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Research Highlights: Locked down but still fighting

(posted on behalf of @Aviel Cogan and @Tobias Pret, Research Committee) 

Locked down but still fighting
By Aviel Cogan and Tobias Pret
The ongoing pandemic has permanently transformed the world and forced entrepreneurs to radically adapt to their altered environments. Naturally, scholars have been eager to explore the effects of government mandated lockdowns and changes in customer needs on entrepreneurs. Indeed, in the same way that most businesses and universities have been forced to embrace new communication technologies at breakneck speeds, so too has research into crisis management by entrepreneurs been catapulted forward during the past 12 months. While COVID-19 has had devastating impacts on our society, it has, incidentally, provided us with a rare opportunity to study a crisis as it unfolds. Rachel Doern pursues this opportunity and develops a range of interesting new insights into the subject in her recent Journal of Business Venturing Insights study, titled “Knocked down but not out and fighting to go the distance: Small business responses to an unfolding crisis in the initial impact period.”
Using qualitative diary study methods, Doern had “the opportunity to capture the thoughts and the feelings and behaviors of entrepreneurs, as they unfold.” As she points out, “retrospective research doesn't really provide the immediacy … or the insights into the world of the entrepreneur, … especially during times of crisis, that an intensive longitudinal method, like a diary study, can achieve.” Since most previous studies were limited to exploring the pre- and post-crisis periods, the emphasis in research until now has been on identifying the proactive and reactive behaviors of entrepreneurs respectively, the latter of which are often focused on bringing the business back to normal. The current situation enabled Doern “to see how entrepreneurs are being both proactive and reactive at the same time and how they’re oscillating back and forth between the two, and that it’s not a matter of how to get back to normal, because we don't yet know what normal is … Really businesses are very focused on what they can do to achieve relative stability, meaning relative to the environment around them.” She found “that these strategies in the short term are not necessarily those that are optimal or ideal in any way. But they may be good enough for now”. Accordingly, in her article, she tried to “bring to life that … small businesses are really engaged in a kind of fight and the intensity of that fight … and the moves that are required by small businesses at this time.”
When searching for participants, Doern found that “A number of people were keen to begin with, but then, when it came down to making a commitment, because of their personal or professional difficulties were unable to.” She highlighted that “I always feel privileged when people are sharing their stories with me when they take the time to do so, but I think, over the crisis, this became more apparent than ever before … I was very appreciative that not only were they passing on their accounts of what they were doing and how they were feeling … but also sharing with me, sometimes PowerPoints, … memos or press clippings … just trying to bring me into their world.” Interestingly, she explained that “at the same time, we [the entrepreneurs and I] were collectively trying to establish a mutual understanding of the crisis … trying to make sense of what was happening, so I think that was comforting but also there was this real mutual sense of concern … I mean, it sounds a bit corny, but you sort of feel like, over this time you've made friends, you know, because you've gone through this crisis [together] and, of course, it's affecting people differently … but we are having this collective experience and we do have a shared sense of experience in some aspects.”
As many of us have probably experienced, Doern found that “just finding the time to reflect on the data and to write up the paper was incredibly difficult because during the early few months of the crisis, everything had changed for me, as well, so the university was shifting to online teaching, all the assessments over the exam period had to change … the students were anxious and I have a lot of pastoral responsibilities in my role, and so my workload doubled, but at the same time, my time to work was diminished because I was homeschooling for the first time, like so many other people, so that was a challenge in and of itself. So just finding the time to do it … [was] the biggest challenge for me.”