Lessons Learned from 2020

As we enter the last quarter of 2020 I thought that it would be useful to take a look back at this extraordinary year and see what lessons can be learned from these truly remarkable circumstances. It has, after all, impacted on every business around the world in one way or another. Indeed, the impact has been so great that business, and the way that business is done, will never be the same again.

This is the first in a series of articles that will look at what has happened, what businesses have had to do to survive, and what lessons can be drawn from 2020, and how these lessons can help each and every business in the future. Or, put another way, and to paraphrase a famous quote from the Monty Python film ‘Life of Brian’, “what has 2020 ever done for us?”

The answer to that question is, actually, very wide ranging and much more positive than might be imagined at first. We have all heard the saying that “necessity is the mother of invention” that is normally attributed to Plato, and there is no doubt that in times of real need such as war or rapid changes of circumstances as we have seen in 2020, then matters that normally take months or years to accomplish are often achieved in a matter of weeks.

Also, in times of economic prosperity or when circumstances are easy, businesses tend to get fat and lazy and do not operate as efficiently as they should. When times are tougher, systems and procedures are refined and costs controlled more tightly, although it is true that early stage businesses are often too lean to have allowed any fat into their operations even in the good times.

Lastly, it is also generally accepted that we all learn more from our failures than from our successes. Whether this is because failures are normally analysed more closely than successes, or because successes can easily hide any failings does not really matter, many successes are still due to good luck as much as good management.

There is no doubt that 2020 is an academic’s dream in so many ways, as for the next 100 years papers will be written and research carried out on everything from the long term effects on physical and mental health through to the failings of various governments around the world, the impact on macroeconomics and global trade, and many other topics in between. It will also form the basis of extremely insightful case studies and statistical reviews at business schools and these will no doubt analyse detailed data from a broad spectrum gathered over time. For our purposes, however, there are many lessons that are already very apparent just from the anecdotal evidence even before the year has closed.

The lessons learned cover all of the areas that any business needs to understand including: management and staffing levels; cash management; supply chains; communication, public relations, and marketing; property; manufacturing; fixed and variable costs; stock management; systems and procedures; and so much more. I will be writing about each of these in more detail over the coming weeks.

What should already be apparent to all is the fact that those entrepreneurs and directors that have learned lessons from 2020 are those that have already emerged strengthened from adversity rather than those that have not learned and have remained fixed in their approach.

One of the defining features that makes a good entrepreneur is the willingness to always learn, and 2020 has been nothing if not a very fast learning experience for each and every one of us. Those that learn move onward and those that do not, will not. So learn and move forward, or as Woody in the film ‘Toy Story’ so famously said, “to infinity and beyond!”


in British English


to prosper or cause to prosper vigorously and rapidly