CANTERING A PIROUETTE: How technology can help in a crisis

Published on 02 April 2020

QLD's Chief Entrepreneur Leanne Kemp and Elize Hattin sitting on a couch in front of SmartHub banner

Leanne Kemp first realised the Coronavirus would likely become a global crisis in January, at a meeting in Switzerland attended by Chinese officials and the World Health Organisation.

Pre-empting something unnerving was imminent, Leanne pulled her global team out of China that month and set about reorganising their international operations.

With more than 100 Everledger personnel, Leanne implemented a lot of changes to the business, in what she calls cantering a pirouette; a topic she discussed in a recent keynote speech.

"I was talking about do you persevere, or pivot. I think we can canter a pirouette, which is an equestrian move…like a two-horse movement with the front feet running in some circles and the back feet moving in another direction to allow us to manoeuvre.

"We have an innovation army really coming to the forefront…not only getting on with business, ensuring the duty of care with their own staff and employees and ensuring that they're fanatical about their customers and building amazing products," Leanne explains. 

Leanne is quick to point out not everyone should be immediately pivoting as a solution to COVID.

"We're seeing big take up by our MedTech companies, telemedicine, mental health service providers.

"Then we see other companies and other start-ups using this time to further up their internal skill sets and to also build far better products while they've got this operational hibernation time. Many people are treating it in many different ways," she reflects.


Leanne says pivoting does not necessarily mean learning a new skill set or completely changing a business itself. Rather, pivoting can mean taking the very best of what you have and finding an alternative industry to apply it to.

She gives the example of Everledger, which uses technology to create a secure and permanent digital record of an asset's origin, characteristics and ownership. While the company operates in the diamond space, Leanne says it could easily pivot its platform to qualify authenticity, certification and provenance for other products such as medical equipment, PPE, disposable gloves and masks.

"This would be a pivot because it's the same platform, the same team, the same people solving for effectively the same problem, but in a different industry.

"You might have an incredible data science team with artificial intelligence and you might use that same skill set to build algorithms for COVID, for social distancing," she proposes.


Having weathered the dot com bubble and bust, the global financial crisis and 9/11, Leanne says the current crisis is quite different, because it's a double collision of a health pandemic as well as an economic downturn on a global scale.

"We can look back into history to understand how to pivot, turn, pirouette, persevere through these and those learnt lessons. We have a number of seasoned people who know how to manoeuvre through an economic downturn," Leanne reassures.

She maintains we can look back to the science and the medicine around the Spanish Flu and Smallpox; anticipating a second wave of Coronavirus is yet to follow.

"This is only the first of a second wave that will come.  This means whatever companies are doing and thinking about pivoting immediately too, they need to be really sensible in understanding that while they may be addressing a heightened crisis now, will there still be a place in the world when go back to normality?" Leanne questions.

Leanne says businesses need to ask themselves whether the most critical problem of the day and the solution they are building now to address it, will remain a problem in 12 months' time? She advises businesses to be very pragmatic about what they are committing themselves to.

"Unlike the other economic crises that were contained in one location or one sector, this is something the entire globe is going through. Rather than one segment being crucified, the world's pace is going to metronome into a different way.

"Listen to the trade winds of change that are upon us. There will be a new settling of momentum in the global markets. Before this happens, there'll be a two-speed change… China is already starting to trade, but it's not yet had its second wave.

"I would say we must think in many horizons and think as long term as 12 to 18 months until we find a vaccine, not that we will be in lockdown for that long" Leanne anticipates. 

Leanne expects April will be a critical month for many countries around the world.

"We're seeing heightened disturbing numbers coming out of the US. That market is going to have a long-term weighted strategy economically. Anyone thinking of raising capital out of the US, is going to have a difficult run if you are not already supported in a portfolio of venture capital there.

"I would say Australia's relationships with China remains and still will remain strong. If there is an opportunity to further up your existing relationships in China do that quickly," she says.  


According to Leanne, the best technology and tooling is that which enables businesses to be agile in their approach, make fast critical pathway decisions and ensures a connectedness with your people, stakeholders and customers.

She maintains ensuring there is a codesign element with key customers will be critical for businesses moving forward.

This is something Leanne says Everledger has been done deliberately and deeply in the 'opaque' diamond industry, to better establish trust.

"We know technology very well but the customer knows their business better than anyone else.

"It's our job to use the dimensions of our senses with two ears, one mouth, two eyes and use them in that ratio. it's our job to listen, it's our job to see and convert that into a platform," Leanne says.   

Connected across 14 different countries with their customer base, Leanne says Everledger has devised well established personas to better know the customer and know the market.

