As we move toward a post-pandemic world, I've been suggesting regularly that almost every business will be best served by an approach that focuses on two critical ideas -- the first of which is simplification. It's imperative, especially now, that getting a few critical things really right and delivering consistently and successfully on those crucial needs for everyone will be far more important than trying to do too many things all at once. It's not how much you do; it's how well you do what you do.
Resisting the temptation to get right back to firing on all four-to-eight cylinders and trying to immediately do every last thing that you used to do for your clients and customers is going to be a tough challenge, and one that's essential to overcome. Your customers will understand (whether they admit it or not), your team will appreciate your willingness to be just a little reasonable, so they don't burn out a few weeks after they return, and your products and services won't suffer a bit.
In fact, you and everyone else may discover that the new, quicker, cleaner, and more streamlined offerings make sense for all concerned. We may finally be on the cusp of dumping glitz and wretched excess right along with Trump and the Kardashians. A modest dose of simplicity and decency -- a little respect for all concerned -- and attention to the everyday details rather than attention for its own sake might rid us of the dirt and dreck we've all had to wallow in for the past four years.
The second constraint, and another slightly counterintuitive idea when the whole world's in a hurry to get "back" to the new normal, is to slow down. Look before you leap; take your time. This is not a sprint. In fact, we hope for every business's sake that this is a marathon -- and it's clear that no one gets to heaven in one night. Under uncertain circumstances, as all the great Marines will tell you, "slow is smooth, and smooth is fast." We're all in a huge hurry to put this whole political, social, medical, and economic debacle behind us and to get a leader who can safely and sanely help us get to the other side, but sheer speed isn't helpful if you're on the wrong path.
This is no time for moon shots and hail marys. Nor is it a time for radical changes or reinvention. Frankly, it's not even clear that anyone can say with certainty where we're headed and when we'll get there.
We're living right now through one of the most obvious examples of how speed can kill. Restaurants across the country had been holding their breath and bumbling along for months (a staggering number have already closed for good) when they finally got the green light to start to safely reopen their indoor dining and seating. This triggered a ton of new booth and table construction, updated work and sanitation stations, HVAC enhancements and air filters, and lots and lots of other essential and expensive upgrades.
Then the second wave hit. Hard. In my home state of Illinois, Governor Pritzker changed his mind and abruptly shut everything down. The smart guys who hurried to get to the head of the pack don't look like heroes or wizards at the moment. And the prospect of additional assistance from any of branch of government (city, state, or federal) doesn't look too good. So, there's no simple salvation around the corner. Half a loaf never looks that attractive, but there are cooks, chefs, and restaurant owners all over Chicago regretting that they decided to run before they walked the first few steps on the way back. Now the way back looks a lot harder and longer.
However, if you've been smart enough to focus on (1) doing a few things really well and on (2) taking your time to get back up to speed, what else do you need to do to help make sure that you're on the way back for good? The simple answer is that you've got to slim down in another way. I call it "divide and conquer."
How you do things matters. When you do them matters. But maybe what you choose to do and what you don't do matters even more. Great entrepreneurs are editors, above all, and figuring out what not to do saves time and resources. Most important, it allows you to focus on the main chance -- what you're the best at -- and what can become your sustainable competitive advantage. The more of all the other stuff that you shuck and shed, the faster, more agile, and more effective your business will become. If you can't do something better, faster, or cheaper than the next five guys, then let them do it.
Hunker down now and do the hard work needed to set yourself apart from the pack and differentiate your products and services. Your edge could be along any of a number of dimensions -- customer mix, technology, access and availability, distribution and logistics, etc. The key is to pick your horse and go for the gold. And here's a hint: There isn't a company in the country that couldn't use a little pruning and slimming down. Sometimes it's a process improvement, sometimes you've got too many "so what" products in your mix, and sometimes, sadly, there are gonna be excess people that are the problem. But no one who does an honest search, analysis, and inventory ever comes up empty-handed.
So, sit yourself down, divide your business into its constituent parts, dump the things that don't make a real qualitative and quantitative difference to your customers, and then get out there and conquer the world.