There’s been a lot of news lately about companies that have become darlings during the pandemic. Netflix said in its earnings call on Tuesday that it lost nearly a million subscribers last quarter. This is less than expected, but it still represents two quarters of losses in a row. Last week, Peloton announced it would stop making its own bikes to focus on content after sales of the machines plummeted.
On the one hand, you can’t blame the companies that took advantage of the momentum they gained during the lockdowns. But, in retrospect, should they have foreseen a fall at the end of these confinements?
When a business faces a period of huge disruption – say, a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic – it has to make a choice:
“Whether you’re paralyzed or just enjoying the moment when the deck of cards is in the air and everything is shuffled,” said Anat Lechner, professor of management at New York University.
Enjoying the moment, leaning into it, takes a lot of understanding of who you are as a business and how you overcame the challenges, she said. Young companies do not have this historical knowledge.
“Some companies are going with the flow,” Lechner said. “And, you know, when the market demands growth from you and you’re able to pursue that, you end up becoming a lot less self-reflexive.”
Companies would be crazy not to meet market demand by investing in growth. “Carpe diem” – seize the day – and all that. But that means so many resources are tied up in the moment, and sometimes that leads to neglecting the future.
If the future brings a slowdown in demand, it may hit some companies harder than others, said Randy Allen, professor of strategy at Cornell. “I may have a lot of excess manufacturing capacity, warehousing capacity, that I can’t use.”
Peloton bikes, grocery delivery and binge-watching were solutions to pandemic problems. Now companies need to figure out how to grow beyond solutions, according to Kearney consultant Greg Portell.
“Can you take a consumer and actually shape their behavior rather than react to their behavior?” he said.
It’s easier said than done, when COVID-19 has turned everything upside down again and again. “Anyone who starts thinking about an economic cycle that lasts longer than 90 days is a bit of a fool.”
In other words, companies can be justified in taking it one quarter at a time.
There’s a lot going on in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is there for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down world events and tell you how it affects you in a factual and accessible way. We count on your financial support to continue to make this possible.
Your donation today fuels the independent journalism you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help maintain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.