She explains having a Customer Product Fit is different to a Product Market Fit; one not necessarily ensuring the other.

"When I talk about Customer Product Fit being different to Product Market Fit, you need to be able to understand, particularly in global markets, that what would be fit for the diamond industry in Australia is very different to what would be fit for the diamond industry in China."

"It's more about the geographical placement as well as the cultural wordings within your product that you must have very sensitive understandings about as well," Leanne clarifies.


With the endless array of 3D printers, robotics and drones to solve all the big challenges of the day, Leanne says this is a time to be mindful and responsible when adopting technology.

"Is it really the right time to spin up 3D printers and start printing face mask and gloves and aprons?

"Businesses using innovation in this way need to be careful to certify and ensure compliance with regulatory standards because people's lives are at risk now.

"We need a consciousness around our responsible innovation," she advocates.


Leanne expects online purchasing will leap over the next six months and presents an opportunity for Australia to catch up with the rest of the world.

As a self-confessed 'two-click' lifestyle entrepreneur spending much time in New York, Paris and London where she can click and collect in a moment of time, Leanne says Australia is only now beginning to build better digital infrastructure to allow this. 

While Leanne expects e-commerce will be a big boom, more importantly, she believes re-commerce will be even more significant emerging trend.

"Re-commerce is the ability to think about everything that's in your home. There'll be a time where we'll look around and think, "Do I need three TVs? I probably don't…" and we will likely re-commerce that material back out.

"I think there's really interesting models yet to emerge and when they do, they will stay," Leanne foresees.


While Leanne believes most businesses will 'keep ticking on as usual' to some degree, she maintains there is a new 'usual' being created right now.

"It’s the new normal to be fanatical about your customer, building your product and finding those customers that treat you as an essential service," she says. 

Leanne advises if businesses can work out how their technology solution/service/product can be an essential service for customers, they will endure throughout this crisis.

"While some companies might think that what they're doing is critical, the reality is it might not be. If it's a discretionary service that's a nice to have, not a must have, you are probably going to find this out over time," she cautions. 

Leanne welcomes the opportunity this Coronavirus crisis has presented, in giving us all the opportunity to change. 

"I'm seeing incredible reformation of relationships and reformation of communication channels. It's fantastic to be able to have so much connectivity.

"People are wanting to unlearn to relearn. I want to use this time to be able to think about what are the new skills that I want to learn, what is the shared knowledge that I want to bring to the forefront? How can I reconnect with people that I haven't necessarily been able to connect with easily?" Leanne questions. 

Forced 'downtime' means busy executives who would never have had the time otherwise, are putting their forward planning into 2021, according to Leanne.

"Under robust planning models, they are now contemplating how they can bring their innovation to the forefront because it's not just about entrepreneurs, it's also about intrapreneurs.

"We have a race car company in Queensland that's pivoted and are now making ventilators for hospitals. Bundaberg Rum and alcohol distilleries are making hand sanitizers… intrapreneurs and innovation are showing up in so many different ways," she observes. 


For anyone feeling overwhelmed, stressed or isolated to the point they cannot visualise the way forward or what to do next, Leanne offers the following words of reassurance and advice to help navigate the changes happening right now.

  1. This is the year for change and the decade for action – there is no greater time for change because we have had to do what we're doing right now.
  2. Reconnect with yourself - be deliberate in that connection.
  3. Unlearn to relearn - be it health habits or new and informed pathways so you know what's truth and what's misinformation.
  4. Build resiliency and anti-fragility – rethink the last 10 years of what you've done and how are you going to spend the next 10 years? This is likely to be the first of more crises that will come to our forefront. We need to build resiliency and anti-fragility to get through it. That muscle strength and braveness must come within us as individuals, as families as communities and as leaders.
  5. Take this time to be brave enough to know yourself – this can be confronting, especially at this uncertain time, but ultimately worthwhile.
  6. Having a willingness to connect in with people – especially those you might not necessarily think you could connect with before today. Be brave...say well, I'd like to have a virtual coffee with the Chief Entrepreneur, see where that gets you.
  7. Align to finding your tribe where value and values align - everyone is watching Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn messages, email boxes…and competition is certainly increasing as well.

To effectively capture the attention of our customers, members and/or audiences amongst this heightened online competition, Leanne suggests finding where your values align in topical conversations important to you.  Find a deep interest to you, find curiosity, find creativity and you'll be amazed what the universe provides for when you anchor into those points.

Leanne Kemp is Founder and CEO of Everledger and Queensland Chief Entrepreneur. Her company Everledger uses Blockchain technology to track high-value assets such as diamonds, art and wine with the aim of increasing transparency and trust with technology.

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