In a high performance engine, revs, or revolutions per minute are used to measure how many times the engine’s crankshaft rotates every minute. The more revs, the stronger the performance. An economy is much the same way. It just measures different stuff. Generally though, the more activity, the better the economic performance. Back in July, Horsley a reporter for NPR in the US reported, “The economic shock in April, May and June was more than three times as sharp as the previous record – 10% in 1958 – and nearly four times the worst quarter during the Great Recession.” Gross domestic product had fallen by 32.9% and the virus to that point had killed 150,000 people across the United States.
New Zealand reported its first case of COVID-19 on the 28th of February, 2020. Wow, time flies and here we are in September charging hard for the Christmas break. And that’s great news because I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to a few beers and a barbie or two. The last eight months have been challenging for many, including myself and my clients. My wife lost her job in a restructure and I had to deal with a range of commercial challenges, none of them particularly enjoyable.
The real challenges of grappling with the post COVID-19 world are starting to emerge. It looks like recovery will be a full on, sustained, coast-to-coast effort, not just a quick sprint and reboot. It’s also becoming obvious that many business owners and enterprises are realising their business model reset buttons are not actually resetting anything. Change has literally blown in the wind. Thanks Bob, you were always ahead of your time.
And responding to disruptive change is never easy. My better half keeps telling me I hate change…and she is right. Studying it and liking it are two different things. Humans are anthropologically and sociologically engineered to resist change. Historically, there was good reason for this inclination too. It helped us to survive. That said, not liking change in 2020 is irrelevant. In the world we now live in, you don’t get an option. There is, and always will be, plenty of change ahead.
For that reason it makes sense to frame change with a clear mind, fresh eyes, and plenty of creativity. The new opportunities stemming from this global pandemic, particularly around secure food supply are going to be enormous. Who doesn’t want to know where their food comes from? Especially now. I’ll have my food and beverage Covid-19 free please. I’m more than happy to pay a premium for that privilege too, thank you. The questions now are perhaps: Where are these premium consumers and how do we reach them?
A long time ago in a world now far, far away Harvard Professor Richard D’Aveni (2007) suggested, “To draw a meaningful map, you must specify the boundaries of the market in which you’re interested. First, identify the consumer needs you wish to understand. You should cast a wide net for products and services that satisfy those needs, so you aren’t blindsided by fresh entrants, new technologies, or unusual offerings that take care of those needs.” This is very good advice. It’s an excellent philosophy for underpinning the concept of increasing the revolutions per minute in our economy, which is my way of suggesting businesses need to step on the gas to get where they need to go…faster. Snoozing is losing. Now is not the time to fire the marketing team.
Now is not the time to hit reset, now is the time to press down on the accelerator. David Nabarro, special envoy for the World Health Organisation recently stated, “As the human race, we are going to have to shift. There is no alternative. We are going to have to ask ourselves, is having people living in densely populated urban areas or slums or favelas viable? Or is it something we’re going to have to attend to, because otherwise this virus and viruses like it are going to be there forever? Is it viable to go on having meat production facilities where workers are employed in conditions of considerable poverty and in very overcrowded settings?”
This isn’t a crack at New Zealand red meat processors, this is a gentle reminder of how consumers might be thinking. It’s certainly how I think. Supermarkets at this time cannot adequately connect me directly to a farmer and for me that connection drives my purchase decision. I accept I’m currently an outlier, but consumer research suggests others are starting to think this way too. These consumer trends hold promise too. Investing in understanding them might be the best bang for buck you’ll ever get.
Working hard through all of this change is New Zealand, currently aiming for elimination and hoping for containment. It is a country which is geographically, climatically, scenically, and environmentally blessed. I say this with the caveat that those gifts are further protected and not further squandered. This unique positioning means now is the time to secure COVID-19 aware consumers. It may take some serious reflection and mindset shifting, but it’s worth it. Fully capturing these new opportunities offers New Zealand an opportunity to leverage its past to secure its future.
The late Sir Paul Callaghan and Shaun Hendy suggested we should get off the grass. They reported, “New Zealand’s wealth was founded on farming, a prosperity built on ‘processed grass’, with high prices for agricultural products and guaranteed British markets. Initially, the country exported wool, but with the introduction of refrigerated shipping in the 1890’s came the opportunity to export meat and butter.” At the time New Zealand’s per capita income rivalled the best in the world. A walk through the city of Dunedin is testament to New Zealand’s potential. There is absolutely no reason why high income per capita cannot come back to these shores, none whatsoever.
I’m not for a minute suggesting New Zealand should scale up or further leverage commodity trading. There is tomes of articles written by countless experts narrating the failure of that approach. Instead, I’m trying to imagine a programme where the country’s best and brightest creatives, marketers, scientists, financial wunderkinds and primary producers come together. A world where they are given the brief, capital and freedom to work black magic. As an example, Origin Green, Ireland’s pioneering food and drink programme operates on a national scale uniting government, the private sector and the full supply chain from produce and animals in nature, through to the end consumer.
In my view, the Irish are heading in the right direction, particularly for a post COVID-19 world. It is important to note, Verified Origin Green members account for 90% of Ireland’s food and drink exports. This screams unity and represents cohesive synergy and collaboration. The same levels of cooperation have proven elusive in New Zealand at times. Sometimes the team of five million can split up and fray around the edges.
“The benefits of Origin Green are more environmentally aware farms, an important focus on community and more sustainable food and drink production which ultimately contribute to sustainable livelihoods.”
David Nabarro directs our attention to three critical insights.
1. This virus is a common enemy for 7.8 billion people. And yet, the way in which we’re dealing with it, bizarrely, has become a competition between local authorities, a competition between nations, and the solidarity that ought to be there for a common enemy of humanity – it’s not there.
2. Life as “normal” is an artefact of the past. No country in 2020, whether it’s Sweden or New Zealand, will be able to “open up” and live life as if it were 2019.
3. We’re going to have to rethink the way our societies function and eliminate aspects which produce optimal conditions for the emergence and transmission of new pathogens.
Today, the biggest risk in my view is expecting the reset button to work. To channel Nabarro one more time, “The real lesson from this is, instead of saying this is an irritant that we’re going to deal with and bat out the way and life will go back to the way it used to be, we have to be a little more comfortable about taking a leaf out of the HIV book and saying that this is a new pathogen that’s going to change the environment within which we behave. That’s what life is – that’s evolution.” So, its Van Gisbergen time, it’s time to REV.