What the doctor said

5 years ago, I got run down by a taxi in a pedestrian crossing. I am tall, so the car hit my legs right beneath the knees, which sent me flying over the bonnet into the windshield and back down on the road. In shock, still with my phone in my hand, I was taken to the hospital, where the staff after careful examination gave me 3 pieces of paper, which in short said:

· You may have a concussion (so don’t read anything)

· You may have a broken nose (see a specialist)

· Your ribs may be bent (nothing to do)

With that information in hand, I was discharged from the hospital, but just before I staggered home on my hurting legs (I was not in the mood for a taxi), the doctor said:

“One more thing! Your body has taken such a beating, that the brain cannot process the pain. It is likely that you will feel pain in other places later.”

As it turned out, the last information was the most important. After some days I realized my left shoulder was turning blue/black from bruising, although I felt nothing. Clearly my shoulder had taken the full impact from the windshield, sparing my head from that ordeal and explaining my overall lucky escape from much worse fates. Some time later, my brain stopped its pre-occupation with my legs and reminded me, that “actually your shoulder hurts. A lot”.

This kind of experience gives life some perspective. In the middle of the pain, I realized how only margins had played out in my favour. This could have been game over for me. Fortunately, it wasn’t but it could easily have been the end for my startup venture, which I had only just started. I recovered and went back to work on the startup with new energy, purpose and focus, but I realized just how fragile a startup really is.

Now, why am I telling you this?

The world has just been run down by Covid-19. We are in a lot of pain and in the hands of an exhausted healthcare system (I dare say, this is the case everywhere). Startups and corporates alike are displaying a lot of creativity and flexibility in finding solutions to produce much needed medical supplies and protective equipment. The challenge Is huge and governments are creating different kinds of support to protect people and businesses. Nonetheless, fragile startups will suffer and sadly many will perish.

In the process of recovery, we have had to implement a number of new routines at break-neck speed. Working from home, online presence, digital infrastructure have all become vital in the way we stay safe, remain connected with each other and continue at some level to do business. It is often said, that change is hard. The technologies so much needed now have all been around for a long time, but nothing drives change and implementation as an urgent need.

We are learning new skills and new ways of working. We have discovered that our global, super-efficient supply chains are marvelous constructions. Until they aren’t. Our systems are not as robust as we thought. We have discovered that when people, companies and countries get scared it is tempting to go solo and try to save yourself. And yet, we also see that it is through collaboration between countries, between corporates and startups and between people that we save each other and use our creativity to get through difficult times.

All this makes me happy, that the infant startup Acumex wasn’t a collateral victim of my taxi-incident 5 years ago. We continued to build the company on a vision that collaboration and trust are the way forward for value creation between companies and that decentralized infrastructure makes us able to collaborate and work from anywhere. Even from home.

At the same time, I am concerned that many startups with great visions and ideas will become collateral victims of the Covid-19 crisis. Ideas that we could benefit from now, in one year’s time or maybe in 5. If we see the whole ecosystem of individuals, startups, scaleups, corporates and governments across borders, then we can achieve amazing things through collaboration, which will not only make us survive, but thrive in the time after Covid-19. Supporting only parts of the system will weaken the ecosystem for the future.

We are learning a lot through this painful experience. It should not go to waste. New ways of collaboration and solving problems are required. Heeding the words of the doctor:

“You have taken such a beating from Covid-19, that you no longer feel your other pains. As you gradually recover, you will discover that you are hurting in many other places. You still have a climate crisis. You still have poverty. You still have gender gaps and diversity issues. You still have pollution and stressful workplaces.”

Let’s use what we learn now to work together on solutions for the other pains instead of regressing to business as usual after the current crisis.

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Niklas Hall

Niklas Hall

Passionate about entrepreneurship, diversity, lifelong learning and experimenting. And books.