What trends have marked 2020 and how will they evolve in 2021? How can companies respond to these new trends to emerge as a winner from the crisis? We discussed this with author, keynote speaker and nexxworks founder Peter Hinssen.
What do you think were the main trends in 2020?
Peter Hinssen: “2020 was nothing less than a major digital stress test. Companies, families and individuals alike had to switch to an existence where the digital option was just about the only one available. So everyone's resilience was put to a tough test. Companies had to start with working from home, e-commerce and maintaining customer relationships digitally. The good thing was that most organisations passed that stress test relatively well, sometimes to their great surprise. In any case, in January 2020 they were not expecting that a few months later 90 per cent of their employees would be working from home full-time.”
Which companies have responded well to this?
“It was a year of winners and losers. For the cultural sector, the events and hospitality industry, it was particularly a disastrous period, but other sectors performed especially well in 2020. Sometimes this was by chance, due to circumstances. For example, sales figures at Kellogg's and Duracell skyrocketed, simply because people were eating more cereal and using more batteries for their remote controls now that they were at home so often. Organisations that had previously already started on digitalisation and, for example, already had a well-run website, were able to recover a large share of their lost turnover fairly easily from their webshop.”
“This was also a wake-up call for other companies: if you cannot adapt to unexpected obstacles, you risk having a very difficult time. Some companies have genuinely reinvented themselves, for example by starting a take-away service from a restaurant. For entrepreneurs, it turned out to be a true quest for new markets, business models and opportunities to tap into. Not all organisations succeeded equally well, but this is also partly due to a certain mindset and entrepreneurial attitude.”
What do you see emerging as the main trends in 2021?
“We will probably continue to communicate and do business mainly online and digitally in the first half of the year. I think things can only get better. In fact, by the second half of the year I expect a huge upturn in all areas. After the major digital stress test, everyone is longing for human contact. We very much want to see more people again, to travel, go to restaurants and resume all kinds of cultural and social activities. So when this becomes possible again, we will do so intensively. The lesson that companies are taking from 2020 is that they must prepare for the unpredictable, for turbulence and change. A lot of things remain uncertain, so as an organisation you better take into account a world that is more volatile than ever: ‘the Never Normal’.”
What can companies do to ensure they will be ahead of the curve when the corona crisis is over?
“I would certainly recommend a strategic approach to make your organisation flexible. The most successful companies will be those that are agile, arming themselves for constant change and also able to instil this in their employees, including through continuous training. Those who still hope to return to a constant ‘New Normal’ as soon as possible will run into problems. Technology will definitely help in responding better to change, for example by using data more efficiently. A flexible mindset is also a must. In 2020, many companies found that their annual budgets and other annual plans were no longer of any use. Maybe it is time to rethink some things thoroughly.”
Peter Hinssen is an international keynote speaker, author, lecturer and technology entrepreneur. He lectures worldwide on innovation and the impact of technology on society and the business world. Over a 15-year period, he founded five companies, including nexxworks. In his fifth book, ‘The Phoenix and the Unicorn’, published in 2020, he talks about companies that, like a phoenix, repeatedly leave the past behind and rise from their ashes with new products, services, business models or markets.