Finding North In a New World

Contributed by Ross Drakes, an entrepreneur and creative director based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is the founder of Nicework, which helps companies to define their purpose and then deliver on it. He joined the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) in 2013.

His firm compiled insights on factors surrounding COVID-19 and made the report available for free. Called “Finding North (Again),” it explores emerging trends and how to create opportunity from this period of chaos. 

The last few months have been like nothing I have ever experienced.

I went from having a solid strategy, a decent pipeline and a great team to execute on it to being forced to stay in my house with my wife and son, my team working remotely (with our new shiny office sitting empty), and every project we were working on being cancelled or postponed.

Every plan or idea I had about this year was suddenly shattered. The efforts we had been toiling away at no longer seemed relevant. For the first time in a long time, I had no clarity.

The one thing that I am clear on is that lots of things are shifting. Whether it’s the markets collapsing or the measures put in place to contain the virus, people are behaving in radically different ways.

I mean, I made pizza dough from scratch, trimmed all the trees in my garden and relish the idea of stepping out to buy some cleaning supplies from our local supermarket. Previously law-abiding people are trading cigarettes and alcohol like it is a legitimate part of the economy.

Thankfully, I am a member of EO. Members of my Forum are on regular calls, and the experience shares and guidance have been amazing. There are a myriad of WhatsApp groups, Slack channels, webinars, and MyEO groups that sprung up, seemingly overnight.

The generosity of information and support has been huge. I missed one of the presidential updates and was served all the salient points in a neatly typed summary sent to me by a member in Cape Town I have never even met. It has been astounding.

Being part of all of these groups, I started to see that some things that were very obvious to me were not apparent to people who do not build brands and communicate for a living. I started to see that the lockdowns were going to be extended. We have a teammate in Barcelona and his situation gives us a glimpse into our future (they are still in lockdown at the time of this writing).

Most companies turned to hardcore-survivalist-price-cutting or burying their heads in the sand. Meanwhile, we were in the midst of helping our clients look down the road and start taking action. And some very clear patterns were beginning to emerge.

As human beings, we are exposed to change on a daily basis, but nearly always in more palatable increments than this. When the chaos eventually subsides, the landscape around us will be transformed.

This is an opportunity: How will we adapt and change, to do what we do in a very different world?

Even though my company, Nicework, was reeling, the one piece of our strategy that survived the shutdown was the idea of strategic giving. Being generous with people, putting out more than you take in and genuinely trying to help.

We decided to leverage the assets that we had at our disposal, take a break from trying to sell to people and create a document of all the things we really wanted the people around us to see. The result was the Finding North (Again) report. It is not long or complicated. It is simple and short, designed to help you think creatively about solutions to your situation—a few key thoughts to help you reformulate a strategy for the next three to nine months. We are now in the process of expanding and updating each thought as the requests have been flowing in thick and fast.

In the world of unexpected consequences, the biggest challenge we are facing is the mindset of people who are just waiting it out or standing still.

This document as well as the conversations we have had as a result have been a great tool to shift people—just a few ideas to ponder as you define your approach to this shift.

This document was written during the first week of the 21-day lockdown in South Africa. The general feeling now is calmer, but much is still up in the air. Remember that people are adjusting to the ground shifting beneath them and that current work-from-home situations are often less than ideal. But weirdly enough, it is all starting to normalise. The dust is settling and soon people are going to need to figure out how to get to the new business-as-usual as fast as possible.

Consumers will wake up again, the economy will start rolling and I want you to be ready. There are more interesting times ahead where we can get to new levels of productivity, effectiveness and growth.

Humans are adaptable and we will definitely find a way through this. It’s important to remember that we don’t like change—especially when it is sudden and forced.

So what will you do to prepare yourself for the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic? What new tools, strategies, processes and ideas will you enable reinvention and resilience for your company? My hope is that this will help guide you to make the right choices to come out of this thing ready to do great things.

In the spirit of EO together. Onward and upward.

Download the report here. 

In addition to leading at Nicework, Ross Drake is a speaker, part-time lecturer and host of a few podcasts—including a podcast with fellow EO South Africa member Rich Mulholland called RadEO



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