The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time the world has experienced a health crisis, nor does it mark the first time the business industry has been affected by an epidemic. From the Spanish Flu to SARS, we have had to shift with changing times due to a health crisis, and have learned several business lessons that are still applicable today (and to the current pandemic.) Let’s take a look at previous epidemics, some business lessons learned, and pandemic inventions and startups that are still in business today.
The 1918 Spanish Flu
The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic devastated the world, infecting about 500 million people worldwide and claiming 50 million lives including 675,000 Americans. While there was mass suffrage, this pandemic offered entrepreneurs and businesses ways to create impact for their societies. The Spanish Flu shared a vital business lesson: provide solutions to the world’s current needs. During this time of distress, Walter and Lydia Deubener of New York City recognized a need for a durable way to carry groceries as the “cash and carry” method began to grow in grocery sales. In 1918, the grocery bag was invented.
SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, caused by one of seven COVID-19, spread to 26 countries and infected over 8,000 people worldwide between 2002 and 2003. Although short-lived, the SARS pandemic sent shock waves into businesses, disrupted the travel industry, work, and the economy. The 2003 SARS pandemic shared a sharp reminder and lesson for companies: ensure emergency preparedness. Proactive communication is a large part of emergency response, as well as internal communications.
2009 Swine Flu
In 2008, a new influenza emerged, infecting approximately 60.8 million people in the United States. Although the Swine Flu created a shock wave across the world, it came to us during the digital age and transformed the way we track and combat the Flu through the use of technology at our fingertips. The 2009 Swine Flu pandemic shared with us this great insight: think locally and act globally. Collaboration and information sharing not only served us well in combating the epidemic but also within business. Despite the economic recession, Uber, a ride-sharing company built on real-time collaboration and digital technology, was founded in 2009.
Business isn’t doomed during health crises, and not all pandemics lead to recessions. With critical learning from history, and the rapid advancement of technology, nimble startups and companies can navigate the current landscape to achieve success. Be sure to keep in mind now and for the future, “Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana