Opinion – Dr Frederik Von Briel, Professor Per Davidsson (Australian Centre of Entrepreneurship, QUT) & Jan Recker (Hamburg Business School)

Opinion – Dr Frederik Von Briel, Professor Per Davidsson (Australian Centre of Entrepreneurship, QUT) & Jan Recker (Hamburg Business School)

When change throws the economy out of balance, it creates demand for new products and services as well as opportunities to use resources in new ways.  

Understanding how different changes will affect your business and what to do about it is crucial to surviving and benefiting from change.

Business with sign on door "closed due to COVID-19"

Image credit: Adobe stock / Chansom Pantip

Image credit: Adobe stock / Chansom Pantip

The importance of having an innovation strategy

Since the current global crisis began, many businesses implemented workarounds, aiming to return to their normal operations after the crisis was resolved. Some, however, recognised and acted on the opportunities brought about by the disruption.

As an example, when COVID-19 made facemasks a hot commodity, businesses including Vogmask, Airpop, and Respro offering premium facemasks for everyday use saw a huge spike in demand without much need for strategic action. We also saw other businesses like gin distilleries begin to produce hand sanitiser.

Yet, passively cashing in on such a windfall does not reap the full potential of change.

Many facemask companies quickly sold out and could not benefit further from the increased demand when their supply chains shut down.

To be able to leverage change and not get overrun by it, you first need to identify what change is taking place or what may be a possibility.

Not all change is created equal and offers the same opportunities, so it is important to understand its characteristics.
Storefront with sign "we will be back"

Image credit: Adobe stock / vivalapenler

Adobe stock / vivalapenler

Identify the scope of change occurring

The scope or reach of change determines its business potential. For example, local natural disasters such as the Australian bushfires affect only a limited number of regions and industry sectors. By contrast, technological advances like artificial intelligence and pandemics affect most industry sectors globally.

Dayana Jimenez was forced to pivot when the pandemic disrupted her plan to launch her start up Acude Foundation, a global-citizen education hub for children of all heritage and socio-economic backgrounds.

“Originally planning to launch Acude Foundation as a business offering face-to-face services, COVID-19 pushed us to go online”, the Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation graduate says.

text- "New mindset, new results" written in a notebook

Image credit: Adobe stock / tomertu

Adobe stock / tomertu

“Focusing on volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environments during my studies at UQ gave us the tools to make this shift. This decision turned out to be an important part of our business model. Now, we are 100% online, offering live-sessions and on-demand content.”

Learn how to leverage change effectively with UQ’s Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Identify the onset of change

All changes can have different onsets. To benefit from change, you need to understand how fast you need to act and for how long your window of opportunity is likely to stay open. For example, an aging population is predictable and continuous, whereas the coronavirus crisis first simmered slowly before rapidly spreading across the globe.

Some businesses saw the early indicators and accordingly adjusted inventories and prepared for remote work. Others ignored the warning signs and ultimately got surprised by it. Even when change is predictable, its development may still be sudden and require swift actions.

What type of change can your business handle?

Image credit: Adobe Stock / Dilok

Lightbulb with innovative ideas coming out of it

Identify the relevant change mechanism

To benefit from change, you need to understand the opportunities each change mechanism allows. The type of change you're dealing with will determine when you need to identify the change mechanism. For example, in the case of a pandemic that unfolds fast and sudden, you would do it as soon as you realise it is actually becoming a pandemic or that it might become one. In the case of an ageing population, where the process of change is slow and predictable, identifying relevant change mechanisms can be an ongoing process and relevant mechanisms should be re-evaluated in light of other developments.

Examples of change mechanisms. Click for PDF

Click image for more examples

Click image for more examples

Once you have considered all these change factors, you’ll want to identify how exactly you can act on them.

3 ways your business can act to benefit from change

1. Adapt your existing products and services or introduce entirely new ones.
When considering opportunities for change of your products or services, consider how your existing customers’ needs change, which new needs you could serve, whether this could also attract new customers, and how.

As an example, Micromelon Robotics, a provider of educational robots founded by two UQ engineering alumni, realised that the coronavirus crisis created demand for remote teaching solutions. So, they developed a virtual simulator of their robots that allows teachers to continue teaching robotics in virtual classrooms. It also allowed Micromelon to continue demonstrating its robots to potential customers despite lock-downs and social distancing.

2. Adjust your organisation.
When considering the opportunities of change for your organisation, think about which behavioural and structural changes are possible and desirable; which of your current assets, resources, and competencies can be changed and how; and which new assets, resources, and competencies become available.

The COVID-19 crisis has triggered an unprecedented shift for businesses to work remotely, literally overnight. While some businesses will get back to business as usual once the crisis is over, others will see it as an opportunity to strategically reshape their legacy cultures, and institutions.

Ctrip, an online travel booking portal, already experimented with remote work before the crisis. They realised that their call centre employees were 13% more productive when working from home.

3. Modify existing processes or introduce new ones.
Think about which of your processes can be modified, replaced, or eliminated and which new processes you could introduce to benefit from change. Considering that your employees might have spare time due to the current lack of economic activity, it might be a good time to leverage technological advances and to make your processes more efficient.

UQ MBA alumnus, Laura Stokes, learned the importance of modifying service delivery as the Chief Marketing Officer at the national charity Orange Sky Laundry, which is dedicated to helping the homeless.

“At Orange Sky Laundry, we had to make the hard decision to pause our services for people experiencing homelessness during a time when they needed us more than ever. But reimaging our service delivery in a safe and secure way was critical for our stakeholders and the organisation.”
Laura Stokes

The secret to leveraging a period of uncertainty and change, like the one we are currently living through as a result of the global COVID-19 crisis, lies in understanding the change and taking appropriate action.

Image credit: Adobe stock / weyo & Adobe stock / rawpixel.com

Person working from home on laptop
Worker taking down "closed due to COVID-19" sign from business

Learn how to leverage change effectively with UQ’s Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

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Frederik Von Briel is a strategy and entrepreneurship lecturer at UQ Business School. His research focuses on how innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities emerge and how organisations can make the most of them.