pretty incredible things, including:

3D printed heart valves created by scientists at Harvard

3D printed rocket components being used in space by NASA

3D printed bones being developed by the military 

And in 2018, ICON, an Austin-based start-up, received the first-ever permit to print a home. And print they did, creating a 350 square foot home in just 48 hours. Total cost? $10,000.

ICON has already unveiled their newest 3D printer, the Vulcan II, which can print a 500 square foot structure in less than a day for under $4,000! And this is not some one-off prototype printer either – the company is already taking orders for the Vulcan II, with delivery to come in late 2020.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, the cost of raw materials and labour to build the average single-family home is $237,760. At an average of 2,500 square feet, this comes out to $95.10 per square foot to construct a traditional home (before factoring in the cost of land). Compared with the homes being printed by ICON’s Vulcan II 3D Printer, which are roughly $8.00 per square foot, 3D printed homes cost 92% less to build than traditional homes.

 Can you imagine how the world will change if the cost of homeownership plummeted by 92%? 

Even if land prices continue to rise, how many lives would change if a plot of land and a brand-new house cost well under $100,000? Can you imagine the shift in homeownership percentage? The amount of people struggling to pay rent who would now be eligible to actually own a place of their own?

It will be staggering.

 

Business as Unusual

What we’re experiencing as a country and as a global society will not disappear overnight. Sure, the medical community is working tirelessly and heroically to ensure that the root cause of all this chaos is eradicated soon, but the effects of what has happened will be around for some time.

In fact, based on the many consumer behaviours changing due to coronavirus, it’s safe to say that things will never truly be the same. And for some industries, without taking significant steps to pivot and adapt, it could be the end of things as they know it.

So, what can you do? Start being proactive. Regardless of industry, your business needs to have a plan for what you will do when the behaviours of your customers change forever.

Because Business As Unusual is here to stay. And the ones that embrace change as a way of life and constantly look to innovate are the ones that will thrive, no matter what change comes their way.

 

Looking for more innovation inspiration? Check out the blogs below!

How to Leverage Your Childlike Curiosity for Innovation

Why Some Industries Are Pivoting in the Pandemic

Fail, Fail, and Fail Again – The Secret To Innovation

 

Check out my most recent TED talks: Here!

 

Creating Relationship Magic!