Right now, we are living in a world of smart and necessary bandaids to keep business afloat. These overnight transformers should be applauded from Apple pivoting to manufacture face masks, to Airbnb shifting into virtual experiences, to Four Seasons turning into frontline shelters, to NASCAR becoming a new eSports phenomenon– these are incredible demonstrations of business leaders pivoting overnight to establish new relevancy and value in today’s volatile world. In our recent Harris Poll, we see there is a ‘ROP’ (return-of-pivot), as 88% of Americans said they had an improved opinion about companies that shifted ‘production to make equipment or supplies necessary to fight the pandemic’.

But, even as companies are reinventing themselves overnight today, the million dollar question is: what does the ‘new normal’ look like in 12 to 18 months from now? It’s a question business leaders and Americans themselves are wrestling with; in fact according to our recent Harris Poll, over 6 in 10 Americans say, ‘once the pandemic is over and things return to normal’ they imagine their lives will be ‘somewhat to very different’ especially in the following categories: ‘travel’ (66%), ‘social activity’ (64%), and ‘shopping’ (60%).

One thing is for certain, there will be massive change and the future, in all likelihood, won’t be a winner takes all game. Meaning we won’t go back to the normal we once knew (e.g., working primarily from offices), nor will everything suddenly be tipped into a virtual future (e.g., only working remotely). Beyond pivots, it’s more likely there will be new shades of grey and hybrids that form from our old lives merged with the new values, attitudes, and behaviors created by the pandemic. Just like the Zonkey – a rare Zebra/Donkey hybrid recently born in Kenya – leaders, companies, and individuals will evolve to become unique combinations of themselves, leveraging the past and present to emerge with strength and resilience, a phenomenon we call ‘Zonkeynomics.’

We predict those who leverage Zonkeynomics will win in the long-run, because as they both lean out and step back to examine their options, they will gain focus around the values that make them truly distinctive, reorient around building true fans, and rebalance towards solutions that ultimately make them stronger.

To leverage Zonkeynomics, companies will need to embrace the following principles:

1. Leading With Humility & Shared Outcomes Over Orders

Humility and humanity at the forefront, rallying the troops with empowered decision-making frameworks not the orders. Zonkey leaders are mapping out their constantly evolving circumstances, impossible choices, fears, and critical decisions in real-time with their employees, customers, and stakeholders. From Marriott CEO, Arne Sorenson’s emotionally gripping Covid-19 crisis video, to frank and honest PowerPoint updates from Andrew Cuomo.

Now is the time when business leaders will create the next evolution of their companies, not by driving the ship themselves but by equipping teams with the right maps to do so. Bonded together with their employees through humility, fear and shared values, Zonkey leaders will create clear indicators of short-term health metrics and long-term benefits of navigating this crisis as an agile, human team.

2. Doubling Down On Servicing & Cultivating Your Top Fans

In good economic times, consumers can afford to be less discerning about how they spend their money; however, when people are forced to tighten their belts, they also have to tighten their choices, focusing on the things that they love or that are critical to their lifestyle needs. For brands this means that if you’re not loved or critical during these times, you can fall by the wayside. 

Zonkeynomics means evolving into a stronger company by getting rigorous about understanding your best customers – what’s driving them today, where they are headed tomorrow, and how you can best service and anticipate their needs. For example, during the 2008 recession, Whole Foods Market (once known as the ‘whole paycheck’ grocer) faced economic pressure to join the industry in race-to-the-bottom pricing wars, but instead evolved on a new path that focused on what their best customers wanted most: high quality, organic food from a source they could trust, at a price they could afford. To embody a strategy focused on serving their best customers first, Whole Foods focused on building out its private label brand ‘365 Everyday Value’, which not only reinforced their point of distinction and value in the market even as the economy improved, but also improved their bottom line – by 2017, the private label generated 15% of Whole Foods’ annual revenue.

Meanwhile, the 2008 recession was a breeding ground for new entrants to disrupt the market based on their deep knowledge and cultivation of particular audiences. These brands spent the time, effort and investment in key lifestyle details to own their audiences better than any competitor in the space. Turning fans into micro-influencers paved the way for the rise of today’s billion dollar brands like Glossier, Warby Parker, and Everlane. 

For large established brands to new challenger upstarts, companies that take this moment as an opportunity to understand their biggest fans and focus on better servicing them from a point of love or critical need are best poised to come out of this stronger.

3. Leaning Into The Silver Lining Confirmation Bias

What business leaders and employees pay attention to matters, especially during this crucial time where companies are actively evolving. Traditionally viewed as a blind spot, confirmation bias, or the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories, has potential to serve companies during this time.  This starts by doing a temperature check, what is your organization focusing on? Is it the silver linings and potential opportunities to thrive 18 months from now, or is your organization drowning itself in the sea of despair? 

Zonkeynomics recognizes the reality we’re in is a full blown marathon, not a sprint, and it’s crucial that employees see their role in the marathon. If your employees think that there is little they can do to help the company move forward, they will remain stuck in survival mode, but creating a silver lining  mindset means reshifting our focus to finding and seeking out the possibilities in this incredibly difficult time. For example, Amazon continues to seek silver linings, taking on a new business model that focuses on providing its almost 900,000 sellers with health insurance options.

Such silver lining confirmation bias is an opportunity for each of us to challenge ourselves in new ways. It can give permission for leaders and employees to dream a bit through today’s harsh reality, allowing ourselves to ask questions like: How can I help? What excites me? What should our company do differently to become a stronger, more impactful business?