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ANNA SMITH: How to pivot during a pandemic

Son on Zoom with Classmates

Anna Smith's son on a video chat waving hello to his classmates at Valley Montessori Academy. The school's daily circle time is hosted by his teachers via Zoom.

How do you adapt in an uncertain economic time? Perhaps it’s all about mindset and perspective.

Some of the strongest, most resilient businesses have weathered the scariest economic storms. Many solid companies started during recessions and depressions: Procter & Gamble, IBM, General Electric, General Motors, FedEx, Hyatt Corp. and IHOP Corp. Some industries naturally thrive during economic hardships, such as accounting, health care, residential property management and auto repair, but even others can choose to address unsteady times with clever problem-solving.

Shawn Achor, who spent over a decade living, researching and lecturing at Harvard University, wrote in his data-driven best-selling book, "The Happiness Advantage:" “The best leaders are the ones who show their true colors not during the banner years but during times of struggle.”

My favorite local business owners are problem-solvers, especially in unsettled times. I have been impressed by local business efforts to pivot during the pandemic while also encouraging or respecting physical distancing and the shelter-in-place order. Local restaurants are offering curbside food service and family meals; marketing professionals are providing free advice to clients about navigating uncharted waters; markets are selling ag boxes packed with fresh produce; event planners and caterers are organizing at-home “date nights;" local quilters are sewing hundreds of masks for health-care workers; gyms, yoga studios and music instructors are hosting virtual classes.

The main message: remain flexible and relevant.

Everything feels unsteady these days, and like almost everyone I know, I’ve noticed the stress affecting my own mood. On a recent Zoom video call with our business coach, Cherese Grell, I witnessed the tension in my shoulders slowly disappear, my jaw relax, my heart rate slowly decline. I felt challenged by her counsel, but her steady advice and practical wisdom were a welcome respite from all the chaos. She has a gift for speaking sometimes difficult-to-hear truth. She always gets to the heart of the matter.

Cherese runs local consulting firm Positive Results Unlimited and has a depth and breadth of experience working with local business owners in many fields. She has a “startup-maverick” mentality that my husband and I feel is rare. This unique perspective was developed over two successful decades in the telecommunications and technology industries in management and executive positions.

We should avoid creating a false narrative, Cherese advises. She notes that we tend to create “the story” of how others are thinking and feeling during a time of crisis. Each of us has our own separate life experiences and thought processes that play a tremendous role in creating the lens through which we view the circumstances at hand. She suggests that owners present a business opportunity and let the customers, investors and prospects express their thoughts and feelings of moving forward during this time. You might just be surprised at the response, she says.

“Find a need and fill it.” Cherese loves this quote from Ruth Stafford Peale. Even in crisis, the earth is still rotating and we all still have needs. Crises can create new demands for consumers. Cherese explains that now is the time to innovate and get creative.

I am fully aware of the severity of our current situation. We are confronting a global crisis, medical professionals are on the front lines risking their own health to fight this virus, many people are very sick, fatalities are rising and disadvantaged sectors of society are feeling even more overlooked. (See my last column for my thoughts on the shelter-in-place order.) But, as we respect physical distancing, support health-care workers with the equipment they need and do our part to help those less fortunate, there are also ways to keep the gears of our economy moving to protect small businesses and preserve more jobs.

Be a problem-solver. Problem-solvers can thrive in chaotic and uncertain times because they act to change their future. They realize that the things they can control starts with attitude and mindset.

Our natural inclination is to shut down in times of crisis. Most people go into defense mode. Others quickly pivot. Cherese notes that humans don’t typically invite change, especially unexpected change. It can be paralyzing if we don’t accept it. She suggests we allow planning time to schedule routine work, new projects and care calls to customers. “Be disciplined to work your plan. Reflect on your outcome at the end of the day and celebrate even the small successes.”

By having the courage to embrace uncertainty we can discover the truth: that we are more powerful and more resilient than we realize.

From Cherese: “Many people have said it — what we focus on expands. If we focus on the crisis as it is, we will be stuck. But if we focus forward on the possibilities and potential opportunities, we will move.”

What a wild time it is. I have a hunch that when we look back on this unsettled moment, we will see that some of the best local ideas were born and nurtured during a pandemic; it can push us to address problems in clever ways. Let’s not undercut our creative potential, even (or especially) during uncertainty

Anna Smith writes a weekly column about Bakersfield. She can be reached at anna@sagebakersfield.com. The views expressed here are her own.

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