Benefiting From A Lockdown: How Local Entrepreneurs Found a Silver Lining in The Midst of Quarantine

Written by: Fargo Inc

Josh Marineau, Associate Professor of Management at North Dakota State, has had research published in Social Networks, Group & Organization Management, and journal of Business and Psychology. He has presented his research at academic conferences around the world, most recently at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, and at the International Network for Social Network Analysis Annual Meeting in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

In recent interviews I conducted as part of my work with NDSU’s Challey Institute over the last few months, I asked entrepreneurs and leaders about benefits entrepreneurs experienced due to the COVID pandemic—especially related to the effects of the lockdown. Results suggest many entrepreneurs identified it as a moment where they got a “start over” or redo credit—something like a “strategic pause” and were able to imagine new business ideas and products. In other words, they responded to the event as an opportunity. As one entrepreneur described it:

“…we are going to get the opportunity to rebuild our whole new model with the bedrock of our business. Let’s put it that way… I told a lot of our employees… ‘I feel like we’re almost… It’s like we’re starting over.’ Which we kind of are, we’re basically starting a new business.”

Another said: “I consider the ability to look at your business and make changes as an opportunity…we have had an opportunity over the last year to make changes in how we operate as a business.”

One entrepreneur found he finally had time to really “dig in” to the financial aspects of the company, something he had put off for years. Another entrepreneur began to consider her overall approach to the business and decided to finally refocus on new markets. The examples go on.

I learned that for some entrepreneurs there was value in having to step outside the day to day for a prolonged period. It allowed entrepreneurs and business owners to take stock, think about areas that have been neglected, and for some, to dive into strategy, purpose and mission based on the new reality.

Another person I interviewed articulated it this way: “I think a lot of people got to sit down and… have some time to think what could I be doing differently? How could I pivot to address a market need that I hadn’t really thought of before but I got the time? Or, people’s ambitions, people’s goals do change during an event like this. And so, how can I accommodate or use my product, my services, to address those new needs, those new focuses, in commerce?”

The rigor of the day-to-day grind can reduce our responsiveness to the changing environment, keep us too planted on the status quo. Staying focused on the main goal and following the pre-determined plan can obfuscate opportunities and new approaches. When entrepreneurs focus more on what is possible now, with their current resources, in the current situation, it can result in creative and surprising new goals and ideas.

Traditionally, we teach being an entrepreneur is generally a cause-and-effect approach. First, think of a market you want to enter, come up with a product, create a plan to get that product to market, then work tirelessly on this pre-determined goal until you find success. This process, once put in motion, requires few other ingredients other than hard work, grit and perseverance. As one entrepreneur described it “…passion, relentlessness or persistence, like they just will not give up …there is just that incredible drive, the willingness to put the rest of their life on hold basically and say, ‘This is my life,’ there is no balance…”

Many entrepreneurs, small business owners, and leaders have this kind of experience—the all-consuming dogged pursuit of a pre-determined goal—such as opening a taco shop or creating an accounting app. While grit passion and perseverance are important qualities for success, they might at times make necessary change difficult—or at least hinder entrepreneurs from taking advantage of surprises, such as the global pandemic. Others consider entrepreneurship differently—by first asking what is available to me now and what new possibilities exist based on my current resources and situation? Entrepreneurship scholars identify this as effectuation. Effectuation doesn’t begin with a specific goal and detailed plan but is flexible and responsive by leveraging available resources, allowing for goals to change and emerge over time. Effectuation takes advantage of surprises, rather than avoiding them. Entrepreneurs who took advantage of the terrible situation resulting from COVID exercised effectual thinking to realize new goals, products, and markets.

What lesson can we learn here? I believe we can all be more effectual in our thinking about work and other pursuits. For example, consider what you know, who you know, and who you are: How can those things be focused toward some new and exciting product or business? How might we leverage our current resources and abilities to imagine exciting new pursuits or projects? Give it a try!

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Brady Drake is the editor of Fargo INC!