THE TERM ‘disruption’ has been part of business rhetoric for the past twenty years. Typically, it references technology as the biggest disruptor in the field. In all the business classes I’ve taken, every case study highlighting disruption draws from either a new business model (subscription business for instance) or technology (smart phones). Terms like “disruptor,” or “disruption,” like its comrade words “synergy” or “leverage”, are so ubiquitous that at times you want to call out ‘business buzzword bingo’ when you hear one of them.
Yet, 2020 has given us a new application for the word “disruption.” The Covid-19 pandemic has seen changing workforces, shifting labor practices and behaviors, the rise and fall of different industries, as well as a dramatic adoption of different technologies which have radically changed and disrupted the business landscape from what it was this time last year.
Too many companies this year have passed beyond mere ‘disruption’ and headed straight towards crisis. I was lamenting this development over a virtual morning coffee, when my colleague Mike Klyszeiko, Amcham Finland’s Director of Launchpad USA, reminded me of one of Albert Einstein’s, a proud European-American, most famous quotes: “In the midst of crisis lies great opportunity.”
History has shown us that Americans navigate crisis well and tend to bounce back faster from economic recessions than other countries. In the years following the economic collapse of 2008, both the Eurozone and the U.S. began their economic recovery in 2010. However, the U.S. economy grew by about six percentage points more (4,5 % more over three years on a per capita basis). Prior to the corona virus, the U.S. was in a period of growth that far outpaced Europe’s. There are many structural reasons for this. For instance, the excessive debt accumulated by households in the US had been worked off more rapidly; once losses or bankruptcies had been recognized people could start over, rather than being shackled to old debt for years. The U.S. also has a more fluid labor market, enabling companies to swiftly react to downturns, letting people go with “at will employment,” and pivoting operations which allow the possibility of hiring additional staff in new and developing business areas.
Now back to my morning coffee with Mike; “Remember what Einstein said, ‘in the midst of crisis lies great opportunity.’” Mike smiled, taking a sip from his Moomin mug, “Americans lean into crisis and find it a great time to start new ventures. You see some of the best companies forming and beginning to grow during times of crisis. These companies are further supported by America’s rich private equity markets. Capital is poured into those that show early signs of long-term success which accelerates their growth. Companies like Uber and Airbnb were founded during the ‘great recession’ of 2008.”
Much of Mike’s time is spent helping companies and Finnish professionals understand the complexity, risks and advantages of doing business in the U.S. He has helped over 100 companies find their way, “I think American entrepreneurs go in with the understanding that their new venture is much more likely to fail than succeed. Therefore, they take bigger risks understanding that the upside opportunity is far greater than the downside. I heard once that we often spend too much time thinking about all the reasons why something may fail, when we rarely ask ourselves, “what does it look like if it succeeds and in a BIG way?” That thought process changes your mindset which changes your behaviors and actions. I think Americans generally get this better than many parts of the world.”
When I reflect on this year, it has been one of disruption and one of great change, but it has also been one of great opportunity. I am looking forward to the bright future that will emerge from these trying times and to discovering the companies that will grow out of this crisis. I am taking a page out of the American playbook, looking ahead with great optimism and seeking those new opportunities. I hope you are too.
Artikkeli on julkaistu SAM Magazine 4/2020-numerossa joulukuussa 2020.
Alexandra Pasternak-Jackson, CEO at Amcham Finland, is working to make Finland a more open and international place to do business and to help Finnish companies navigate the US market. She has taught on the importance of networking as well as held non-profit board positions, both in Finland and the US. Alexandra holds an MBA from Haaga Helia University of Applied Sciences and a BA from the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University. She lives in Helsinki with her Texan husband and two kids.