Be creative in a crisis

By Younas Chaudhary

How can you be creative in a major crisis? In my life, my most creative moments occurred when my back was against the wall and I had no choice but to find a solution through a crisis. Today, we find ourselves in the Coronavirus crisis, but one silver lining is that with most of us working from home, we have an unusual amount of unstructured time that we can use to innovatively improve our lives.

In this blog, I will share how I have used creativity during hard times and will offer a few tips for using creativity during your own crises.

During the seventies, I was a salesman selling pots and pans in Edmonton, Canada for Worldwide Distributors, a company led by marketing guru Bernie Lofchick. I sold expensive housewares to a customer base consisting mostly of young couples with disposable income who lived in urban areas in around Edmonton.

However, a few months into the business, sales flattened, and I was forced to find creative ways to increase sales and my commissions. I noticed that small towns outside Edmonton were growing, and were being populated by prosperous people, because of economic growth in the energy industry.

So, I traveled to a small town called Slave Lake, located around 120 miles northwest of Edmonton, and found a population receptive to my knocks on their doors. Soon I took another salesman with me, and we routinely visited and sold pots and pans there. This “out of the box” thinking proved so successful that my employer started asking other representatives to explore new rural regions rather than staying within their own urban enclaves.

Why did I seek out and then pursue new opportunities like Slave Lake? I could have stayed in my lane in Edmonton and made average sales and commissions, like most of my colleagues. I did so because by using such creativity and taking the extra effort and risk to explore unknown areas, I knew I could expand my customer base, earn greater income, and increase my independence.

During this current pandemic, I encourage you to creatively consider what lies at the fringes of supply and demand. Is there a need you can easily and immediately fill in to increase your income with a low-cost and high-margin initiative?

Every day I hear restaurateurs  lament that they cannot survive. Many restaurants are closing, and some predict that  40% of them will close permanently.

I would encourage people in such situations to pivot fast and look at creative business models like food truck concepts and mobile food delivery services that serve tasty, home-cooked food with contactless delivery. If you have the skill and passion to cook as a chef, get started with a new idea that requires minimal upfront investment other than your own time, effort, and consistency. Trust me, you will succeed.

During hard times, you have to be willing to think creatively and hustle. As a young immigrant in the seventies, I had four jobs at one time – cab driver, pots and pans salesman, security guard, and used car salesman. It was extremely difficult, but the result was worth it: Just two years after arriving in Canada from a remote village in Pakistan without streetlights or proper roads, I purchased a new condominium. And two years later, I sold that condominium, made a good profit, and used that money to help my family back home.

All of us have creative minds and we have 24 hours each day. If we can use our God-given talents for at least 8 to 12 hours a day, we can escape from poverty and achieve financial independence.

But if we choose instead to sit on a couch or look at a computer screen all day long, hoping that someone else or the government will save us, we will never make the kind of financial progress that we desire.

No government is going to save us. Instead, we can only save ourselves through hard work, using our mind and employing consistency and perseverance.

This approach has served me well during scary moments in my own business life. I recall when the oil price crashed in 1985 to $8 a barrel. I was managing oil production owned by a group of investors, and the crash pushed me against a wall. No one had expected such a dramatic drop in oil prices, and the investors, blaming me for their losses, wanted to take me to court. Using creativity, I solved that problem by buying them out through their lender. And in a short time, when oil prices recovered, that buyout turned out to be a very profitable investment.

More recently, in March 2020 the value of oil went to $0 and then even went negative, to -$34! That was one of the worst days of my life. I had built my entire career in the energy industry, and it was unimaginable that the product we were pulling from the ground and producing with so much effort was literally worthless in the open market. But I did not lose sleep over it. Instead, I got with my team and immediately started pursuing creative solutions to stop the bleed. We quickly positioned ourselves to cut costs and steer the ship to stable waters.  And luckily, oil prices came back the next day!

Here are a few tips to practice creativity:

. Always use your creativity to focus on solutions, not problems. Be positive in your attitude. The vacuum cleaning company Dyson famously designed a ventilator within 10 days of the recent pandemic. How? By using their creative powers to find a solution to a huge problem.

. Use your creativity to hustle by exploring different fields. Do not get stuck in one field. If you are a specialist in only one specific industry, a lot of your skills are likely being automated or eliminated. So, find multiple areas where you can use and sell your skills.

. Be a lifelong learner, learn new skills, and take the time to understand new concepts and fields.

. Use your financial acumen and creativity to cut unnecessary costs in your own personal and business lives.

. Use creativity in negotiations with vendors and suppliers as well as job hunters.

. Creativity can be a positive force when you are against the wall and can help you to be more positive, aggressive, and productive in a crisis.

. Always live within your own means, because you never know when the next pandemic will come!

You can read more by purchasing my best-selling memoir “From Dirt Roads to Black Gold.” Note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of this book will help people in need through my foundation, the YBC Foundation.


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.  Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making business decisions.