‘Imagination machine’ seen as next step in firms’ post-pandemic planning

THE PHASE of trying to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic is still ongoing for most businesses, but a key to make the most of the disruption is to start reimagining for a new future.

Following months of reacting to the immediate impact of the outbreak and continuing efforts to return to regular operations, the next phase for companies must be learning the new patterns of consumer behavior and planning for reinvention, said Anthony Oundjian, managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in the Philippines.

“It’s probably going to take time to get the vaccine, so the next six to 12 months may pretty much look like right now. (That means we) make sure that our employees are safe and we can have positive cash flow. But then, it’s really time to think about the long term… It’s time to think what kind of changes in consumer behavior will last beyond this crisis, and to adapt to this new normal,” Mr. Oundjian said at the BusinessWorld Virtual Economic Forum last week.

He introduced the idea of building an “imagination machine”, which is an active effort to look ahead after realizing that something needs to change.

He said a common trigger for business reinvention is the quest for a surprise, which involves spotting accidents, anomalies and analogies and developing an idea out of patterns.

Other ways to reimagine a business are exploring to find new pain points, creating an open environment to share ideas, and codifying successful practices to form new systems.

“I think some of the most successful models in the last few years… came from a dream or ambition. In our day-to-day, especially before the crisis when we’re all so busy, we tend to forget about this, to not step back, not take the time to dream and invent. Today, when we have a bit more time when we’re home, that is probably something we could do,” Mr. Oundjian said.

He noted that in the Philippines, where the lockdown was implemented sooner and is stricter than in other countries, there are new business models that thrived better than in other jurisdictions.

“Very early, we went to a very strict lockdown and it was a very long lockdown. I think it has triggered stronger changes in behavior… I think the development of social commerce in the Philippines has been stronger than in many markets precisely because of… the strictness of this lockdown,” Mr. Oundjian said.

Social commerce is the selling of products or services through social media platforms, versus the traditional e-commerce that use designated sites or platforms for transactions.

At the beginning of the lockdown, Mr. Oundjian said he only expected the likes of Lazada and Shopee to be the first or the only winners of the shift of online shopping. But he observed a lot of transactions done through messaging applications, social networking sites, and other peer-to-peer platforms, supported by e-wallets.

“You have hundreds of thousands of micro-entrepreneurs now starting to make a living from this. I believe this is a strong space, and it’s going to get organized and people will scale up,” he said.

“They’ll go from selling their fresh crops from home to being a dark kitchen and (opening) more points of presence in the country. I think we’re at the beginning of a movement… and it’s a very inclusive movement (that is) unlocking a lot of possibilities for the country,” he added.

While the Philippines’ growth trajectory has been reversed this year — the economy contracted 11.5% in the third quarter — Mr. Oundjian believes the country will return to its path of a rising middle class for the long term.

“We’re going back to this trajectory of growth and opportunities for Filipinos, because the fundamentals are still there. We’re still a young population, we’re still very digital, we’re resourceful. So we’re going to get back. The question is how quickly and how much,” he said.

“When I see where we are today and the resilience that we’ve demonstrated, I’m quite excited to see companies move on and embrace this phase of reimagination,” he also said. — Denise A. Valdez

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