A COVID-19 driven paradigm shift: ‘disrupting Porter’s Forces’

Through a COVID-19-context lens, it is possible to glimpse the formation of a new economic order. While for some COVID was a ‘known unknown’ and referred by some as a black elephant (Kemp, 2020), the pandemic has been the Neoliberal’s Black Swan (Taleb, 2008), an object lesson in complexity. A difficult situation has unfolded, and values are reconfiguring. Instability and uncertainty are clearly understood by all to be the new norm.

Societies have been shaken by their fragility, and have awoken to the realisation of their high degree of interdependence. It has proved to be frightening. Alongside the fear, we are witness to interesting phenomena. In unexpected places, collaborations are occurring with dialled up collectivism. There now beckons an improved cocktail of social, cultural, environmental and economic value creation. One where the values of the Arts and Humanities (A&H) community are more influential than ever before. Such a movement increases the enterprising potential of the A&H community, in which this paper urges further embrace.

The creativity & agile flex of A&H interventions

Just as the global lock-down created spaces to let nature back in, a heady mix of adversity and invention has invited new rules for economic activity and service delivery. Behind the drama and tragedy of a killer virus, a new portfolio of innovative and efficient A&H underpinned models previously the reserve of the business community, has emerged.

The A&H community has proudly taken its place at the front line, role-modelling an enthusiastic and meaningful address at the pandemic coalface. A&H students, graduates and professionals subsumed into all sectors are proving to make comfortable and dignified use of their media, communication and production skills to send powerful and healing messages:

· Art & Design students addressing PPE shortages and creating respiratory interventions

· Doctors embracing fast food like delivery of vaccinations for children

· Music videos being created from home with crowdsourced materials

· Health professionals reaching out to the community using video conferencing tech

The COVID-19 outbreak has and continues to be far-reaching, affecting nearly every aspect of peoples’ lives. But instead of theatre curtains falling, a new appetite to embrace digital versions of culture, education and entertainment has changed the audience in hitherto unimaginable ways. Who could have imagined that communities of ballet, dance, sports and fitness clubs are now attended virtually? With time aplenty the barrier to entry, that normal busyness affords, has been lowered – suddenly easy to achieve and allows the creative juices to flow.

Arts and crafts have been shared and rediscovered. The inner poets and home crafters across the globe are finding audiences for a newfound form of self-expression. As exhibitions and openings were culled, entrepreneurial A&H professionals forged potentially future-proofed channels to take their outputs and their careers online.

New turf for A&H enterprise

It is clear, not all will survive past COVID-19, the economic landscape and our expectations will change. What is of interest though, is the rapid demise of long-held market delineation as barriers to entry. Michael E. Porter, it seems was not quite right! On reflection, his famous ‘Five Forces model’ (1979, 2008) struggles to explain this outpouring of willing gifts, and the cooperative collaboration as a solution to the crisis rather than an intuitive selfish competitive model so long considered the engine of efficient production.

Here we present our Disrupted Porter’s Five Force Model through the experience of a COVID-19 lens.

Fig.1: The Disrupted Porter’s Five Force Model (Adapted from Porter’s Five Forces Model, 1979) (Ranson & Healey-Benson, 2020)

Of course, it will be interesting to see whether the turf is temporary and resettles, or causes post-crisis splinters.

Mirroring a time when women were expected to return dutifully to the homestead after WWII, dampening their awoken productive capacity outside of the home, similarly a seismic reshaping of the labour marketplace will again not be thwarted. It seems unlikely transferable skills as well as the illuminated and celebrated acts of agility and adaptability will be re-boxed and forgotten.

So many organisations have shifted seamlessly into new product or service offerings, pivoting, reorganising and reshaping. Many of these instances, embrace the ‘local’ or ‘artisan’. To our mind, this demonstrates a desire for higher service, flexibility, adaptability, community and heart, than the bargain led organizations espoused by Porter.

Now, we cannot ignore or massage over the very real plight of the artists and galleries. Income streams have been slashed and lost. But, possibly, we can be reassured by, and are actively encouraged that art and the human will find a way through, possibly emerging in more powerful ways than before.

The reset button has been pressed. It is clear people have sought art, meaning and comradery.

And it seems prudent that we now actively encourage the enterprising mindset and motivation of all our A&H community, to help shine a light on a less dystopian future.

Entrepreneurial Pathway

A&H ingenuity and agility has brought new ideas to the fore, pushed public debate forward, and helped shape a more collaborative world.

Identifying the sweet spot between money and meaning is going to be difficult. For many A&H graduates or professionals, the prospect of selling their soul for a pay-check tarnishes their interest in entrepreneurial actively. Capitalists have for too long, made direct use of, or offering angel-cloaked support to reward and reap from the crafters, creators and the human-centric.

If only, an enterprising mindset could be grasped more thirstily by the A&H, be nourished beyond the current crises.

We do not need to shut down our economies to embrace a new world, but we can encourage A&H to amplify their values and mean making principles to shape a new economic dawn.

COVID-19 has fast-tracked unprecedented collaboration between and outside of the A&H community. We hope that the A&H community reflect and take inspiration from their COVID-19 pioneers. That they can draw down from their COVID-context change agents who have role-modelled vision, values-based decision-making, agility and resilience, with the verve and ability to address the complicated and uncomfortable.

We would not have wished for a deathly virus as a trigger for change, but there is clearly a powerful opportunity to cement the positives achieved in our bleak hours and stir the A&H community to continue to help build the ‘dynamic, responsive force, in and around the systems that we have got that are letting us down, [at] the speed we need, to create the change that is required’ (Conniff, 2018).

An opening up for a new breed of enterprising activity with stronger values for creativity and agility has emerged. This A&H demonstration of confidence and enterprising nature needs to be channelled and encouraged. If there’s a time in our whole history when we need A&H to be brave, fight for their place in the economy, it is now. To engage, to promote trust, thinking, collaboration and understanding, and to help counteract the fake, the self-driven, the overt commerce-driven world we now inhabit.

We have seen in recent weeks a dubious track record of delivery of tracking apps and testing stations. A bypass of local social values-based entrepreneurism, in favour of the Porterseque industrial barriers to entry traditionally taught in business schools around the world. A battle is still to be had. But there is now, a very real opportunity for positive change, away from neo-liberal dominance, to a world with stronger social values, if A&H make full use of their entrepreneurial skills.

About the Authors

Thank you also to James Sinnott, Flâneur and Complexiteer, for his respected feedback!


Conniff Allende, S. (2018) ‘Be More Pirate: Or How to Take On the World and Win’, Penguin: UK.

Kemp, L. (2020) ‘Cambridge Risk Expert: Covid-19 Is A ‘Black Elephant’ [online]. Spear’s Magazine. Available at: https://www.spearswms.com/cambridge-risk-expert-covid-19-is-a-black-elephant/ [Accessed 1 July 2020].

Porter, M. E. (1979) ‘How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy’, Harvard Business Review, 57(2) (March–April 1979) pp.137–145.

Porter, M. E. (2008) ‘The Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy’, Harvard Business Review, suppl. Special HBS Centennial Issue; Boston, 86(1) (Jan 2008) pp. 78-93.

Taleb, N. (2008) ‘The Impact Of The Highly Improbable’, Penguin Books Ltd: London.

2 Replies to “A COVID-19 driven paradigm shift: ‘disrupting Porter’s Forces’”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: