Over the last month I have been thinking about making ‘Lemonade out of Lemons’, and what works in turning a crisis into an opportunity. Through a series of columns Forbes, The Currency, Watt, Medium and Cainthus website, and watching companies who are using this moment to redefine their business, and help their customers I have distilled out some commonalities. The successful leaders seem to be working on the basis of six fundamental commitments:

I will accept change, and it can be good
I will go for growth
I will retrain
I will on-line
I will find better ways
I will achieve balance

I Will Accept Change, and That It Can Be Good
Change doesn’t come naturally to most of us, and yet when we respond to crisis by learning and changing we can build new mental muscles and skills that can be useful for the rest of our lives. The ability to meet adverse conditions, and maintain a positive outlook, looking to extract positives out of challenges, is best captured in the books of Covey and Coyle, in the ‘The Seven Habits of highly effective people’ and ‘The Green Platform’.

Science has also benefited from scientific discoveries that have occurred during pandemics, most famously Newton’s theories of gravity
As Declan Coyle, sports and business motivator and student of the human condition says ‘we need to consciously choose a response to life’s setbacks and challenges that has nothing to do with victimhood or blame’.

Changes brought through a crisis can cause people to hunker down and adopt the foetal position, yet some of mankind’s greatest achievements have been through overcoming obstacles. Tim Harford’s BBC podcast describes how ‘Oblique Strategies’, a deck of cards created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt promotes creativity by engineering challenges and created crises. Some of the most influential rock albums of all time credit the technique for their inspiration, including Eno’s work with Roxy Music, U2, Talking Heads and David Bowie. Eno’s and Bowie in particular, perfected the process to achieve creativity through surmounting obstacles. For example, The Koln concert, which is now considered perhaps the greatest live jazz performance, occurred despite the fact that the pianist, Keith Jarrett discovered one hour beforehand that he had to perform with a broken piano. Science has also benefited from scientific discoveries that have occurred during pandemics, most famously Newton’s theories of gravity. Humans are astonishingly adept at overcoming adversity to achieve extraordinary things.

Dale Carnegie is credited with saying ‘when the world gives you lemons make lemonade’. You cannot change the crisis, the situation, but the attitudes and actions you choose, and this defines the outcome.

I Will Go For Growth
When simple survival seems impossible, it may seem counterintuitive to be looking for growth in the middle of a crisis. Following the same principles as those in the book 2-1-4-3:// Planning for Explosive Growth, I have challenged all the companies that I have met during the #lockdown not to ‘baton down the hatches’ but instead to carefully think of how to pivot their strategy to aggressively pursue growth during a period of crisis.

A Beautiful Constraint and The Obstacle is the Way are brilliant treatises on viewing a crisis as an opportunity for growth. The overarching theme is to choose your response. Choose to see the crisis as a rare opportunity to overturn what appears to be an unsurmountable obstacle. Choose to embrace the challenge even as you know there will be failures. Choose to recognize that in overcoming the challenge you can put yourself in a unique position to build emotional and business resilience. What blocks the path becomes the path. What impedes action becomes the impulse for the same. The lesson is that instead of becoming a victim, focus on becoming a transformer.

What blocks the path becomes the path
And I have already seen it work. When an Irish bakery business lost 80% of their business when its customers had to close, it pivoted and found new success with grocery stores, a business that can endure after the lockdown is gone. In addition, the owner has been on national radio and press as a motivator explaining how they are trying to make lemonade out of lemons. A US focused event management & workforce software company is encouraging customers to use the isolation period to do the restructuring and training that they don’t have time to do in the normal course of business, making them more efficient when they return. A leader in natural supplements for animals put on a conference for customers, bringing together knowledge from the 140 countries where they are present.

