There’s A Pony in Here Somewhere.

I’ve always been an optimist. And over a forty-year career as an entrepreneur that glass-half-full attitude has been an occupational necessity.

I’ve always been an optimist.

And over a forty-year career as an entrepreneur, that glass-half-full attitude has been an occupational necessity. There’s no way I could have kept launching into new ventures — and being told “that will never work” time and time again — without continually believing “there has to be a way to figure it out”.

In my career, I’ve run thousands of tests, 97.3% of which didn’t work.  But I always see these failures not as dead ends, but as fresh leaping off points. Every failure teaches me something. No matter how deep the pile of horse shit, I always believe that there’s got to be a pony in there somewhere.

Although 2020 has been a bummer of a year; with nearly two million dead, 80 million infected, businesses decimated, and countless people out of work, I can’t help but look for the good that may have come from such a pile-of-horse-shit year.

To start, I’m thankful every morning.   For someone who travels as much as I do, just sleeping in my own bed is an unexpected gift.  Last March, over the course of just a few weeks, my calendar miraculously cleared, and there, stretching out before me — like the fields of poppies leading to the Emerald City — was month after month of … what else can I call it, but … freedom.

It’s been a gift to learn that it IS possible to conduct business over Zoom, and that in many ways it is preferable. How awesome to have coffee in the kitchen with my wife, then 30 seconds later be in a board meeting.  In my shorts.

That 60-minute keynote speech that used to require 2-3 days to deliver, what with travel, rehearsal, socializing, idle time in airport lounges, etc.?  Now it’s done in – dare I say it – 60 minutes! All delivered virtually from a production studio I carved out of a dead space in my attic.

I’m convinced that business will be transformed by this. If it no longer makes a difference whether a key employee is in the adjoining cubicle or in the adjoining state, we’ll see companies springing up far from the usual entrepreneurial greenhouses.  Companies already in competitive markets will find and utilize talents from all over the world.

People want this. Almost three quarters of US employees now want to work remotely at least two days per week, and Gallup reported earlier this year that almost two thirds of them would like to continue working from home, even when permitted to return to the office.

Besides being more productive and time efficient, spending at least part time working from home will lead to huge gains in employee happiness and quality of life, making it even easier for people to find balance in their life. What can be a better silver lining than that?

What about the businesses themselves and their perpetual quest for predictability? That’s so 2019.  Now everyone is in uncharted territory. What will the world look like when it returns to “normal”? To what degree will behaviors born during Covid return to pre-pandemic levels (if at all)?  Who knows? Now the challenge isn’t predicting the future, it’s preparing for whatever that uncertain future may throw at us. 

This presents some amazing opportunities! (See, there’s that optimism again). Now every company will be forced to think like a startup: to be willing to quickly change direction, to rely on the viewpoints of those closest to the action, to be willing to experiment and see what works in these new conditions.  That’s a skill that will pay dividends far into the future.

Even better, many startups are finding themselves in the right place at the right time; e-commerce is booming, delivery services are becoming mainstream, streaming has become our preferred manner of consuming entertainment, and virtual versions of pretty much every possible service category are launching daily.

Necessity has made Telemedicine (a category which had been fighting to gain a foothold for years) a newly viable option for nearly every malady – both physical and mental.

The explosion of funding and experimentation targeted at remote education has driven a renaissance in educational innovation.

As companies large and small embrace remote work as an ongoing reality, we will see hundreds of new offerings aimed at servicing that market.

We’re not going back – and it’s good for us. Nearly three quarters of consumers surveyed by McKinsey, say that they have tried a new shopping behavior since Covid, and most of them say they plan to continue.

For my part, I signed up with Future Fitness – a virtual personal trainer app.  I started working with a virtual track coach.  I built a home gym in my garage.  I’m in close to the best shape I’ve been in my life.   And I’m not alone. Surveys show that not only have 80% of us been working out more at home than before the pandemic, but more than two thirds of us prefer it. 

A healthy lifestyle is more than just aspirational, it’s now achievable. More than half of Americans are cooking more, eating better, and drinking less. (Although according to my informal research, the other half of Americans may be drinking enough to make up for the rest of us).

During the early months of the Pandemic, with roads largely free of cars, we were able to reimagine what our cities might be like with streets freed up for strolling and outdoor dining.

And with theaters, gyms, bars and stadiums largely closed to us, we spent increasing amounts of time in the outdoors; hiking, camping, climbing, biking, and back-country skiing.  (Although trying to score a couple of gas canisters for my camping stove this past summer felt like trying to find fresh vegetables in Soviet Russia in the 70s).

Perhaps one of the better by-products of a stalled economy was that the earth got to recover a little bit. You didn’t need to look much beyond your own kitchen window to notice the difference. As the smog lifted, the ocean waters cleared, and the roar of traffic abated, not only did it improve our views, but more importantly it gave us a glimpse of what the world could be like should we gather the will to make long term changes in how we live, travel and consume.

The most important Covid silver lining occurred closest to home – in March – when for the first time in many years my wife and I once again had all three of our adult children around the dinner table with us. And it came with bonus points. Joining us in quarantine was my son’s partner, giving us the chance to get to know her in a setting that was genuine and prolonged.

Being locked away for going on 10 months, I’ve come to newly appreciate my family and my friends. I cherish the time I get to spend with them – even if it has to be virtual.  Or masked.  Or outside.  Or all three.

It’s been a gift for all of us to have nearly a year free from crazy schedules, pointless travel, and having too much on our plates. We’ve been given the chance to focus for a few precious months on what’s truly important.

But if we’re truly to make the most from this unfortunate year, we must do more than just look back on what was good; we most hold on to those things once the real world returns. To keep spending time outside. To remember that we can have cleaner air and less congested streets. To stay focused on personal time and balance.  To never stop recognizing how precious it is to spend time with our friends or sit with our children around a dinner table every night.

And if we manage to hold onto even a single good thing buried in all that 2020 horseshit . . . well then, I guess we found that pony after all.


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