Personal Finance

Moving up out of the corona downturn



  • Covid-19 has forced Kenyans to be even more inventive.
  • Necessity, needing to deliver and a sense of urgency, in uncertain conditions, is stressful.
  • But the good news is that these tough times can force one to deal with depressing inertia — and unleash waves of creativity, spurring ideas.

This may sound odd. Consider the possibility that everything you’ve learned up until this point, is actually holding you back. It may be that your knowledge and experience are preventing you from seeing opportunities right in front of you. “It’s what you learn, after you know it all that counts” is how Earl Weaver expressed it.

It’s a bit like sitting there frustrated, not knowing how to do something on your laptop, only to discover it was a simple action of pushing the function key and F8.

Don’t feel bad, we are all in the same boat. Somehow one has to be ready to remove the blinders. Or, at the very minimum be open to the possibility, that something is being missed.

It would be Polly Anna naiveté to suggest that all this is just ‘flip the switch’ easy. It’s a process of trial and error, launching a number of small [low cost, low risk] test business experiments, seeing what works, and what doesn’t.

Some will fail, with the trick being to figure out what are the lessons learnt. Then polish the approach, and try again.

Covid-19 has forced Kenyans to be even more inventive. Necessity, needing to deliver and a sense of urgency, in uncertain conditions, is stressful. But the good news is that these tough times can force one to deal with depressing inertia — and unleash waves of creativity, spurring ideas.

Recent research by McKinsey suggests “organisations that innovate through the crisis, by focusing on generating new growth, versus simply weathering the storm outperform significantly over time.”

Historically, when there has been a significant economic or social disruption it creates a market need, a shift in behaviour that more innovative businesses can use to create new products, services and business models.

For instance, in the 1940s in North America and Europe, when women entered the workforce in greater numbers, and had less time at home, it led to the growth of more convenient time-saving home appliances.

When the SARS epidemic took place in Asia in 2002 and people had to shelter in place, it led to the wide spread adoption of e commerce in the region, where China became one of the hubs for the growth of online transactions and social commerce.

So much for history. Today, how does one become open to the possibility that there may be another way of looking at things. It begins with mindset. You can hear an ‘openness to possibility’ in someone’s tone of voice, the words they use, their body language — and how they approach problems.

Looking at three areas: simplicity, applying the law of constraints, and being resourceful — will help zoom in on how to begin to make a shift up out of the corona downturn.

Think simple — complexity is confusing and expensive. Clarity is like a cold White Cap on a very hot day. Wherever possible prune tasks and sharpen the focus.

Yes, all sorts of things have many moving parts, complex in their inner workings, like a cell phone, but that does not mean they can’t be as simple to use as possible.

Classic example of this are Apple products, where simplicity is an obsession. “That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.

But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains” said Steve Jobs who referred to his company as the world’s biggest start-up.

Just because something is simple, doesn’t make it right. But chances are the simpler the process, or design, the better the quality of the product or service.

And, just plain easier to get from point A to point B. When you see something confusing, think about how it can be distilled down to its essence.

Apply the theory of constraints — Chances are there is one thing that is holding back your business from tapping into growth, to be on verge of creating a break through ? What is that ? Theory of constraints is a methodology that aims to identify the most important critical limiting factor, the constraint, that stands in the way of achieving a goal.

Introduced by Eliyahu Goldratt in his 1984 book called The Goal the idea has been there down through history, and appeared earlier in systems theory and project management tools like Programme Evaluation Review Technique (PERT).

Idea is that any system is limited in achieving more of its goals, by a very small number of constraints. There is always at least one constraint that stands out.

Goldratt’s approach uses a focusing process to identify the constraint and restructure the rest of the organisation around it. This thinking is reflected in the saying "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link".

Helpful to brainstorm with staff what this constraint is and how to remove it as a limiting factor.

Resourceful rather than demanding resources — “Do more with less” are the words of the Bauhaus architect, Mies Van der Rohe, famous for his simple elegant designs.

If you ask a young aspiring entrepreneur, with an interesting bright business idea why they don’t move into action and make it happen — what will they likely respond? Chances are they will say they don’t have the funds, or there is a lack of some other resource holding them back.

Way around this is to start small, apply a lean start-up approach, and test the market with small experiments before making more risky larger investments.

If this more frugal — being resourceful approach — worked for Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in creating Apple, and for Jeff Bezos in getting Amazon started it can work for budding Kenyan entrepreneurs, Both Apple and Amazon started in the garage of a house.

Even for existing businesses, when they seem stuck, needing some piece of equipment, or in figuring out how to solve some troublesome problem, the probability is that there is a 50 percent chance that the resources needed are close at hand, and just need to be ‘re-jigged’ converted to provide what’s needed. Think of it like redeeming Bonga points.

Strange thing is that is our ever faster, often confusing high-tech world [despite the myth of multi-tasking] you can only really ever do one thing on your ‘to do’ list at a time.

And, all those plans, ambitious good intentions for the future, can only be addressed in the present moment.

Think about it, we never experience the future, all we have is right now.

So the question becomes: what are we building today, to create a lift off out of this corona conundrum ?

An ancient Chinese proverb put it this way: “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, others build windmills.”