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Our Finest Hour Season 1, Episode 4: ‘The Colossal Opportunity’ (‘Sailing into the Storm’)

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If COVID-19 has taught us anything thus far, it’s that things we were told weren’t possible — like widespread telecommuting, remote staff meetings and keeping the car in the driveway for a week at a time — are more than possible, they’re beneficial.

And there are other silver linings to be found outside of the work arena, if you know where to look.

This fourth entry in Eric Iverson’s “Our Finest Hour” series of industry observations around the novel coronavirus sees opportunity to be had, not just for our businesses, but also for our mental and physical health.


Never again.

In our lifetimes, we will likely never see opportunity like this again … It is that big. Now is one of those incredibly rare inflection points in history where invention happens at a dramatically accelerated pace and almost anything can change more easily. I’ve lived through something that felt similar before.

As a result of the 2014 cyberattack at Sony Pictures, the relationship between the business and technology became closer, our systems and processes improved, and the crisis led to significant advancement in cyber security globally. The earthquake in Los Angeles in 1994 was significantly disruptive in Los Angeles but led to upgrades to building codes and innovations in reconstruction. Many of us have had small tastes of what rapid change feels like in our lives when we navigate a significant crisis such as a natural disaster. We have seen what we can achieve through times like these. But this moment … this opportunity …

It’s colossal.

[Before proceeding further, I painfully understand that this time comes with hardship and tragedy for many. It can be hard to discuss opportunity if you experienced loss. If you have, my heart goes out to you]

And while we are experiencing hardships now, there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel … and it’s not a train.

Start with the future in mind. Thought experiment. What do you think the future looks like in a couple years? How will we have responded? What will we have done?

In Episode 1 we briefly discussed the Greatest Generation that persevered through WWII. How did that generation respond? Sept. 2. of this year will mark the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII. Through the crisis, they said, “Enough!” They responded. They changed the world.

Here is a small list of some outcomes that resulted from their crisis: The end of the Great Depression, the launch of the United Nations, a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Geneva Conventions International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, some globally shared norms and values, and absolutely astounding progress in engineering and science.

Since writing the first three articles in this series, I had a chance to reconnect with Steve Mosko, CEO of Village Roadshow Entertainment and the former president of television at Sony Pictures. As only Steve would do, he shared another analogy perfectly suited for our challenge at hand. He retold this scene in “Forrest Gump.”

For Forrest, he had found shrimping difficult and had not been successful. Then a crisis occurred. Hurricane Carmen blew through Bayou La Batre. In this part of the story, Forrest and his shipmate Captain Dan confront the unexpected hurricane at sea. The two sailors survive the storm. In the rebuilding of the town, Forrest sees a boom in business and eventually grows his fleet. As he tells the story later at the bus station, he now has, “Twelve Jenny’s.”

The lesson? The ones that persevere through the storm will find opportunities on the shore.

So, do you see opportunities now? Yes? No? Maybe? Absolutely! You’re nuts! We can learn a second lesson from Forrest. When we experience crisis related opportunity in our own way, and from our own perspective. Scared. Mad. Concerned. Invigorated. Confused? And it doesn’t matter. The way you experience this kind of opportunity is the right way for you. What matters is not how we feel during the crisis. What matters is how we answer. Forrest was scared. Dan was mad. Both found opportunity. And opportunity is in fact abundant now and will be in the future. We are Dan. We are Forrest.

Steve and Village Road Show are ready to ride through the storm. You can too. The shore of promise is in our future. Can you see it?

Skeptical? Let me continue with a current “Forrest example” headline for you:

“Zoom’s daily active users jumped from 10 million to over 200 million in 3 months”

Opportunity didn’t just “knock” for Zoom, it beat down the whole damn door. Boom. And while you might think this opportunity dropped into their lap, opportunity like this is not like winning a lottery ticket. Lottery tickets require little preparation or effort. In the business world success comes when preparation meets opportunity. While this opportunity presented almost perfect conditions for products like GoToMeeting, Webex, Google Hangout, Zoom, MS Teams and others, it was their preparation that allowed them to realize the opportunity. Like Forrest, these companies were already sailing in their “Jennys.”

These companies are not just sitting around now either. They are working very hard at the moment for themselves and for us. Better yet, their opportunity is now creating further opportunity because we are now using these tools to change how we do things. Forever?

This is the circle of innovation. Opportunity is being seized now and more opportunity is on the way.

In this crisis innovation cycle, we can trust that more good news and progress will come. Why? Because there is a reason for the saying “necessity is the mother of invention.” My friends, we just met one “mega-mother of necessity” and guess what? She just ran straight into our “bad-ass mother of invention.” It is our instinct and spirit to overcome adversity and history proves we are innovative. We are.

All of us. And we are putting that spirit to use now more than ever before. For those organizations that have never believed that some form of remote work could happen, they believe it now and their experiment is now in full swing. As we face this storm head on, we will also make a brighter future for our families in the years to come.

If you still don’t think so, here is sample of my list of predictions about the future as we capitalize on opportunities we will discover through this period. Through this crisis we will …

1. Gain strength. We will struggle and we will persevere. Struggling though the crisis requires enormous determination and we will emerge stronger because of it. Some of us will learn vital new skills for our future which will benefit ourselves, our families and our places of work.

2. Reconnect more deeply with our families and friends. We will do this in lasting and meaningful ways. We will rediscover the importance of the dinner table and might even keep our digital dinners (right after we figure out how not to drive each other crazy. OK … you were thinking the snarky comment, so I figured I’d just write it in here for you).

