Do overs a good option when necessity mothers reinvention

Phil Castle

Of all the notions I’ve carried with me since childhood — make your bed, eat your vegetables and always, always wear clean underwear — one of my favorites remains the concept of the do over.

You’re playing a game with friends and screw up. Hey, no problem. Do over. There’s nothing wrong or the least shameful at failing. If it first you don’t succeed, try again. Children possess wisdom beyond their years, don’t they? Certainly beyond that of some adults who agonize over situations far too seriously and for whom common sense is all too uncommon.

Fortunately, the concept of the do over endures into adulthood, only with different names. Persistence. Resilience. And my topic for the day: reinvention.

It’s a timely topic given the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions on businesses and business owners and managers. In good times, successful owners and managers look for ways to further improve products and services and increase sales. There’s no resting on laurels. In bad times, owners and managers look for ways to survive, to keep doors open and staff employed. There’s no alternative.

As editor of a business journal, it’s been my privilege over the past 20 years to report on all sorts of inventions and reinventions. But the last six months have been especially remarkable in the ways so many businesses have made lemonade out of arguably the worst crop of lemons to come off the tree since the Great Depression. Restaurants initially prohibited from offering dining switched to carryout and delivery. Retailers followed suit with their own variations on that theme. Other businesses recognized opportunities in providing products for uses far different than what they were originally intended. Still other businesses accustomed to having all hands on deck enabled employees to work from the safety of their homes.

Necessity, the proverb goes, is the mother of invention. I’d add reinvention. The big question that arises is what reinvention will occur as a result of the necessities of the pandemic. Some businesses will not only have to tweak their models, but also rethink them. Will office buildings full of offices full of people still exist? Will business meetings and business travel go the way of the dodo?

Some of the trends that have accelerated during the pandemic likely will continue, among them online commerce. Other aspects of a contact-free economy probably will grow as well,  including automation and telemedicine. Businesses that struggled to maintain operations and supply chains will explore additional ways to become more resilient.

Changes similarly will occur on countless individual levels for those who’ve lost businesses and jobs. They’ll have to reinvent themselves and their careers. What will they become?

I have no professional experiences from which to draw because I’m an outlier. By one estimate, people on average change careers three to seven times over the course of their lives. I consider myself blessed to have worked in print journalism since I graduated from Colorado State University on that May day back in 1981.

My career aspirations have certainly changed, though. As a kid growing up the midst of the space race in the 1960s, I wanted to become an astronaut. Who didn’t? Subsequently inspired by Issac Newton and Marie Curie, I wanted to become a scientist and make important discoveries. Then something unexpected occurred. I took a part-time job in high school covering sports for my hometown newspaper. I discovered instead how much I enjoyed reporting and writing. I initially studied computer science in college, but switched to journalism and never looked back. Still, I remain undecided as to what I ultimately want to be when I grow up. I’m considering either dive master or mystery novelist. Maybe both. I’ll let you know.

My point for now for business owners and managers — everyone, really — is that reinvention is not only possible, but also could be in some cases preferable.

Think Ray Croc, who went from selling milkshake machines to developing the McDonald’s fast food franchise. Think Vera Wang, the figure skater who became an iconic fashion designer. For heaven’s sakes think J.K. Rowling, the researcher and teacher who became the first billionaire author.

As a fan of Billy Crystal and Jack Palance, I love the movie “City Slickers.” But there’s an applicable moral of that funny story: Life really is a do over.

Phil Castle is editor of the Business Times. Reach him at phil@thebusinesstimes.com or 424-5133.