Enno Däneke

After my colleague Dr. Pero Mićić shared the Corona Scenarios, leaders from all industries asked us how to use them for their own strategic thinking. Some typical questions are:

  • How do I apply scenarios on the corona crisis to my market?
  • How do different scenarios impact our business? How should we react?
  • How will customer behavior change during the crisis? What will the lasting impacts be?
  • Should I prepare for all scenarios? How can that work with limited resources and cash flow constraints?
  • How can we identify opportunities to gain strength from the crisis?
  • How do we need to adapt our business model beyond short term crisis control?
  • How can we become more resilient and robust against surprising events?


Today, I would like to dive into this a little more.

Besides some general observations like accelerated digitalization, impacts and opportunities are very different for each market. Nevertheless, there is a set of steps leaders should follow to navigate through the crisis and beyond.

As soon as health and safety of employees is secured, liquidity is secured and a sufficient level of operability is achieved, looking ahead and deciding on the way forward is the prime duty of every leader.

Looking ahead and deciding on the way forward is the prime duty of every leader.


One remark upfront: Even though I present these steps as a linear process, they are in fact interlinked and need to be partially addressed in parallel and revisited in an iterative manner. The situation is still extremely dynamic and requires high flexibility. Speed is of essence and decisions need to be taken under uncertainty!

This is a long article, so these are the ten steps to navigate through the crisis based on our scenarios (or any other scenarios for that matter):

  1. Develop your own assumptions on intensity, length and consequences of the crisis
  2. Check how your existing future assumptions are affected
  3. Understand the impact of the crisis on market players and market dynamics
  4. Derive assumptions on how the crisis will change your market
  5. Check the viability of your mission and vision and adapt if needed
  6. Identify opportunities during the crisis
  7. Identify opportunities to gain competitiveness from the crisis
  8. Develop contingency strategies for surprising developments
  9. Write an action plan
  10. Monitor your assumption and your results

1. Develop your own assumptions on intensity, length and consequences of the crisis

The four scenarios we presented (and all the others out there) are just building blocks for your own thinking. First, develop your own personal assumptions on the two most important questions: How bad will it get? and How long will it take? Nobody can give you a definitive answer. However, you need to make tough decisions now. How strong should you reduce capacity? Do you continue to invest in new products or businesses? Which initiatives have priority?

To answer these questions, you must be clear about what you expect. In the end, all these decisions are based on your assumptions.

Thus: Be clear and transparent to yourself about what your expectation is: Will we start going back to normal in May, June, August or later? How long will the recovery take? And how bad will the economy be hit? Will spending and investments quickly rise to pre-crisis levels or do you expect a long valley of tears with very cautious investment and little consumer spending? Do you expect a fiscal and financial crisis in the wake of the pandemic or are you confident that the public rescue nets are sufficient, and states remain solvent?

Be clear and transparent to yourself about what your expectation is.

Discuss your assumptions with your management team and peers from your network to make them more solid. Try to achieve a consensus in your team to have a common basis on which you take decisions.

And one very practical advice: Write your assumptions down! Thinking in writing is a very powerful tool to avoid psychological bias. It also helps to react quicker as you will realize more easily if you were wrong.

2. Check how your existing future assumptions are affected

Your current strategy (i.e. your pre-crisis strategy) is also based on assumptions. These need to be checked. Will technological advances continue at the same speed after the crisis? Will trends in consumer behavior continue or change? Will new regulations be implemented?

If you did a good job in the past, you have a list of the assumptions underlying your strategy. You can now use the results of step one and systematically go through each of them and ask yourself and the experts in your team:

  • Will this trend continue?
  • Will it accelerate?
  • Will it slow down or even stop?

If you do not have this transparency on the foundation of your strategy, you first need to uncover the assumptions that were implicitly taken for granted when strategic decisions were made in the past.

3. Understand the impact of the crisis on market players and market dynamics

Take the results of step one and two to have a close look at the market system. How well are different market players equipped to deal with the new situation? Which suppliers, customers or competitors will falter? How will market dynamics change? Will new dependencies develop or will the power hierarchy among players change?

4. Derive assumptions on how the crisis will change your market

Now, it is time to develop a clear picture of your market after the crisis. This is again about the assumptions of you and your management team. Nobody can predict the exact outcomes.

Your assumptions are always based on your world view, experiences, preferences and aversions. The ultimate reasons behind future assumptions are unconscious, highly emotional and psychological. It is therefore important to make one’s own assumptions transparent. What are your most important expectations in these fields:

  • Customers
  • Solutions
  • Partners
  • Competitors
  • Rules

What will come? What will stay? What will go?

