Heading into 2021, it’s a great time to be an entrepreneur. And believe me, I know that could come across as flippant, insensitive, or downright disrespectful to anyone who’s lost a business or suffered devastating hardships in 2020. But I don’t say it lightly. Obviously, last year was terrible for many entrepreneurs. Hundreds of thousands of businesses globally have had to shut their doors, and many of those will never reopen.
Then again, 2020 was a rough year for everyone, in one way or another. At least for entrepreneurs, meanwhile, there’s a big fat silver lining around it all. Why? Because they’re creative, resilient problem-solvers by nature — and to state the obvious, the past year has brought us no shortage of new and unique problems to be solved. Disruption creates opportunity, and entrepreneurs thrive on opportunity.
When you consider society’s incredible technological advancements of the past 20 years, it’s safe to say our capacity to solve problems has never been stronger. Despite the difficulties of the past year, I firmly believe we are living in a time ripe for invention and innovation. In the Age of Data, analytics and instant access to information afford us the luxury of making ultra-informed decisions. It’s one of the greatest advantages of a connected, digital society.
Of course, all this was true before 2020 ever rolled around, but the main point is that it’s still true, even amid the current chaos and uncertainty. So, what new lessons have we learned about business and entrepreneurship? A few things stand out.
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3 Things We Learned About Running a Business in 2020
1. Diversity is not only necessary but essential
The more diverse a business is in general, the easier it is to adapt to change. I’m referring to having a diverse staff, diverse product offerings, diverse sales and supply channels, and diverse revenue streams. The old wisdom for entrepreneurs — especially beginning ones — was to occupy as narrow of a niche as possible. This past year, we learned that’s a terrific way to paint yourself into a corner with no way out.
2. Pivoting is the rule, not the exception
Speaking of outdated business logic, it used to be that pivoting was seen as a sort of last resort — something you did when you had no other option. Now, don’t get me wrong, necessity will always be the mother of invention, but trying to stay afloat in the middle of a global pandemic has really proved for many business owners that they must be prepared for the unexpected. Agility isn’t something that a company can embody using sheer willpower; agility is the sum total of internal culture, business practices, and resources that make it possible to pivot at any given moment.
3. Old School Business is in a post-extinction phase
If you picture running a business as a marathon with the world’s entrepreneurs all on the course together, you could say that those whose companies had embraced digital transformation prior to 2020 were leading the pack. Behind those leaders was a chase group — companies that weren’t necessarily at the forefront of innovation but who were trying to keep up — and behind that, you had the stragglers, who were largely resistant to change and technology. Coming into 2021, that straggler group has almost totally been eliminated. Leaning into tech and digitization used to be a strong, smart business strategy. Now it’s become the standard way of doing business.
Putting Knowledge to Use
These lessons are all well and good but really “learning” them means putting them to use. In many ways, the turmoil of 2020 left us all feeling a bit powerless. But rather than stagnate, now is a great opportunity to intentionally empower ourselves and make things happen. What the future holds — and how we’ll come out of the present — all remains uncertain but it’s the hand we’ve been dealt. If we play our cards right, we will come out ahead.