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Who will help lift us out of this crisis, the Academic or the Entrepreneur?
March 08,2021 [ by Larry Chao ] 238 Read and 0 Comment


How do businesses need to act as they emerge from the crisis? It’s likely a blend of caution and risk-taking, guided by a deep understanding of sentiment - how people feel and behave.

Both of the academic and entrepreneur styles of working have co-existed for a long time. On one hand the academic, who creates answers largely from fact-based analysis, studying case studies of past experiences and learning from best practices.

On the other hand, the entrepreneur, who creates answers largely from gut instinct, personal experiences and common sense [and maybe a drip of inspiration!].

Often, they are at odds about how to solve problems. The academic is more methodical and patient, while the entrepreneur more willing to take action and risk without waiting.

So Who is Right?

As countries end their lockdown from the COVID-19 crisis and we emerge to a so-called new normal, there is no shortage of advice as to how to move forward from both camps.

For example, entrepreneurs want to act. They need to be cautious, but as soon as the law allows, they take down plastic partitions in restaurants, move tables closer together and experiment with promotions and anything that will draw in hoards of consumers. They say: “Hey, you miss 100% of the shots you do not take.”

Academics are more cautious, taking time to test the waters and study what works and what does not. For every idea, there is a criticism. Delays are costly, but mistakes more costly. Often academics will wait until enough facts are available on which to base their decisions. “Let’s do it right the first time,” they say.

The problem is the current situation is an uncertain moving target. The situation changes almost daily. Will the virus return? When will a vaccine be available? Will consumers return to shopping in malls and what will they buy? Is the working from home here to stay? No one knows and every week brings a different answer.

Nailing Down Consumer Sentiment

Perhaps the answer is to blend the best of both approaches to suit this situation – caution and risk-taking. The critical piece is to understand people’s sentiment for the plight we are in and how people will react [in fact “sentiment” is that elusive factor that has baffled all the financial wizards on Wall Street and has undermined even their most sophisticated financial models.].

To predict how consumers will behave, certainly study as much information from broad surveys of how they might react as the crisis abates. There will be insights and perhaps they will be directionally right. But also constantly read people around you and see how they behave. There is often a big gap between what people say and what they do, especially as situations change. So, use information and don’t forget to use your own common sense and gut. For example, what would you do? You will have to take risk. Not everything is known.

What Do Employees & Employers Really Want?

How about how employees will behave and how to get the best out of the workforce as we return to work? Certainly, there have been some positives about working from home and video conferencing – faster decision-making, increased productivity, the idea of saving kazillions of dollars on office space. The evidence seems overwhelming to give everyone the choice to work from home.

But maybe there is a reason why we have offices in the first place and never really embraced video conferencing before the crisis, and it’s not because technology was lacking. I don’t know, my gut feel is that it is grounded in employee sentiment. After all, being productive is important, but pales in comparison to our need for social inclusion and our unconscious need to separate work from our personal lives. And the way people behave in groups is important to the success of business. Remember culture eats strategy for breakfast, right? My gut feel is that it is hard to create a healthy culture on video conferencing, but that is just my guess.

If you are trying to understand sentiment and get to the heart of how people you are interested in will feel, be an academic, be cautious and use the data. But where data is not available or where it does not seem to reflect reality, be an entrepreneur and go with your gut.


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