If and How to Deviate from Strengths during Tough Times

Due to the corona virus pandemic, some industries have suffered severe downturns. Mandates may force businesses to operate quite definitely than they did before. And, pandemic generated consumer fear can also depress business.

In my previous writing, I encouraged businesses to stick to their strengths, if possible, though recognizing that pandemic mandates may make this not doable. In light of this doability challenge, it important to clarify what sticking to strengths if possible really means. Ideally, a business would want to stick to its strengths, since this typically brings the best results. However, circumstances like the pandemic can usher in profound changes, making it impossible to keep the business going while sticking to strengths.  Under such conditions, a strategic decision to move a bit farther from the company’s strengths may actually be a wise choice in some cases. A classic example is when the pandemic motivates companies not previously strong in work from home virtual communications to become more adept at this way of working.

Furthermore, just as with threats of business disruption, panic is not the answer when pandemic devastates a previously successful business. The pandemic came on suddenly, and it frequently inflicts far more immediate damage than the threat of disruptive technologies.  Businesses may have found that their traditional revenue sources had disappeared. Yet, as tempting as it is to panic, it is important to ask the right questions and to be strategic in choosing the company’s pandemic response.

A crucial question is whether or not it is realistically possible to stick to strengths. When sticking to strengths becomes impossible, it may very well make sense to attempt learning an area that previously was not a strength. The key is not to pick an area so far from strengths that learning to compete would likely be futile. For example, a shift to doing business virtually can often work when it wasn’t previously a strength, although it still may bring learning challenges. On the other hand, more drastic change, such as shifting to a very different industry, can often end up non-doable.

That’s why it is important to ask what it will take to move forward on a path that strays from previous strengths. Recognizing that there’s a learning curve and moving forward with these challenges can be a viable path for some. What should be avoided, however, is repeating the classic mistakes companies often make when faced with disruptive threats or stagnating businesses. A classic mistake is to think that, since what is being done now isn’t working, just switch to something very different. Companies often do this without recognizing that mastering something so different may be tougher and more loss generating than sticking to the existing business, especially if modest modifications might help the existing business at least somewhat.

The point is that, even amid near desperation brought on by the pandemic, a company should strategically assess where it will go next. If a company must abandon its strengths, it should try to identify areas where it might realistically be able to learn to succeed. Generally, it should avoid areas where the learning will be so excessive that success is unlikely. This doesn’t mean companies should never abandon their strengths and move on. It means they should be selective about their upcoming choices, and aim to go where they can most likely do well.

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