3. Increase the amount of effective remote work. We will allow more sales pitches to be done virtually reducing air travel for many. And, as a result, increase productivity, quality time and keep cars off the road, which will be better for the environment.

4. Improve our ability to teach, train and communicate for the benefit of future generations globally. We will accelerate our reinvention of education as we are already seeing in colleges, universities and by other progressive schools and teachers (well done!).

5. Build a broader, stronger and more resilient technical infrastructure globally from work, to the cloud, to our home.

6. Use the time to improve our physical infrastructure, such as our roads, completing some of these projects in record time with significantly less costs. These infrastructure improvements will drive progress for years to come (Los Angeles is already doing this). Think: has there ever been a better time to work on the 405 freeway?

7. Use our lessons to build a more resilient economy.

8. Strengthen supply chains. We will make it even easier to acquire anything you want at your doorstep through industrial supply lines that are even more crisis resilient.

9. Invent safer venue spaces, because as humans will always want to gather in each other’s presence.

10. Take care of each other and the planet. We will have made the single largest global decrease in greenhouse emissions in the history of the planet. Ever. Through this we will make more progress our ecology efforts. We will further our efforts on the homeless crisis.

11. Advance healthcare. We will further speed our abilities to develop vaccines and cures. We will improve our ability to track and manage the spread of infections in the future through technology and data. We will have dramatically accelerated physicians use of virtual office visits for much of the diagnostic work that they do.  This will cut down travel time, reduce waiting room time and getting infections, and improve triaging the illnesses that require us to actually visit the care giver in person. We will use these new techniques in the future to save lives.

And … we will be far better prepared for the next crisis. We will give this thoughtful preparation and learnings to our children and the future generations. While we will have some hardship, we will not have let the viral pandemic create an economic pandemic. We will save many lives and we will prosper.

And … we will take full advantage of our colossal opportunity in the crisis innovation cycle, because our collective optimism is stronger than our hardship, frustration and pain.

“As long as you as an individual … can convince yourself that in order to move forward as best you can, you have to be optimistic, you can be described as ‘one of the faithful,’ one of those people who can say, ‘Well, look, something’s going to happen! Let’s just keep trying. Let’s not give up.” — Tom Hanks

Great moments of upheaval come with pain and suffering. But our greatest progress often comes with our greatest suffering … Ask any doctor and they will tell you this, “people do not change their behavior until they suffer.”

There is a bright shore we are headed towards. We are in the midst of colossal opportunity. Only a major crisis unlocks the big ones. This is the kind of emergency that requires all of us to stop doing things the way things were done before and give a new way a chance. So, let us also say ENOUGH! Let’s not go back to the old normal. As a friend of mine recently remarked when giving his keynote, “I like the caring, connectedness and community I see all over our town. I don’t want to go back to the way things were … do you? Let’s move.

Forward!

So … two minutes. I ask that you do this simple exercise for yourself. Quickly write down as many things about what is better in our lives right now. Now look at your list. Stare at it. This is the list of what we want to keep. Let’s not just go back to the way it was. Let’s shepherd our good new list into our world. Our movie. Our opportunity!

Onward!

This weekend my family had the opportunity to watch two early digitally released films, “Trolls World Tour” by DreamWorks/Universal and “Onward” by Pixar/Disney. Both films had theatrical releases planned. I am sure many inside both companies were frustrated by pandemic’s effect on their release plans. But these entertainment companies are riding into the storm. They decided to take risks and used our digital innovations to reach their audiences.

How did it work out? Well, according to Forbes, “Trolls World Tour” digital release is now the largest digital release on record and was 10 times better in performance than Universal’s next highest-performing title. For “Onward,” the wonderful and fun film opened with a lackluster opening weekend in the theaters. However, after the theaters closed, Disney’s decision to move the film to Disney+, improved “Onward’s” performance story.

According to “Screen Rant,” “Following ‘Onward’s’ opening in theaters, the Pixar fantasy made it to No. 3 on the weekly movie chart. However, after being released on Disney+, it hit No. 2 after jumping a whopping six spots.”

How often have you seen a major film increase weekly fans after several weeks of release?

For those of you film historians out there, can you remember the first time a planned feature release was distributed digitally before the theatrical release? You guessed it … it was the movie “The Interview” released digitally just after the cyberattack on Sony Pictures. Crisis. Necessity. Invention.

Our challenges reengage our will, resolve and abilities that drive us to overcome them. And that is when the magic happens …  With great upheaval comes colossal opportunity. If we pay attention, focus carefully toward the shore of our next normal, we just might discover our own “colossal opportunities veiled in disguise.” Two years from now we will all look back over this time and be amazed by the progress we made.

Let us ride our “Jenny” into the storm. The sea of opportunity leads us to our next norm. And we will find our next big catch, just expect to get very, very, wet.

Read more: Our Finest Hour S1: E1: ‘The Great Upheaval’ | Our Finest Hour S1: E2: ‘Not My Box of Chocolates!’ | Our Finest Hour S1: E3: ‘The Hour’ | Our Finest Hour S1: E4: ‘The Colossal Opportunity’  

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Eric Iverson is a global senior technology and business leader with more than 20 years’ experience in the media and entertainment space, including more than 17 years working with Sony Pictures Entertainment, culminating in the role of SVP and divisional CIO for Sony Pictures Television, and more than three years as CIO and CTO of Creative Artists Agency (CAA). He is president and founder of Iverson Consulting, offering advisory services around strategy, innovation, digital transformation and data in the M&E space. [email protected].