What We Learnt From 2020: Silver Linings From An Exhausting Year
This past year was defined by the coronavirus and its deadly consequences around the world. The pandemic changed our way of life as we knew it, upending travel norms, sending the stock market crashing and causing countless business closures.
Given that 2020 was a year full of personal and professional challenges for all of us, we decided to talk to four honourees, in industries spanning from science to retail, to find out what these tough challenges taught them and how their experiences have changed their outlook and approach to 2021.
From opening a new sustainable bar in the midst of the coronavirus lockdowns to having a baby in such uncertain times, here are four honourees’ lessons from the exhausting year of 2020.
The founder and CEO of Wildtype Media Group, internationally respected scientist Juliana Chan is revolutionising the science communications industry with her magazine Asian Scientist.
Reframe a negative to a positive
I was thrilled to be accepted to the World Economic Forum’s executive education course at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The best part? It was 100 percent sponsored, which meant that the international competition was fierce for 50-60 spots each year.
Unfortunately, the course was canceled due to Covid-19. It was a big blow to me as I had waited for years for my young children to get older so that I could travel to the US for long periods. (I can no longer reapply for the course as my tenure as a Young Global Leader has almost run out.)
I had to reframe my point of view in this situation: I was able to spend more time with my family, stay safe from Covid-19, and develop myself in other areas. For example, I invested more time on LinkedIn and I was pleasantly surprised to be placed on the LinkedIn Top Voices of Singapore 2020 list, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
In 2021, I’m aware that we can't entirely control what happens to us in life and work, or reverse unforeseen circumstances. But we can control how we perceive them. Self-determination is the personal decision to do something or think in a certain way. I think 2020 taught me a tough lesson on finding silver linings in disappointments.
Better prepared than not
Before the pandemic I was an active member of the local conference industry: as a publisher we exhibited our magazines and I regularly moderated industry panels. However, all of that ground to a halt in early 2020 and I assumed the worst for my media business.
I immediately started conducting daily huddles with my senior management. We decided to pivot quickly from a brick-and-mortar company (print magazines, conferences) to a virtual company (Zoom webinars, video programming).
We hired a video team from scratch and moved to a new office with an in-house production studio. It turned out that our fears were unnecessary. Because of our determination to survive as a company, we worked ridiculously hard and experienced an uptick in new clients. As a result, our company doubled in size last year.
In 2021, I don’t think we are out of the woods yet, and I would never take anything for granted. I plan to spend more time mentoring and coaching my junior teammates to embrace whatever uncertainty lies ahead. If another crisis should appear this year, we plan on being prepared for it.
Jakarta-born mixologist Agung Prabowo is the co-founder of one of Asia’s best bars, The Old Man, and Hong Kong’s first entirely sustainable bar, Penicillin.
Do whatever it takes to minimise the damage
The last two years were hard for the food and beverage industry in Hong Kong, with the ongoing political situation and now the coronavirus pandemic. It was an incredibly tough time to be a small bar owner and operator in the city—rent costs and staff wages were just a few of the many disasters we faced.
The situation forced me to react quickly, pivot and come up with painful yet necessary changes to save our business. I quickly modified the business model and figured out how to better manage the cash flow buffer, a decision that was key to surviving 2020. We had to cut external costs, change staffing by applying no-pay leave, finance existing assets and speak to suppliers and landlords to get better credit terms, discounts, and rental deferments.
During this time I also learnt the importance of being transparent with my employees. We showed our profit and loss reports to the staff on a daily basis so they can see what’s going on, they know what we are fighting so hard for and they know we are trying to support them.
One thing to take away from this experience for the new year: Always be ready to do whatever it takes to minimise the damage to your business and be willing and flexible when it comes to adjusting the business model accordingly.
Go local, go sustainable or go home
During the ongoing lockdown in Hong Kong and government restrictions on restaurants and bars, my partners and I had plenty of time for extra brainstorming when it came to fresh ideas on what we believe we can bring to Hong Kong in 2021. I think the wellness dining and drinking market will definitely keep rising. Eating and drinking with a conscience is going to become a strong part of the ethos of the F&B industry, and more businesses will take a greener and more sustainable approach to their operations.
