The pandemic gave us an interesting learning opportunity — what happens when every business in the world is faced with the same disruptive forces? Marketing expert and EduCon keynote speaker Andrew Davis set out to find out, studying why similar businesses were either thriving, surviving, or failing. Eventually, a theme emerged: Those that succeeded embraced the constraints set upon them, using them to simplify and arrive at better solutions.
One of the examples Davis provided to the audience: Before the pandemic, Sweet Farm had seen solid success as an off-site for corporate retreats — 40 percent of its revenues came from events. The nonprofit billed its Northern California farm (which will soon relocate to New York) as a “climate sanctuary,” where companies like Facebook and Oracle would send their teams to learn firsthand about the negative effects of factory farming and how regenerative agriculture can offer a solution to the climate crisis.
But when the pandemic hit in March 2020, their group business came to a standstill and nearly half of their operating revenue was wiped out, overnight. That’s when cofounder Nate Salpeter called an all-team meeting to brainstorm and, hopefully, unearth a solution. Here’s how Sweet Farm tackled the problem, following the four steps that make up Davis’ “Cube of Creativity.”
Eliminate the unnecessary. The first step is to halt all noncritical activity to maintain focus. “Our creative fuel is finite,” said Davis. “Burn it wisely.” In Sweet Farm’s case, this step was done for them — their canceled group business meant any distractions were already eliminated. For those struggling with this step, Davis suggests cutting two projects every time a new project is added to the docket. Our inclination is to just chop something easy or that we’re no longer working on but Davis said to also do the difficult work of killing another project.
Define a clear outcome. What single result defines success? Picking one, he said, is key. For Sweet Farm, that was simple — recouping the 40 percent of the revenue lost from canceled group business.
Limit the options. Apply an unreasonable time limit as well as one (or more) creative limits. The Sweet Farm team defined that as an idea for recouping lost revenue that did not involve a visit to the farm. The catch? Come up with that idea in less than one day. Why must the time limit be so unreasonable? “Because we won’t find the time to do something that we have months to do, that’s Parkinson’s law [the adage that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion],” said Davis.
Raise the stakes. What will happen if the outcome is not achieved? Clearly define the consequences. “We can invite our team to either understand the incentives that are at stake or the disincentives,” said Davis. “We need to help the team understand that there’s one specific thing at stake if we don’t accomplish our outcome.” In Sweet Farm’s case, the stakes were high — if they couldn’t find a solution, they would have to lay off staff and move their animals.
So what was the solution? Offering a new kind of virtual experience that brought the farm to the screen — specifically “Zoom bombing” meetings with goats. Dubbed Goat-2-Meeting, the offering includes a live appearance from a goat or another animal resident, along with a short virtual tour of the farm.
The idea was a hit. “People … were inviting Jeff the Llama to interrupt their work’s virtual happy hours,” Davis said. In fact, the virtual meeting platform GoToMeeting sponsored Sweet Farm’s new initiative. By the end of 2020, Sweet Farm had hosted 8,000 Goat-2-Meetings and raised more than $1 million, far surpassing their original revenue goal.
Jennifer N. Dienst is senior editor at Convene.