Some folks have asked me what I think about the Coronavirus situation. Like the rest of you, I’m concerned about loss of life and damage to the economy. But as an entrepreneur, I also think moments like this are where opportunity lives.
In 1975, the brokerage industry switched from fixed to negotiated commissions and, in that moment, a lot more than a decades-old business model was upended. Changing that rule led to the creation of innovative new businesses like Ameritrade. It also fundamentally altered human behavior with individual investors taking control of their own financial futures in a way that didn’t exist before.
The Coronavirus is a lot scarier than negotiated commissions were in 1975, but the same idea is true: change can create opportunity. Already we’re seeing one business after another change how it sells or what it sells to adapt to changing circumstances.
So what does that mean for us as we live through this increasingly challenging time? For some people, it will mean investing in businesses and ideas, even at this moment when everything feels uncertain.
Everyone who invests at a moment like this has his own reason for doing it, but they all share a belief that, in time, things will get better . . . they always have. These people are optimists who are willing to bet on our future. And, at its core, the free enterprise system rewards people who bet on our future because that’s where new jobs, opportunity, and innovation come from.
But not everyone has money to invest, even if they are optimists. A lot of people are just worried about how to make payroll at their business or how to pay their rent. As someone who wasn’t raised with a lot of money and who lived through more than one chapter concerned about making ends meet, I understand what people are going through. And yet for some of them who have the inclination, I’d say think about what new idea can spring from the rapid and dramatic change we’re living through.
Like a lot of people, I am working via video conference for the first time – a new trick for this old dog whose career was spent visiting face-to-face with people. In the high schools I support, the entire classroom has moved online. And people are using social media differently when it’s the only social game in town. I believe changes like these – and dozens more – will have a lasting impact on our society. Exactly what that impact is remains unknown for now. But innovative entrepreneurs are going to find ways to adapt existing businesses to the changed landscape or to invent new businesses for this new era. They’re going to be placing bets on a better future and that will be how we begin to emerge from the current challenges.