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Your most invaluable entrepreneurial lesson came from COVID

Few organisations have ever had to adapt faster to COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures. Entrepreneurial expert Alan Manly delves into why it had to happen as a serious wake-up call.

Covid Entrepreneurs

The global pandemic has been a collective learning experience for the whole of humanity. But what can COVID-19 teach us about entrepreneurialism specifically? In a nutshell, it taught us to zoom. Yes, Zoom video calls became a thing. But we also learned to zoom, as a verb, meaning to:

  • move fast with a humming noise
  • fly an airplane straight up
  • move rapidly
  • go up sharply

Few organisations have ever had to adapt to change faster than in response to pandemic lockdowns and border closures.

COVID has also served to remind us of what entrepreneurial really means: “of or relating to a business or endeavour, especially one that involves considerable individual initiative and risk” and “relating to someone who starts their own business or is good at seeing new opportunities to make money”.

Reviewing the above definitions hence forms a logical answer to the question, ‘What can COVID teach us about entrepreneurialism?’

American psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a hierarchy of needs to explain human motivation.

And with lockdowns seeing many sitting at home without friends visiting, savings declining and doubts about the future, Maslow’s theory provides some interesting insights.
His theory of motivation states that five categories of human needs dictate an individual’s behaviour. Those needs are:

  • physiological
  • safety
  • love and belonging
  • esteem
  • self-actualisation

I’d suggest exploring those needs in reverse order.

At the top, self-actualising people are self-aware, concerned with personal growth, less concerned with the opinions of others and interested in fulfilling their potential.

On esteem, people need to sense that they are valued by others and feel that they are contributing to the world.

Then comes the need to love and belong – that is, social needs. Personal relationships with friends, family and lovers play an important role, as does involvement in other groups, such as religious groups, sports teams or book clubs.

The need for security and safety is more of a primary one. People want control and order in their lives. So this need for safety and security contributes largely to behaviours at this level.
The foundations, meanwhile, are physiological needs – the basics to sustain life. That includes nutrition, air and temperature regulation, as well as shelter and clothing.
COVID essentially forced all of us to consider what is most important to us.

Pandemic reflections

Zoom is now perhaps no longer a verb but a noun. It describes both a tech service that opened up our means of communication, as well as a photography metaphor in “an augmentation of a view as with a lens”. (Incidentally, this is a great example of a homonym: words that have the same spelling and pronunciation, but different meanings.)

Many faced frustration, even fear, in lockdown at being isolated from loved ones. Sleepless nights were had by many wondering how to pay their bills. Physical and mental health came to the forefront.

Somewhere along this journey, many folks revisited perhaps long-dismissed ideas of entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurial boom

A record number of companies launched as COVID drove contractors and entrepreneurs. For some, it was a necessity to earn a living. For others, a shift in priorities. But the result was the same: people zoom into entrepreneurial action.

There were 34,868 new businesses formally signed up with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission nationally in June this year, including 11,373 in NSW, 10,053 in Victoria and 7206 in Queensland. In the first six months of 2021, about 152,000 companies were registered – well above the almost 110,000 for the same period in 2020 and 113,000 in 2019.

Hence, fundamentally, we’ve learned that when our position on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is challenged, many will consider becoming an entrepreneur. And when it comes to what COVID can teach us about entrepreneurialism, it’s that in the face of a crisis, zoom is the word.

Alan Manly OAM is the CEO of Universal Business School Sydney and author of The Unlikely Entrepreneur.

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