When Opportunity Doesn’t Knock, Build a Door

The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the most disruptive period of change in living memory. This change was abrupt and the socio-economic fallout has been astronomical, however, even amidst such global pandemonium, many businesses have not only survived but thrived, some scaling more rapidly than they could have imagined.

The Opportunity Mindset


Make no mistake, South Africa’s economy has hit very stormy waters and government and business leaders have the responsibility of providing direction to ensure our collective ship can navigate this storm. However, when one takes a step back and observes the performing businesses that have thrived through this uncertain time, one begins to notice a pattern. Perhaps these business owners have given us the blueprint to spotting and pursuing opportunities when most seem to buckle under the pressure of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

They have all adopted what we’d like to call an Opportunity Mindset. Far from simply being a cliché or new age self-help soundbite, it is a tactical approach to trigger novel ideas and game-changing decisions in the face of disruption and drastic change.

When a Door Closes…


Sarah E. Goode, one of the first black women to patent an invention with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, invented the fold out bed (originally coined a Cabinet-Bed) in direct response to the reduced apartment sizes of post-industrial Chicago. 

Marie Van Brittan Brown, unimpressed with New York City police’s response time to calls from her neighbourhood, took safety into her own hands by creating the first home security system with closed-circuit audio and video in 1969.

By asking “what can I learn from this situation and how can I turn that into something meaningful”, in other words, by adopting an opportunity mindset, those two women changed their own lives – and the world!

How does this translate to business? There are many well-known examples of disruption. When Evelyn Berezin invented not only the world’s first computerised airline booking system, but also the first word processor, she soon realised that because of her gender, she was repeatedly declined the opportunity to rise within the industry. In response, she founded her own company, Redatron, in order to market her own creations.. Now that’s opening a window when someone closes the door!

Adapting To Change


Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown changed the world overnight. All businesses, essential or not, had to change the way they operate. Social distancing – a phrase that’s common now but was highly unusual before the pandemic – meant many businesses faced an existential crisis.

Those that could, adopted a remote working culture overnight. Of course there were challenges, not least connectivity and cyber security, but some of those who spotted the opportunities have discovered that their overheads and physical space needs are quite different from what they had become accustomed to. All of a sudden, in a post-pandemic world, they are able to look at their operating margins differently.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs & SMMEs) adapted in so many different ways. Some doubled their investment and involvement in communities and networks, while others opened online stores and transformed into a cashless business.

Some had to find entirely new supply chains because the borders were closed. These new supply chains, along with supporting local businesses opened up a whole host of new opportunities, products and markets. Others took the down time to actively reimagine their business and implement brand awareness strategies – finally embracing digital marketing in all its guises, using lockdown to engage with their customers in communities where they are active on devices in their homes.

While we all remain cautiously optimistic that the country’s infection rate does not regress and send us back into stricter versions of lockdown, we know that it will be quite some time before business returns to anything resembling normal. In fact, there is every chance that this single period of disruption has set us on a course of constant change.

An opportunity mindset looks at this new normal and asks: what can I learn from the current conditions and how can I innovate? And then, how do I maintain this innovation momentum?

Going Digital


If the crowds cannot yet come to you, then you go to them. The fourth industrial revolution has enabled this, and perhaps the biggest legacy of Covid-19 on business will be the way it has fast-tracked digitisation.

An online store has become a necessity. Of course, to exploit this opportunity, it requires more than just the sheer will to open one. It requires considering the full bouquet of ecommerce opportunities, such as payment platforms, hosting providers, logistics, storage, digital marketing and much more.

Going online is not just for those who sell goods. A specialist, professional or service provider would do well to use this opportunity to think beyond their website. Deploying an app for ease of booking, or a services portal or online mechanism for purchasing services – there are creative ways to bring value to clients or associate partners. All it takes is an opportunity mindset and the knowledge of how to get the funding to make it a reality.

Looking Forward

One has to keep moving forward and without an opportunity mindset it will be near impossible to spot the gaps lying in wait. Another legacy of Covid-19 is collaboration. To consider how powerful this is, look at the partnership between Takealot.com and the former Mr Delivery. Here, two sets of problems (“I have a product that needs to be delivered fast”, and “I have drivers who need something other than food to deliver”) resulted in a compelling opportunity that led to a modern business.

Perhaps you run a plumbing or professional services business and never imagined you’d have an app for ease of booking, or even a scalable digital solution to bring on associate partners. All it takes is an opportunity mindset and knowledge of how to get the funding to make it a reality.

In the wake of lockdown and the devastating economic impact, we have to look around and ask ourselves what we have learnt (whether intentionally or through pure circumstance) and what discoveries have we made. We must no longer ask, “Who will open the door?” but rather, “How can we cut the key that unlocks greatness?”

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