As 2020 mercifully comes to a close, it’s a good time to take a reflective lens and consider lessons we’ve learned this year that will help us in the future. We often learn more from our struggles and failures than from our triumphs.

As someone who has always valued improvisation and improvement, one of my least favorite phrases is any variation of the explanation, “because we have always done it this way.” This is perhaps the most dangerous sentiment that can be uttered within an organization. It implies that rocking the boat is not welcome, even when problems with the old way are confronted, or promising new ideas are presented.

The fact is that all boats get rocked eventually; the only question is whether that disruption comes from within, or if it is forced by outside circumstances and catches everyone off guard. These challenges force organizations to discover if they have staying power in the face of inevitable change. Shutting down new ideas by taking the “it’s always been done this way,” approach is the quickest path to obsolescence for leaders, teams and organizations.

Even if you are running the best horse-and-buggy repair shop in the world, you don’t have a viable business today. The reality is that one of the few constants in life is change, and that fact requires for us to be adaptable.

2020 forced many individuals and organizations to re-think their entire business models, making what would have been years’ worth of infrastructural changes in a few months. In this time of upheaval, refusing to adapt because “we have always done it this way,” went from being an obstructionist impulse to an existential threat.

Here are some great examples where deviating from the old way was essential to survival in 2020, and even led to long term innovation:

  • Many restaurants reinvented themselves by offering scaled-up takeout and delivery, expanding their outdoor seating, and selling family-style meal kits.
  • The Australian airline Qantas designed a seven-hour “flight to nowhere.” It sold out in 10 minutes.
  • The global scientific community collaborated to an unprecedented degree, leveraging new technology to bring multiple vaccines to market on a timeline that beat the most optimistic expectations.
  • Doctors, who have historically been frustrated that they are not compensated for consults with patients outside their office, began consulting with patients via video and getting reimbursed. This change kept people safe, saved unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office and will likely expand after the pandemic as a preferred option for many. It was long overdue.
  • Nonprofits pivoted from in-person charity events to virtual fundraisers and used the opportunity to expand their reach beyond their geographic market. Some of these events even netted more money by saving the huge infrastructure costs of holding these fundraisers in-person.
  • Organizational leaders who had previously declared that remote work could not work for their businesses found themselves running 100 percent remote organizations that functioned well, and in some cases even improved. Now, many companies are rethinking the future of remote work for the organizations.
  • Two friends and entrepreneurs launched new businesses with their existing staff. Andrea Herrera started Boxperience, pivoting from her catering business, as a way for people to keep in touch with their most important prospects and clients. Similarly, Kristi Herold launched Jam Events, offering virtual team building programs, when her adult sports league business was suddenly forced to cease operations indefinitely.

It’s important to note that many industries and people were more directly impacted by COVID-19 than others, some devastatingly so. Despite this, what I have seen is that the people and organizations who are surviving, and even thriving, as 2020 comes to a close are the ones who either accepted the new reality or saw it as an opportunity to innovate or make overdue changes. Those who desperately clung to the past the way it had always been done seem to be struggling the most.

What did you decide to stop doing the old way in 2020? What still needs to change for a successful 2021?

Quote of The Week

“If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done, You Always Get What You’ve Always Gotten.”


– Jessie Potter