Any good entrepreneur will tell you they have a solid 1/3/5 and sometimes 10-year strategic vision, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has rendered many of those plans obsolete before they could even get started. As a result, it’s safe to say 2020 was a year like no other. For many of us, COVID-19 was like a forest fire carving a path of disruption while upending our best laid plans for our businesses.
I’m here to tell you I truly believe that’s not such a bad thing. As the pandemic continues to smolder for the next number of months, we must begin to refocus, recalibrate and rebuild our businesses to adapt to changing market demands and emerging trends. If 2020 was the year of acceleration and disruption, 2021 will likely be the year of the innovator. In fact, it will need to be.
We are seeing monumental shifts taking place across a number of industries like commercial and retail real estate, traditional media and television, and bricks and mortar retail. COVID-19 has put tremendous pressure on these sectors, not to mention the devastating effects it has had on small businesses from coast to coast, many of which have had to close their doors for varying periods of time. Even Hudson’s Bay Company, Canada’s oldest retailer, has
been pushed to the edge trying to figure out its real estate obligations while accelerating its digital e-commerce capabilities.
When major industries like media, real estate and retail experience unprecedented challenges like they are faced with right now, there’s one thing we can expect; innovation. Some have called it adapting while others have used the term pivot (far too much in my opinion). The truth is, it’s all about innovation, and I believe it will take shape in three ways in 2021.
First, you are going to see increased competition for the best and brightest minds. Organizations will be hungry to add proven leaders in technology and IT, digital marketing, logistics and operations, and data science.
As someone intimately familiar with the technology space, I have experienced the tug-of-war for talent first-hand over the last decade as tech startups and successful companies like Shopify scale and we all compete for valuable talent and engineers are at a premium. This trend will be exacerbated in 2021 with increased digital transformation in all forms of retail being driven by consumer demand for convenience and a blurring of the digital and physical retail experience.
If you haven’t guessed it already, the further digitization of consumer retail will be the second big trend driving innovation in 2021. How we eat, shop, work and play has changed drastically this past year, but the reality is all of these changes were already in motion, and they are likely here to stay.
This creates tremendous opportunity for innovation in an industry like retail which I believe has lagged when it comes to the adoption of new technologies and innovative consumer solutions. This year is the time to tear off the digital bandage and bring true transformation to retail. I believe we’ll start to see digital incubators within traditional retailers and other companies that bring a new lens to all aspects of their businesses. This transformation also creates opportunity for incumbents and first-movers in the digital retail space who can use their digital audience and marketing savvy to drive value out of a bricks and mortar location. It’s time for radical digital transformation. It will be interesting to see how quickly large established retailers react to these changes.
Finally, it’s my belief that 2020 has cleared the way for a new norm that elevates both the need and the function of innovation within organizations. I expect you will see the increased development and expansion of divisions dedicated to digital transformation, innovation, and new product incubation, resulting in the need for a new type of leadership structure and, as per my first point, more innovators.
Roles like Chief Digital Officer, Chief Transformation Officer, and perhaps Chief Innovation Officer will start to become standardized titles across all industries, also resulting in significant acquisition activity and new partnerships that help companies leverage best-in-class digital tools and solutions, as well as thinkers. These innovation leaders will also take prominent and high-profile roles within their organizations right alongside the CFO, COO and CEO further galvanizing the importance of innovation on the corporate org chart in 2021.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a small business or a multi-national organization, as we start to rebuild and refocus our businesses for 2021 and beyond, companies are going to have to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of the market and adjust to meet the needs and demands of their customers who have become increasingly comfortable with digital experiences in all forms of retail and e-commerce. That ship has sailed, and it has created the need for innovation like never before.
Despite all of the challenges the past 10 months have thrown at us, I’m excited to see how innovation helps lead the way during this time of disruption and transformation. Those who play it safe will likely fall behind, while those who innovate are sure to be the brands we’re talking about this time next year.