A German company that sells 3.5 million online parts to equipment owners, has offered discounts during Covid (while sales visits from manufacturers are impossible) to encourage new users to try the system and holds high profile webinars advising customers on coping with Covid. A farm-software company has offered on-line training sessions during the lockdown to producers in Australia and the UK. A global media group has carried stories challenging companies to think differently during Covid-19 and communicated to customers how to switch the resources saved from sales travel and tradeshows into online advertising. Another online business newspaper has offered new readers a discount during Covid. A billion-dollar food ingredient supplier custom-designed an outstanding web page dedicated to help and informing customers how to survive and thrive, based on their own experience in China. My own company, Cainthus, has held a webinar on Corona virus and the farm, published blogs, podcasts, and trying to show the agritech community the silver linings in the clouds.

The authors of Constraint give other examples from both real and self-imposed constraints. Netafim invented micro irrigation systems (Israel) when the founder noted how trees react to intermittent leaking pipes, The Obstacle showed how SAB used the same concept to reduce irrigation of barley for their beer, while increasing yields. They describe how Audi won Le Mans for 5 years in a row by changing the question they asked their engineers from ‘how do we drive faster’ to ‘how do we avoid pit stops’. Nike’s record-breaking sports shoes Vapor Flyknit achieved a breakthrough by producing shoes in a manner that makes it feel like a sock. Constraint uses examples as varied as Mick Jagger creating his unique dance to compensate for the lack of space between band members, Twitter’s popularity despite confining users to 140 characters and Southwest reframing the problem of flying 3 routes with 4 planes into being an issue of shortening turn-around times to 10 minutes.

The Obstacle is the Way and The Beautiful Constraint both demonstrate that the goal during Covid-19 is to control how we respond. Show patience, courage, humility, resourcefulness, justice and creativity. Go for growth.

I Will Retrain (Myself, My Team)
The closing of schools and universities during this lockdown has crystallized pre-existing challenges to the traditional education system. Yuval Noah has heralded this trend, proclaiming that the ability to embrace continuous learning (especially on-line) will increasingly distinguish those who win in the employment and salary stakes, especially in a future dominated by artificial intelligence, and corona virus has accelerated this trend.

The current lockdown is an unexpected opportunity for all of us to embrace online courses, learning languages/ skills, acquiring certifications. Universities are the obvious candidates to lead the future of online learning, but many have struggled to allocate the resources to create truly effective learning environments. Filling this void are established online sites such as Khan Academy, edX, Coursera, Linkedin, and Youtube, which all offer free knowledge and skills training. Some commercial sites (such as Masterclass and Medium) are running free or reduced-price promotional offers during this period of #socialisolation.

Reading books, watching classes, getting a new certificate? The explicit goal should be same; Don’t return the workplace post-coronavirus with the same skill set.

Covid-19 has been shaken our workplaces to their foundations: will yours be the same when your offices re-open, or will you re-think the possibilities of a new reality?
I Will (Do As Much As I Can) On-Line
Are there any people left in the world who believe that business can’t be done online? Even those who have been reluctant, lazy, or hyper-cautious ‘we’ve always done it this way’ types have to recognize that more is possible that they imagined. Now that most of us are familiar with multiple video meeting platforms (i.e. Zoom, Skype, Bluejeans, Microsoft meetings) do we really need face to face meetings all the time? Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants other professional trades are finding ways to adapt, and are realizing just how much of routine communication can be handled online.

What about your staff? In the early days of #workingfromhome there were some bitter posts from workers who had wanted to telecommute for some or all of their work, but whose workplace didn’t allow it. People whose disabilities affected their ability to physically get to (or be in) an office, but who are well able to work noticed how quickly the ‘impossible’ became possible. Families with challenging domestic requirements noticed the same.

And of course, commuters. Before the pandemic, fewer than 5% of Americans and British worked from home. The average US commute both ways is close to an hour a day. The average Irish commuted 28 minutes each way in 2016 to work with 20% of people commuting into the capital city spending more than an hour each way. In the UK the average is 46 minutes, and lengthens for older managers, with the over 40’s clocking in at 67 minutes per day. That means over 1 week a year spent just driving to and from the office!

