The Pandemic Created New Opportunities. Here's How to Find Them.
We thought we knew best.
Meetings had to happen in the same room. Relationships were built on specific experiences. Work demanded certain specifications.
Then a global pandemic proved us wrong.
I first realized this in COVID-19’s early days. I have two young boys, and they developed an impressive intuition for whenever a camera or a microphone was on. I’d be making my podcast Build for Tomorrow, or giving a virtual keynote, or interviewing someone by Zoom, and they’d come bursting into the room. I’d try to wave them off, but it was pointless. They’d yell. They’d jump. My 5-year-old beelined toward the camera while making farting noises.
Then I switched strategies. I embraced the chaos. I started including their interruptions in my podcasts. I’d put a child on my lap and keep going with the keynote. If I was in the middle of an interview, I’d pause for some introductions. And that’s when I discovered something: These weren’t interruptions. These were highlights. They were the moments people remembered fondly or emailed me about afterward. My noisy kids had become a professional asset.
I’ve heard a version of this story from so many people. For example, I recently spoke with OJO Labs founder John Berkowitz. When COVID-19 began, he was in the process of acquiring a Japanese-owned company. This normally would have meant flying to Japan for a marathon of meetings and late-night dinners, because Japanese business culture is so relationship-oriented. But once the world shut down, dinners were replaced with video chats.
“It was nice,” Berkowitz told me. “It shows your humanity. It’s hard to build a relationship in a boardroom, but when you are in your house, and your kid busts in and the internet goes out, we all get to know each other a little bit more intimately.”
The deal went through.
I even heard this from the founder of Zoom himself! I interviewed Eric Yuan for our December 2020 cover story…and of course, my 5-year-old ran over to ask me about his missing Beyblade toy. That got Eric and me talking about the impact Zoom calls have had on his team. “Employee engagement is better, actually,” he said. “Not only do I know more employees, but I also know their family members. It’s like a bigger family.”
Compare all this against our tech-focused fears from before. We used to obsess over our “screen time” and dismiss digital connectivity tools as subpar and less human. We thought video chat could never — under any circumstances! — be better than an in-person meeting. And generations before us, people made similarly wild predictions about how their new tech would tear them apart. One of my favorites came from the famous composer John Philip Sousa, who in 1906 wrote a screed against the earliest record players, called phonographs. Among his concerns: He said mothers would stop singing to their children and instead just play the machine — and because babies imitate their mothers, the babies will “become simply human phonographs,” he wrote, “without soul or expression.”
It’s safe to say, Sousa was wrong. I play Spotify for my kids, but I also sing them lullabies, and they display a lot of soul and expression.
Today, just like in 1906, we thought we knew how change would impact us. We saw rules that couldn’t be broken, and a delicate balance that dare not be upset. Then, because of this pandemic, we were forced to do the things we once thought were impossible…and we discovered that they’re actually valuable.
What do we know? Not much. And let’s remember that. We like to put ourselves in a box, to assume everything worth knowing is inside our walls, but the real opportunities are beyond them. Entrepreneurs must exit that box and go stand on top of it. See the infinite possibilities! See solutions that others might see as threats, or crazy, or just downright impossible! And then, let’s show them what they’re missing.