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Plan ahead to take advantage of the changing times.
COVID-19 success business paradigms

What small businesses have experienced in this country in the last two years has not been experienced in more than a century. Yes, it is a fact that COVID-19 changed the rules of business success. One of the major causes of the success or failure of small businesses was their ability to change their business paradigms.

As author Joel Barker points out, “Paradigms are problem-solving systems.” With an outdated or ineffective paradigm, your business could be headed toward extinction. With the right kind of paradigm, your small business can thrive during the months ahead.

The way you see the world determines whether you respond or react to what you encounter. It is safe to say that many of today’s small-business owners have not experienced anything like what they have experienced in the pandemic-mode marketplace.

As the year 2020 and the COVID experience played out, there were some small businesses that were devastated by it, some that muddled through it and others flat-out thrived.

What was the difference? How did your business do? From my perspective, it was a matter of knowing what business you were really in.

The leaders of the railroad industry thought they were in the “railroad business.” When the transportation needs of individuals and companies changed, railroad companies were left at the station (pun implied). They didn’t realize that they were really in the business of transporting people and goods from place to place. They responded too slowly, and the airline and trucking industries took over most of their market share. Today they are a fraction of the size they were at the height of their success and now barely surviving.

On the other hand, what does a business look like that knows what business it is really in? Here are a few examples.

Apple is in the business that designs, manufactures and markets mobile communication and media devices, personal computers and portable digital music players.

Amazon is not in the retail business, but in the business of e-commerce, cloud computing, digital streaming and artificial intelligence.

Kroger is not just in the retail food and products business. This grocery store chain puts it this way, “At Kroger, our purpose is to feed the human spirit, which means we are driven to do more and help make the lives of those around us better.”

One way to learn more about which business you are really in is to ask your clients. These experts will tell you what you really do for them. Too often business owners only guess what their clients really need and want from them. As a result, they miss the mark of what they really should or could be providing. Once you truly understand what kind of business you are really in, you can go to work developing a strategy to accurately meet your clients’ needs and wants.

Remember what I said earlier in this article. Paradigms are problem-solving systems. With an outdated or ineffective paradigm, your green industry business could be headed toward extinction. With the right kind of paradigm, your business will thrive in today’s economy.

So how do we change our business paradigms? Paradigms are common. Every business owner or manager has a set of business paradigms that govern the way they think and act toward the situations they find themselves in. Paradigms are functional. They help us distinguish what is important and what is not.

Have you ever heard the saying, “I’ll see it when I believe it”? Well, this paradigm reverses the common-sense relationship between the saying “I’ll believe it when I see it.” In other words, our paradigms can cause us to “only believe what we see.” As a result, we are unable to clearly see a situation as it really is, but only as we perceive it to be. Here is a short exercise that illustrates my point.

Below is a row of numbers. Here is my question: What is the reason for the logical sequence of these numbers?

8 5 4 9 1 7 6 3 2 0

When I share this exercise with my clients in one-on-one coaching sessions or to participants in live workshops and webinars, they invariably come up with some type of mathematical reason that almost works. After a few minutes of scratching heads and half-complete answers, I reveal to them the very simple answer. This row of numbers is in alphabetical order.

The reason they struggle to find an answer is because they are using a mathematical problem-solving system or paradigm. It just doesn’t work.

We must remember that there are several different ways we can tackle a business problem. We must be careful not to let our paradigm become “the paradigm,” or the only way to do something. Paradigms too strongly held can lead to paradigm paralysis, a terminal disease of certainty. The companies that are doing the best during these changing times are the ones that developed a “paradigm pliancy.” In other words, they remained flexible.

How about you and your green industry business?

Have you been able to develop paradigm pliancy?

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best, how would you rate you and your team on paradigm pliancy in the following areas:

  • hiring practices and strategies
  • training new hires
  • marketing and selling strategy
  • continual use of an employee suggestion system
  • continual use of client and customer focus groups
  • ability to provide the kind of customized services your clients want
  • investing in quality equipment that can maximize your employees’ efforts
  • an effective guarantee to your clients and customers
  • bonus system for your leadership team
  • bonus system for your frontline personnel
  • using a leader and employee developmental success system
  • using outside resources to train you and your team on a regular basis
  • using up-to-date software systems to manage your business
  • using and maintaining an up-to-date website
  • continually using stay interviews
  • continually using exit interviews

The areas you didn’t score between an 8 and 10 could be the areas you need to develop your paradigm pliancy.

Email or call me to receive a free e-copy of my problem-solving worksheet which can help you begin to develop a paradigm pliancy mindset and profitably leverage the impact of changing times on your green industry business.

This column originally appeared in Irrigation & Green Industry magazine.
Tom Borg is a team performance and customer experience expert who works with green industry organizations and their leadership teams to help them connect, communicate and work together better without all the drama through his consulting, training, coaching, leadership instruments and job benchmarking tools. To ask him a question, please call 734.404.5909, email or visit his website at

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