straight to the point – from different points of view

El Pecos and the New Normal

El Pecos and the New Normal

“If you’re a restaurant that sells food on the Avenue or anywhere else, don’t just put some bread and call yourself a bakery. The police will have a good case against you. You’re breaking the law.” So said Minister Young according to a report last week in the Newsday newspaper. To be clear, the Minister did not accuse El Pecos by name but few people believe that he could have been referring to anyone else.

El Pecos had had the audacity to rebrand themselves as a grocery so as to resume trading lawfully. Other businesses likewise had transformed themselves to drug stores and other establishments that were permitted to operate legally under the COVID restrictions. There was barely concealed anger directed at these upstarts who dared to break the rules.

The reality though is that most of these businesses did not break any rules and for the most part scrupulously followed registration processes dictated by the relevant authorities. That didn’t stop some persons in authority from suggesting that these businesses were cheats, not being good corporate citizens and deserving of scorn for “exploiting loopholes in the regulations”.

These are the types of situation that have me wondering whether our leaders understand business and the mind of a business person. Do they even understand their own speeches to the business community urging them to innovate and to embrace new opportunities. How often have they talked about the New Normal and asked businesses to chart a new course and to embrace the “New Normal”?

What is this New Normal if not a new more relevant and efficient way of doing business in an ever changing economic environment. If business is to face up to changing circumstances and is to find ways to thrive in this new environment then we should expect them to explore every legal way in which to operate short of breaking the law.

Long before the arrival of COVID I had written and spoken about these new challenges and opportunities. I had spoken about diversification of the economy and what is required to succeed at it where to date we had failed so miserably for decades. We’ve spent lavishly on the concept but have precious little to show for it.

The simple reality is that we must innovate. To diversify means doing things that we had not done before. We could also find new ways of doing things. This latter opportunity has been amplified by the prospects that arise through digitisation. We could start by addressing what is possible. I can tell you with certainty that our leaders have no idea as to what is possible without even needing foreign input. Our people simply need the opportunity and the support.

The kind of initiative shown by El Pecos is to be admired and encouraged. Embracing today’s opportunities is all about the “outside the box” thinking that they displayed. That thinking is to be welcomed. The entrepreneurs who see opportunity and success where others see defeat are to be applauded and supported. We have to move away from the idea that risk is to be avoided and that we will somehow succeed with unthinking conformity and without recourse to imaginative solutions and directions. The evidence of the past few decades tells us otherwise.

We don’t know what the business climate and the economy will look like after COVID except that it will not be the same as that which we entered the pandemic with. For many businesses this spells disaster. Expect that our levels of economic activity (GDP) will decline significantly as a result and that many businesses will cease to operate.

We therefore have to rely on the innovators, the risk takers, the rule benders. More than anything we need business persons with foresight in their particular sectors who are able to “see” where their markets are moving and what new markets are emerging that they can benefit from.

We must not chastise those who seek ways to survive and thrive in the face of forces pushing against the progress of their businesses. I would never advocate the breaking of laws, but within those legal boundaries, we need as many savvy business people as possible to push right up against those boundaries where necessary.

El Pecos took a risk. They evaluated the new set of rules they were required to work under and they adapted accordingly. This principle should now apply to every business as it emerges from the impact of the pandemic. For sure some will continue to prosper doing the same old, same old but the fact is that the surest route to success is through innovation and managed risk.

I said earlier that embracing the New Normal means doing things in new ways or doing new things going forward. For that to happen and be successful, we need more “El Pecos” thinking and action. We want and need our business people to push the boundaries and to innovate. For that to happen we ideally need our political leaders to understand that such business initiatives are not a threat or an attack on those leaders, but rather the very type of action through which the national economy will prosper.

I have faith in both our existing businesses and a whole new generation of young business people to step up. They in turn will need our political leaders to rise to the challenge. We need our leaders to be welcoming to new ideas, new types of businesses and new ways of doing business. We need them to embrace managed risk and to support risk taking in business.

It has been said by me before and I will repeat it here. The greatest risk in our drive towards diversification and prospering in the New Normal is the refusal to embrace risk. That might appear at first glance to be self contradictory but it is absolutely true. Our leaders need to understand that the country must embrace risk as all business activity has now become less predictable through both the pandemic and the impact of technology, most notably through digitisation.

Have we even begun to tap the power of digitiisation? Have we used digitiisation to assist with testing, contact tracing, hospitalisations, vaccinations and death? You know that the answer in each case is NO. This simple matter with El Pecos highlights both the amazing prospects under the New Normal but also the enormous gap in the attitude of the political leaders to risk and the business desire to exploit the outer boundaries of what can be achieved in these changing and challenging times.

We can only hope that our businesses will not be left to navigate the New Normal with unchanged attitudes and practices from our leaders.

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