The Mindset to Unlock Opportunities

Published: 25 January 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the most disruptive period of change in living memory. This change was abrupt and the socio-economic fallout has been astronomical, however, even amidst such global pandemonium, many businesses have not only survived but thrived, some scaling more rapidly than they could have imagined.

Retail Capital has the distinct advantage of having a birds’ eye view of various industries and how they are performing, as well as a closer look at the outliers of each sector. Make no mistake, South Africa’s economy has hit very stormy waters and government and business leaders have the responsibility of providing direction to ensure our collective ship can navigate this storm.

However, when one takes a step back and observes the performing businesses that have thrived through this uncertain time, one begins to notice a pattern. Perhaps these business owners have given us the blueprint to spotting and pursuing opportunities when most seem to buckle under the pressure of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

They have all adopted an opportunity mindset. Far from simply being a cliché or new age self-help soundbite, it is a tactical approach to trigger novel ideas and game-changing decisions in the face of disruption and drastic change.

When Alexander Fleming discovered that he had grown mold instead of bacteria he could easily have called his experiment a failure. Indeed, he could have thrown the mess away before anyone noticed, cleaned up and tried again. Instead, he took a closer look and discovered penicillin – which changed the world.

George de Mestral came back from a walk with his dog in the Alps only to find that burdock burrs had clung tightly to his clothing. Instead of being annoyed at the time-intensive inconvenience of removing them, he took a closer look and wondered how he could recreate their ability to “stick”. Velcro was born.

By asking “what can I learn from this situation and how can I turn that into something meaningful”, in other words, by adopting an opportunity mindset, those two men changed their own lives – and the world!

How does this translate to business? There are many well-known examples of disruption. Travis Kalanik and Garet Camp could not get a cab in Paris and amidst their frustration and annoyance at not being able to get home after a conference, the idea for Uber was born.

Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown changed the world overnight. All businesses, essential or not, had to change the way they operate. Social distancing – a phrase that’s common now but was highly unusual before the pandemic, meant many businesses faced an existential crisis.

Those that could, adopted a remote working culture overnight. Of course there were challenges, not least connectivity and cyber security, but some of those who spotted the opportunities have discovered that their overheads and physical space needs are quite different from what they had become
accustomed to. All of a sudden, in a post-pandemic world, they are able to look at their operating margins differently.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs & SMMEs) adapted in so many different ways. Some have doubled their investment and involvement in communities and networks, while others opened online stores and transformed into a cashless business.

Others had to find entirely new supply chains because the borders were closed. These new supply chains, along with supporting local businesses opened up a whole host of new opportunities, products and markets.

Others took the down time to actively reimagine their business and implement brand awareness strategies – finally embracing digital marketing in all its guises, using lockdown to engage with their customers in communities where they are active on devices in their homes.

The burning question, then, is how does this relate to our new normal? We are currently navigating level one lockdown, with most remaining restrictions related to social distancing, alcohol restrictions, curfews and crowd control.

While we all remain cautiously optimistic that the country’s infection rate does not regress and send us back into stricter versions of lockdown, we know that it will be quite some time before the world business returns to is anything resembling normal. In fact, there is every chance that this period of disruption has set us on a course of constant change.

An opportunity mindset looks at this new normal and asks: what can I learn from the current conditions and how can I innovate? And then, how do I maintain this innovation momentum?

If the crowds cannot yet come to you, then you go to them. The fourth industrial revolution has enabled this, and perhaps the biggest legacy of Covid-19 on business will be the way it has fast-tracked digitisation.

An online store has become a necessity. Of course, to exploit this opportunity, it requires more than just the sheer will to open one. It requires considering the full bouquet of ecommerce opportunities, such as payment platforms, hosting providers, logistics, storage, digital marketing and much more.

Going online is not just for those who sell goods. A specialist, professional or service provider would do well to use this opportunity to think beyond their website. Deploying an app for ease of booking, or a services portal or online mechanism for purchasing services – there are creative ways to bring value to clients or associate partners. All it takes is an opportunity mindset and the knowledge of how to get the funding to make it a reality.

One has to keep moving forward and without an opportunity mindset it will be near impossible to spot the gaps lying in wait. Another legacy of Covid-19 is collaboration. To consider how powerful this is, look at the partnership between and the former Mr Delivery. Here, two sets of problems (“I have a product that needs to be delivered fast”, and “I have drivers who need something other than food to deliver”) resulted in a compelling opportunity that led to a modern business.

Perhaps you run a plumbing or professional services business and never imagined you’d have an app for ease of booking, or even a scalable digital solution to bring on associate partners. All it takes is an opportunity mindset and knowledge of how to get the business funding to make it a reality.

In the wake of this lockdown and the devastating economic impact, Retail Capital calls on the entire country to reimagine our future. We have to look around and ask ourselves what we have learnt (whether intentionally or through pure circumstance), what discoveries have we made. We must ask:
how can we cut the key that unlocks greatness?

By Karl Westvig, CEO of Retail Capital