When I ask Chinese colleagues (captured by Lahiffe in his recent column in the Currency), what they have learned from the last six months of Covid-19 induced confinement, the answers range from ‘I know now that I can work from home’ to ‘we will never work in the office exclusively again’. This change has occurred at a good time, in the sense that video conferencing, Voice Over Internet, document sharing and the speed of the internet has never been better, and as such (even with its limitations) it is realistic for people to work from home in a way that couldn’t have been imagined just 10 years ago.

Covid-19 has been shaken our workplaces to their foundations: will yours be the same when your offices re-open, or will you re-think the possibilities of a new reality?

What else can you move online? How much information about you and your organization can be available online? What about your suppliers? It is amazing what cameras, video, documents, scanners, 3-D printers can all do to remove the need.

The profusion of trading platforms, with tech start-ups tackling everything that Amazon hasn’t thought of yet, shows the technology is there to source and sell on-line.

What would you do if you could never meet anyone face to face anymore? Isn’t it time to maximize your time on-line!

What else could we rethink while #workingfromhome?
I Will Find A Better Way
One of the lessons from past crises is to act early and decisively to cut costs, grasp nettles, find ways towards new efficiencies. Do it decisively and immediately and do it once.

This means that it may be time to look at your team, look at your management: do you have the right team or is this the time to restructure? Who’s on the bus, what seat, who should be getting off? What about your process flow? Warehouses, offices layout, the administrative structure of how things are done? If you were starting anew what would you change or structure differently? Technology allows things to be done differently and crises such as Covid-19 can create the impetus to address issues that in more comfortable times will never be addressed.

Equally, during this corona virus it has become clear that regular meetings that typically take an hour in the office, seems to only last half that time online. It is clear that in face to face meetings, time is taken up waiting on people to arrive, making and serving coffee, engaging in friendly chit chat and asking personal questions. Video conferencing has laid bare how much time this is taking up. How can we make meetings faster, with a bias for action, leading to clearer, better outcomes?

What else could we rethink while #workingfromhome? When is international travel really necessary, and when can it be replaced? Can you remove costs that have become automatic, but don’t need to be? Where can technology bridge the gaps? When the #lockdown restrictions are lifted will you just slide back into old practices and habits?

Incremental improvements result from conventional brainstorming, but crises and existential threats create the opportunity for revolutions and transformational disruptive thinking.

As a consequence some EU countries have expressly banned the use of work devices at home, in an attempt to hold back the tide, but in a global marketplace being unwilling to stay connected puts you at a competitive disadvantage, especially compared to the rapidly developing countries such as India and China
I Will Find Balance
The concept of work-life balance is hardly a new one (disclaimer: people who know me well will know that I am not a poster child for it). Still, it is obvious that the average manager works longer hours than ever before, begging the question whether the increased connectivity from new technologies has made us better at our jobs, or just gives us the opportunity to think about them more often. Stories of bosses and customers demanding 24 hour a day availability is the stuff of legends. While EU companies tend to restrict the hours worked per week (35 hours in France, 38 in Germany) and offer generous vacation and other time off, US and US companies tend to be the outliers in working long hours: 40% of US employees regularly work more than 50 hours, and 20% more than 60 hours.

As a consequence some EU countries have expressly banned the use of work devices at home, in an attempt to hold back the tide, but in a global marketplace being unwilling to stay connected puts you at a competitive disadvantage, especially compared to the rapidly developing countries such as India and China. One Harvard study showed US executives clocking in for 72 hours a week.

Working from home is not a perfect solution. Parents with children find themselves continuing to hold down their day jobs, making 3 meals a day for themselves and others and even providing home school. But, even in just 7 or 8 weeks, human ingenuity is finding ways to make it work. The schools are adapting. Families are adapting. Working from home won’t look like it has over the last 7+ weeks of #lockdown over the long term- but it is likely to be the first step towards a reconfiguration of the home/work dynamic.

Finally, being faced with a pandemic introduced many of us to our first glimpse of their own mortality. Few of us will emerge from this not knowing someone who has died as a result of Covid-19. Will this change our attitude to work, and the pursuit of material happiness? It is certainly something consider.

Seize the moment.

Aidan Connlly previously publiced this opinion on LinkedIn.