The demand for a green and sustainable concept can be seen in the way our community has come together to mutually support each other during the Covid-19 crisis. Going local and buying local are two key concepts that have come to the forefront during these difficult times, and they will only continue to grow in popularity as people have fallen in love with this new-found connection in their lives.
People have also woken up to the fact that any green effort to save the planet ultimately equates to an effort to save ourselves. They have realised that for us to live better and higher quality lives for longer, we must treat ourselves and our environments better. Wellness and care must come first.
Following the crisis, I believe most people will also choose to fuel their happiness by leading healthier lifestyles—replacing any unhealthy eating and drinking habits. And despite all the sadness of 2020, we were able to open our new brainchild, Penicillin—the first sustainable bar in Hong Kong, which champions a closed-loop model of production, with a focus on either locally sourced or upcycled food and drink ingredients.
So in 2021, remember to continue thinking positively and creatively to improve the situation for the next generation while you do business.
Juliette Gimenez is the founder of Goxip, a “Shazam for the fashion world” where users can snap an image of a clothing item and find the exact item or a similar piece of clothing on the app.
Stay grounded and go back to basics
Every year, Goxip plans a lot of exciting initiatives and grand expansions to ensure that we meet our crazy growth targets and take things to the next level—and 2020 was no exception. We had so many cool things to look forward to but, as with everyone else, the pandemic smacked us in the face and caused more uncertainties globally than I’d ever had imagined. Rather than charging forwards like we usually do, I learnt that remaining grounded and going back to basics were paramount to staying afloat. We made Goxip the best version possible, optimising all the existing tools we had and keeping our existing clients as happy as possible. After all, what does not kill us makes us stronger.
Focus on positives
It was so easy to feel a little down in the dumps with all the Covid-19 restrictions and unexpected changes in 2020. But I also learnt that we should always remember that there are two sides to every coin. Last year I was also incredibly blessed to be able to give birth to a perfectly healthy child during such an uncertain time in the world and I am able to wake up to her angelic smile every morning. Seeing her strengthens me as a person and makes me want to fight stronger and harder irrespective of whatever hits us in the business side of my life.
Always be prepared to pivot
Last year a lot of industries were affected to a greater extent, such as travel and hospitality, which directly caused many of our influencers’ campaigns to be put on hold. We took this opportunity to expand into the F&B industry and were working to promote them via our foodie influencers, partnering with hotel groups to curate staycation campaigns.These two verticals were out-of-the-blue expansion that have now proven to be the right choices for many reasons. Adaptability is key.
See also: 5 Lessons for First-Time CEOs From The Founder Of Goxip, Juliette Gimenez
Ophthalmologist Marcus Ang is a key force behind the Mobile Eye Clinic, which provides eye care to the elderly who lack mobility and access to treatments. Ang also works to extend his care to other regions through the Global Clinic, setting up free eye clinics and educating doctors, nurses and optometrists in Myanmar.
Rethink the traditional ways of doing things
The pandemic made me rethink the way we practice medicine—a traditional profession that is steeped in time-tested practices. For example, we needed to continue to deliver timely, necessary eye care to our patients to prevent visual loss even as healthcare services were limited, while lockdown restrictions or even personal fear of the virus kept patients away from seeking care. We had to develop innovative ways to continue to provide patients with access to care, such as telemedicine platforms to provide remote consults for patients who required urgent advice. This was challenging for us doctors—who had to quickly adapt to new and often complicated online platforms—but also patients as well, who are used to having face-to-face consultations.
Sometimes change is necessary
Another thing we learnt from 2020 was that the quick digitisation of our programmes ended up being necessary. As travel became increasingly restricted, we had to move training and education of doctors online in our global outreach programmes, such as Global Clinic, to ensure that knowledge sharing and consultations could continue remotely.A successful example is the CyberSight program from Orbis, where I serve as a board member of Orbis Singapore. In the end, delivery, eye care and our sustainable outreach programmes underwent a rapid but necessary digital transformation so that we could continue delivering the necessary care to our patients, even during the pandemic.
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