business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Given that there are so many reasons to be depressed about life these days, it seems only fair to remind everyone to fear not: it can get worse.

I was inspired to offer that sunny outlook from watching John Oliver’s most recent episode of Last Week Tonight, which focused on the incredible likelihood that the entire covid-19 crisis is only a precursor to worse things. As Oliver, who manages to combine sarcasm, information, profanity and humor in a unique way, explained, all the factors that likely created covid are both at play and, in many ways, are growing more significant.

Rather than delve into his examination of the virus, let’s consider the parallels his arguments offer for business, two of which are very significant and fairly obvious.

The first is that something new and challenging is always just beyond the horizon. Viruses are always mutating to find new paths to survival and, in the process, cause human misery. We’re already seeing that with Covid-19. 

Similarly, competition in business is always evolving to create higher levels of consumer expectations and greater challenges to survival. That’s why even the most modest modern supermarket is in countless ways (services, technology or supply chain) far more formidable than anything that existed a generation ago. Competition simply would not allow anything less than that to survive.

And with that in mind, we need remember that like viruses, competition will always somehow get stronger and more challenging. Amazon may be an enormous threat today, but no doubt there will be something even more innovative coming along in the near future. There’s no way of knowing what it is, but that thought needs to drive all of us to constantly search for ways to constantly improve.

The second point Oliver made, that in many ways was his most important, also easily translates to business. Oliver argued that as covid is controlled no one should too quickly move to put this entire unhappy period in the past. Rather, he urged his viewers to use this painful moment as fuel to heighten our awareness of what has happened and to work tirelessly to never let it happen again.

I would argue that businesses need to heed that same advice. The pandemic has created a wide range of challenges and vastly accelerated changes in business operation and rather than rush back to the way things were, we need consider the lessons of this period.

As I have written before, I believe we will see substantial discussion about sku rationalization following the supply chain challenges created by covid. Once shopping returns to normal patterns, there’s no reason to ignore the terrible lessons of just 11 months ago.

Likewise, there are lessons to glean from how staffers performed in this crisis to learn how we can build on what was done so valiantly. And we certainly should learn from how shoppers reacted to all of this to determine what changes could lead to permanent improvements.

None of these ideas may be cheap or painless, but that again goes to one of Oliver’s points. As he said, the cost of pre-emption might be significant, but they pale next to the economic casualties of the covid shutdowns. An ounce of prevention, the old adage reminds us, is worth a pound of cure and in that light, the pain of the past year might help lead to some interesting long-term decision making.

Of course, none of this is will be fast, easy or cheap, but that makes none of it less important. In fact, it could be positioned as the best possible way to lesson pain—economic or health-wise—for the future.

After all, something new is always coming.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.