5 Ways to Move Forward, From the Design-Thinking Community

Author: Michelle Russell       


IDEO’s Business Pivot Challenge report identifies five “opportunity areas for business adaptation” after the pandemic that suggest ideas for the events industry, too.

In April, global design and innovation company IDEO launched the Business Pivot Challenge in an effort to explore this question: How might businesses of all kinds rapidly adapt to support the immediate needs of the COVID-19 response, and enable a more just and resilient future? The company has published a report that brings together the perspectives of 700-plus business owners, community leaders, and entrepreneurs across more than 36 industries and 71 countries who submitted to the challenge, combined “with learnings from IDEO’s long history of client work.”

After examining the complexity that the pandemic has introduced, IDEO identified five “opportunity areas for business adaptation” that stand out. We’ve connected the dots for the business events industry (in italics).

Revisit Purpose

When everything changes, connect with your core. As B Corps’ Anthea Kelsick commented, “When purpose is built into the business model, companies have more agility and clear guidance for decision-making. … For companies who have less clarity on their north star, I would say starting with understanding your stakeholders is really important. Beyond delivering profitability … who are you delivering value to? And how are you measuring that value?”

Having had COVID-19 pull the rug out from under them, event organizers scrambled to move their in-person events online and caused them to look deeper at their purpose. Rather than being in the business of producing live events, they saw they needed to execute on their core value proposition — creating community and sharing knowledge —regardless of platform.

Repurpose Capabilities

A change in need requires a change in response. The rapid change in consumer demand caught businesses around the globe by surprise. Customers — and their needs — changed overnight. Businesses adapted by repurposing capabilities and resources to fulfill newly surfaced community demands.

Consistently gathering and implementing customer feedback continues to help these businesses learn, adjust, and plan for ongoing changes across the business.

Using whatever platform and by whatever means possible, event planners scrambled to provide content online and value to their stakeholders.

Redefine Methods

A change in the status quo requires a change in practices. Nothing is business as usual. The ways that we work, learn, and live have been drastically disrupted by the pandemic, and it’s quite possible they will never return to “normal.”

Businesses that can access and account for longer-term changes to their own structure and ways of working will be better able to plan for our new reality. Those organizations that can remain flexible, agile, and lean in to ambiguity will be better able to navigate an uncertain path forward.

One tool for changing your practices is to treat everything like a prototype — testing a new idea over a short period of time to gauge feasibility and success.

As the months have passed since the initial crisis and the timing around the return of in-person events remains uncertain, event organizers have worked hard to improve the digital event experience and provide greater value to their stakeholders, including sponsors. That has involved rethinking timing around content delivery, livestreamed and pre-recorded presentations, how to better enable interaction, and thinking more deeply about the advantages an online event can afford. For example, the Plant Biology Worldwide Summit used to feature a physical job board with notices on site. For the virtual event, July 27-31, the job board will be transformed into a virtual career fair, and attendees will be able to schedule appointments and set up chat rooms.

Reinvent Engagement

A change in boundaries requires a change in interaction. Business who pivot to offer their goods and services in a safe manner will earn not only business, but trust. How can you provide communities with new and human ways for social and emotional rituals?

At the same time that they are upping their digital events game, planners are keeping an eye on what in-person events may look like in a living with COVID-19 world — from hygiene protocols to social-distancing requirements. In Convene’s most-recent COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard survey, 66 percent of planner respondents said one area they are seeking to become more skilled at is designing live experiences in post-COVID-19 physical environments with more stringent hygiene standards.

Reimagine Collaboration

A change in value requires a change in partnerships. As businesses reassess their value proposition and reimagine their offerings during the pandemic, many have turned to unlikely partners for support.

Collaboration increases resiliency, opens new doors, and brings to light unforeseen opportunities, both now and in the future. Within these partnerships lies the possibility to transform the governance of our societies and economies into more sustainable and equitable modes. Partnerships should be considered after you have assessed your organization’s strengths and gaps.

The digital event space opens up opportunities to expand your audience since geography and travel are no longer obstacles. How are you working with other similarly aligned organizations around the world to strengthen your virtual offerings and provide a greater diversity of perspectives?

Within the larger ecosystem of business events, there have been numerous examples of industry associations, CVBs, and event venues collaborating with other entities to create protocols for safe environments for returning events. One example: To produce the guide, “Essential Considerations for Safely Reopening Exhibitions and Events,” the International Association of Exhibitions and Events collaborated with the Experiential Designers and Producers Association; Exhibition Services & Contractors Association; Exhibitor Appointed Contractors Association; Global Biorisk Advisory Council, a division of International Sanitary Supply Association; International Association of Venue Managers; Society of Independent Show Organizers; and United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

Another example: Hilton has partnered with the Mayo Clinic and Lysol to develop “hospital-grade hygiene protocols” in order to safeguard team members as well as guests during COVID-19.

IDEO doesn’t downplay the challenges that lay ahead, saying in the report’s conclusion that “nothing about this moment is easy. Business owners and employees may find themselves wondering how and whey they can shift back into action or get back to normal. The world is beginning to recognize that the longer we all try to return to the status quo, the harder it may be to progress forward.”

Michelle Russell is editor in chief at Convene.

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