The current situation poses some additional challenges to forming your assumptions. Nobody has ever experienced a situation like this in their lifetime. Without experience in a domain it is very difficult to come to a rational conclusion. In addition, phenomenons like negativity bias, hyperbolic discounting, hindsight bias, illusion of control or the sunk-cost-fallacy can heavily influence your judgment. These and other psychological biases are probably much stronger now than in normal times. (I might investigate this in another post so any input on this is very welcome, just message me or comment)

Psychological biases are probably much stronger now than in normal times.

Thus, you must question your assumptions systematically by “bombarding” them with arguments and thinking models and foresight techniques. This way, the assumptions as well as the decisions and strategies based on them become more future-robust. It’s not about being right in the end, but about making better, faster, and more decisive decisions today – and to recognize earlier if you’re wrong and need to adjust your strategy.

5. Check the viability of your mission and vision and adapt if needed

Based on the results from all previous steps you now verify whether your mission and vision are still robust for the post corona world. Will the effects you promise still be needed in the future? Do the problems you solve still exist after the crises? Will there still or again be customers demanding your solutions? If you can rightfully answer these questions with ‘yes’, you can probably keep your mission and your strategic direction largely as it is and “only” need to check for adaptions to your business model and the level of ambition expressed in your vision.

6. Identify opportunities during the crisis

“Every crisis is an opportunity.” This is not just a naïve motivational statement. From an entrepreneurial point of view, opportunities will arise right now that were unthinkable just a short time ago. Many of those will be gone in just a few months. Most obvious, we already see an acceleration of digitalization in many organizations that was previously unthinkable. Below the surface many possibilities lie hidden to be discovered by those who dare to search.

From an entrepreneurial point of view, opportunities will arise right now that were unthinkable just a short time ago.

For example, if you revisit your results from step three, you can now identify opportunities for cooperation and acquisition. As financial market valuations plummet, M&A activities might become attractive for those who have the means to act. Ask questions like:

  • Which start-ups are developing beneficial solutions for our customers and need support now to survive in the short term?
  • Which companies want to increase their liquidity now by divesting from peripheral activities that would be strategically interesting to us?

You can also systematically analyze how you can support your customers through all phases of the customer lifecycle.

Finally, Many principles of business model innovation and disruptive strategies are especially well addressable during the crisis. Coopetition, marketing customer access, competition on speed, situation-based solutions, virtualization, self organization, nudging or becoming a navigator are only some selected examples to think about.

7. Identify opportunities to gain competitiveness from the crisis

If you manage to look beyond the current turmoil, you will also perceive opportunities to strengthen your company during the crisis for the time beyond.

Now is the time to support your customers and suppliers and to build unique relationships. Being open, honest and transparent internally, can do wonders to team spirit and energy. When others divest from innovative technologies, you can leap ahead. If you need to cut costs, better get rid old customs and deliberately streamline processes instead of axing jobs across the board.

Here are some thinking questions to get you going:

  • In which areas could we start to cooperate with competitors today in which it would be unthinkable in normal times?
  • Where can we help our customers out of the crisis now and at the same time make ourselves indispensable for the time afterwards?
  • Where is the attention of our customers now and how can we serve them?
  • What is particularly valuable for our customers right now?
  • Which internal changes are more accepted now than in quiet times?
  • How can we virtualize sales and operations?
  • Where are potential customers currently not being adequately served by their suppliers? How can we step in?
  • What deferred improvements could we tackle now instead of sending employees on short-time work?
  • Where can we now secure long-term access to raw materials, technologies and competencies that are hardly available in normal times?
  • And finally: How can we help to overcome the crisis?

8. Develop contingency strategies for surprising developments

You cannot prepare for all conceivable scenarios on how the pandemic will evolve and what effects it has. Nevertheless, you should think through some contingency strategies on how you will react if your assumptions turn out to be wrong.

For example: If you expect a quick recovery, you should nevertheless know where you can scale down if the signs for a long crisis intensify. On the other hand, you will probably lose market share if you prepare for a long crisis with little demand and are unable to ramp up your production when the economy reboots earlier than expected.

A general principle in times of uncertainty: Flexibility can be a substitute for foresight.

9. Write an action plan

Whatever you decide: Make sure to define clear short-term actions, goals and responsibilities. The value of all analysis and futures thinking is dependent on successful implementation today.

10. Monitor your assumption and your results

As the crisis progresses, new information can be gathered, and the picture of future developments becomes clearer. Make use of this and adjust your assumptions accordingly. Also, reassess your decisions if you need to change your assumption. Monitoring the success of the measures introduced should be a matter of course but shall not remain unmentioned.