A town has been devastated by a hurricane. Thousands are displaced and their needs are diverse by location. What is it that residents need first, and what is the best way to help? And how might our assumptions of what’s best for them get in the way?
Understanding how we can effectively respond to a crisis is among the many insights shared by Assistant Professor Trent Williams on the most recent episode of Creative Distillation, an entrepreneurship podcast co-hosted by Leeds professors Jeff York and Brad Werner. Williams is the co-author of the book Spontaneous Venturing and studies innovation and entrepreneurship that arises during times of crisis.
His book addresses the effectiveness of disaster responses through the localization of actions and engagement. This approach is in contrast to a “command-and-control” approach of many large organizations and offers insights for small businesses and job seekers.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of localization driving “spontaneous venturing,” Williams shared stories of Haitians’ disaster support after the devastating 2010 earthquake. The problem: no one engaged with the local Haitian communities to understand their individual situation and unique needs.
Instead, organizations would arrive with their own agenda and proceeded to create what they thought would benefit the local community. While their intentions were well meaning, grassroots efforts led by locals were having a greater, more positive impact on the lives of local residents.
Entrepreneurs can take away valuable lessons from these missteps in disaster relief efforts. For example, solving a clearly identifiable need is often one of the greatest challenges for any business or even a job seeker. Crisis situations often shine a bright light on gaps in goods or services needed by those impacted by the situation.
Williams discusses identifying these needs as opportunities and creating an action plan to address them, as well as how entrepreneurs and job seekers can benefit from applying a spontaneous venturer mindset to navigate the current, challenging economic landscape.