“I am so excited!” Seems strange to be writing this when there is so much despair in our world at this time. Probably the first thing that will come to any reader’s mind would be “What on earth has she got to be excited about?”
This unexpected feeling hit me when I tuned into my favourite radio station, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, more commonly known as the CBC. What caught my interest was an interview with small business owners across the country who are moving their companies forward using their ability to take the tools that they already have and apply them in a manner that can produce a new product that will be helpful in our war with the Coronavirus.
It’s been almost 30 years since I worked as a life skills teacher helping older workers who were suddenly thrown out of their jobs during the recession in the mid ’80’s in the industrial sector of Southern Ontario. It was the most challenging but rewarding of jobs in my long, varied career. In my efforts to help my clients, I read numerous articles and books on the subject of preparing for a new economy in a new era. Some of us were realising that the Age of Industrialism was on the wane. We could no longer keep supporting unlimited growth using fossil fuels. One of my favourites was the book Powershift written by the visionary author, Alvin Toffler. He foresaw the day when we would have to rely on small companies for most of our goods rather than the larger corporations. He called for the need to have our working population retrained for the Information Age because the Industrial Age was already becoming redundant. He wrote that we should not look to our governments to make these changes because they wouldn’t work fast enough. We would have to develop the knowledge and skills in preparation for entering this new age as entrepreneurs rather than as employees of larger corporations.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler from his mid ’90’s best seller Powershift.
So here we are today still grappling with this new way of thinking and working which basically calls for us to start with the bottom and work upwards to the top. Look what’s it’s taken for us to get to this point: an unheard of little virus called the Novel coronavirus or COVID-19 as it’s more commonly known. It’s true that many of us have known about the new concept of bottom to top rather then the top down approach, and yet over the last 30 years the top down approach has dominated as evidenced by the huge corporations influencing our politics and our economy. Somehow we bought into the thinking that ‘bigger is always better’. Now at last we are starting to re-think this theory as the virus quickly takes over our lives to such an extent that we are being legislated to stay home and only go out to get food and meds to keep us alive. It’s almost unbelievable! Most of us never in our wildest dreams thought something like this could happen… at least not in our time!
I had almost forgotten about Toffler’s predictions until today when I turned on my radio to get the latest news on the virus. My enforced self-isolation has given me the gift of precious time and to take some of that time to listen to CBC and expose myself to opinions from scientists, politicians, health care workers, business leaders and a myriad of other people from all parts of our country and the world as we find ourselves all fighting the same war. Listening to all of this has taken me back to those days when I first had my eyes opened to the possibility that we should consider doing things differently and create a new kind of world. Now it’s our time, and it’s happening thanks to the virus which has given us the nudge we needed.
In addition, this morning’s interview reminded me of all that I had read and tried to teach to my unemployed clients in the early ’90’s. The dominant theme was about resilience *a word that has been bandied about more and more every passing year. As I listened to three interviews with small business owners across Canada, I was heartened to hear their stories of success which are all based on their ability to be resilient in the eye of this COVID-19 storm. Here are their stories:
- Inksmith – a small Kitchener, Ontario company which has been producing printers and lazers and is now making facial shields with the use of plastics they already had in stock for their old business. In just 16 days their business has expanded so much they had to hire 60 more people to meet the demand and will need to hire more.
- Everline in Calgary, Alberta which used to paint lines on the highways and from some of those paint ingredients are now making a disinfectant to spray on commonly used surfaces.
- Stanfield’s in Truro, Nova Scotia who used to make underwear have now switched over to making clothing for health care workers.
These success stories in a time when most other businesses are laying off their employees and closing their doors are all directly related to their ability to be resilient. Firstly, the companies were able to pull together and spring into action immediately. Their motivator was a virus that is moving quickly and needs to be contained. Then by working closely with their staff they were able to assess what tools and skills they had and see how those could be applied to what was needed to fight this virus. Their leaders were able to use a warlike mentality to motivate their employees with a strong sense of let’s pull together to help out those in dire need. The other qualities exhibited in all three scenarios were the courage to move forward, keeping optimistic throughout the change over process, creativity to come up with new ideas that would be workable, and most importantly to work together not only within the company, but with their suppliers, and their community. All three displayed a true team spirit. There is a huge lesson to be learned here on how starting small can grow larger and stronger when all involved have a clear purpose which they know will truly help people. Furthermore, we should consider that what we are facing is a crisis not so different from a world war as we have twice experienced in the past century. These business owners of our small companies are also facing a crisis which is becoming a strong motivator for them to pull together as they are proving to do. The other important thing for those in business is to realise that small companies are better able to work quickly as opposed to how our governments work where the process can be so slow. This is where many opportunities will lie for other businesses in the years to come as we begin to restructure after the Coronavirus leaves.
In conclusion, I hope you will understand now why I am so excited about what’s happening and will continue to happen if…. not just these small Canadian companies can become resilient…. but that all of us will follow suit. I also hope that more people will see the positive side of COVID-19 and make the most of it no matter how small a thing it is they are doing. We already see this happening in many areas right down to the neighbour who brings groceries to the door of someone who can’t go out or is in a mandatory self-isolation. We have much to learn from this and for the better as we head into the still unknown as this virus wends its way around the world. We are all being thrown into the war and there will be untold hardship of varying degrees for many of us. It will be up to us as individuals to choose how we want to deal with that.
Your opinions on this article are always greatly appreciated.
* Resilience – The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape.