Tips for Creating Your New Business Reality
From mourning the loss of a project to insulating business plans, the global pandemic has touched every corner of the global attractions industry. Those often responsible for creating the initial spark of inspiration for new attractions—the creative producers, directors, and dreamers—are also drafting what the future looks like in the wake of the coronavirus.
“The reality is with what is going on right now, it’s not a singular traumatic incident,” says Cynthia Sharpe, principal of cultural attractions and research at Thinkwell. “Things are continuing to unfold; the situation in the world is changing on a daily basis.”
Like Sharpe, Brian Morrow, creative principal at B Morrow Productions, continues to look for ways to be creative in difficult times.
“Before the pandemic, we were all in this super awesome era of fast design, lots of projects, and we were all just turning and working,” says Morrow. “The pandemic comes, everything slows down, the marketplace completely flips upside-down, like a big iceberg.”
Both Morrow and Sharpe provide tips on how to steer past the proverbial iceberg, and chart smooth passage through turbulent waters.
Give Permission to Mourn
Tip: Let it all out.
“This all happened at once,” Morrow says about sending his employees home to work as the virus spread across the United States and financial markets crashed. In the days that followed, several projects in the works at B Morrow Productions were placed on pause, while others were canceled outright. He says in order to move forward, professionals in the global attractions industry need to take a moment to acknowledge feelings of loss. “It is not going to look the same as it did in February this year,” Morrow says. He believes getting in touch with emotions early allows for faster healing. Once loss or change is embraced, a return in creative thinking can take its place, according to Morrow. “Once we got past that triage, it’s really allowing us to connect and be more productive and do the work we do have to do,” he says.
Have Radical Candor
Tip: Stay Calm. Nobody panic.
As a leader at Thinkwell and one of the design company’s creative directors, Sharpe wears two hats: One as a businesswoman, the other as a creative thinker. Sharpe leaned upon her creative prowess when pacifying her team’s nerves. “I have to help others maintain and increase their own creativity,” Sharpe says. “What I found over the years is that it’s about trust—being creative means to take risks.” Immediately, Sharpe began calming the fears of those working for her using what she calls “radical candor,” the art of being honest so her team could focus on the projects at hand. “It’s hard to do that (be creative) if you’re not feeling comfortable, or safe, if you’re not in an environment where you can do that,” she says.
Tip: Text me.
Morrow uses what he calls “hyper-transparency.” His open-door policy has no door, rather just a cell phone. In March when several projects were put on hold, Morrow began texting his full-time employees updates as they worked from home. “Not sharing the truth doesn’t protect them, it just makes them worry more,” Morrow says. “Being very transparent with our team I found was the most important tool in order to keep everybody calm,” Morrow says. Once leaders have removed the weight of the chaos off the shoulders of their team, Morrow says employees will naturally feel empowered to get back to work.
Adapt With Care
Tip: Be Kind.
As a Thinkwellian (Thinkwell’s term of endearment for their staff members) specializing in museum and cultural attractions, Sharpe quickly found herself doing the unexpected in the wake of COVID-19: writing a show. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says, adding “not because it was new, but I was also thinking about my kid’s asthma medication, and does he have a good enough webcam for online school?”
Sharpe related her concerns to a colleague, whom then expressed that taking extra time to complete the draft was okay. Sharpe believes now more than ever before, colleagues need to be “really graceful with each other.” That includes giving feedback. Sharpe says she is intentional with the comments she leaves on projects, delivering a message that can be a building block for the future, and not one that is critical in nature. This prevents “shutting down someone’s creativity,” she says.
Use Tribal Instincts
Tip: You’re stronger together.
On March 11, instead of blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, Morrow had a revelation. He realized in order for B Morrow Productions to stay profitable, he couldn’t do everything on his own. “My business model needs to be thrown in the garbage and it’s time to make a new one,” he says. The new business model Morrow generated uses what he calls “the tribe mentality.” Morrow reached out to other small businesses and formed packs. With a handshake agreement, he promised to share business leads outside his studio’s area of expertise; in exchange, others would send potential clients to him.
“The rules of the game are: if you get the job, you hire from within,” he says, adding there is no need during a global pandemic to draft and announce big “partnership agreements,” rather it’s best to keep working now. “It’s giving us backbone and it’s giving us support, and it’s actually giving us work.” (Morrow does believe when the economy returns to a robust position tribes will no longer be needed). “I’m setting myself up differently to be in the right place in the market, so I can be ready to go—whatever that may be,” he says.