COVID-19 and The Art of Ideas

February 3, 2021

If you are looking for a way to energize your team, you might draw inspiration from one of my clients who asked me to facilitate an Ideas Summit with his senior team a couple of weeks ago. The summit was intended to spark ideas about how to grow the company in 2021 both in their traditional areas of business and in related areas where they don’t do business today.

What better way to take charge of the year than with a sense of confidence and optimism for the future? While many businesses were side-tracked in 2020, the rollout of the COVID vaccine is underway and the gradual resumption of some sense of normalcy is in sight. This is the time to start thinking seriously about a renewed business strategy, one that takes stock of what happened last year and where the business opportunities are for this year.

So, let’s think about that. In January 2020, no one could have predicted what was to come, that our economy would be flattened and that we would all be working from home within two months. Many of us adjusted and carried on, some of us even emerged as winners although others were not so lucky. Economic predictions for this year are cautiously optimistic. The Bank of Canada warns that the year will start off slowly, and that until the vaccine is widely available, the virus will contribute to a “choppy trajectory” with the second half of the year moving into a growth phase.

That suggests that the early part of the year is a good time to think, develop and put into motion a renewed plan so that come the summer and fall, you and your team are ready to take advantage of what’s to come. This might be a good time to do a SWOT analysis to help you think through where you are today and what you might look forward to. A SWOT analysis helps you make some sense of your business’s strengths and weaknesses, and where and what the opportunities and threats might be.

My client gave members of his team a small book to read in advance of the Ideas Summit. The premise of The Art of Ideas by William Duggan and Amy Murphy from the Columbia Business School is that creative thinking is not so much about coming up with something new as building on others’ ideas and creating a mindset that allows unrelated ideas to collide. For example, in its first iteration, Netflix was about combining the idea of Blockbuster’s movie rental (remember that?) and a membership fee system used in a gym. Voila! “Unlimited movie rentals for one flat fee”. Then Reed Hastings, Netflix’s founder, drew on Amazon’s e-commerce concepts and the emerging DVD technology coming out of Japan at the time. And the rest is history.

Some things to consider as you engage in this strategic thinking:

- What is the lasting impact of COVID-19 on your business and how might you take advantage of the new normal?

- What new trends or behaviours are emerging because of the pandemic that you might capitalize on?

- What are others doing that could inspire you and your team?

- Who are the potential collaborators that might help you enhance your business?

While many businesses are struggling during this pandemic, we might be motivated by those who have found themselves in the right place at the right time. Take Zoom and Canada Post. Zoom was one of many videoconferencing platforms and emerged as the darling as COVID locked us down. Why? Because the platform is easy to use, it has playful features like virtual backgrounds and beautification filters, and it ramped up its security early on. Canada Post is riding the wave of online shopping we’ve all engaged in and finds itself busier than during most holiday seasons.

However, it isn’t just the big players that have been able to seize the moment. I have a friend who opened an art gallery and gift shop on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia in July 2020, the least popular shore in the province, and with no tourism last summer, who would have thought that such a business could take off but take off it did. In fact, it outgrew its premises in the late fall and just as the holiday shopping season was moving into full gear, she relocated to a larger and more accessible site. Her success is linked in part to the lack of festivals and other venues where artists and artisans typically sell their art and crafts and in part to the ‘shop local’ trend that is taking hold all around the globe.


With one month of experience behind us in 2021, now is the perfect time to energize your team with some creative thinking that could pay off as we come out of the pandemic later this year. A somewhat structured facilitated process will ensure that you brainstorm and blue sky with tangible results. You may be surprised at what emerges!

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