Resourcefulness, paired with agility and courage were keys to economic survival for Russians following the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
And while the economic, social and political circumstances differ today, many of the same traits that separated financial success and failure in the immediate post-Soviet economy, will apply to the post-pandemic economy.
Old guard Vs New entrepreneurs
As a young female living in Siberia I witnessed the Soviet era elite have generations of engendered wealth and status stripped away from them in a matter of months.
While conversely, others from more humble positions were able to capitalise on the inevitable opportunities large scale disruption causes, seizing on newly created markets through agility and resourcefulness.
No doubt there were those that took advantage of the crumbling system through dishonesty and corruption, but many Russians built their wealth through hard work and fast-learnt business acumen amid an unfamiliar new world of cut throat market capitalism.
While our post pandemic economy is daunting, it’s unlikely to be as traumatic as the conditions faced by Russians at the fall of the Soviet Union.
There were no government stimulus packages and everybody had to fend for themselves.
Many remained in shock for months and kept turning up to work, unpaid for jobs that no longer existed, because that’s all they knew.
Harvest from the confusion
But we can draw parallels now as we emerge from the immediate pandemic.
Many businesses are in a state of shock. There’s a real sense of confusion and many are unable to accept that their business life will never be the same.
And they have every right to be fearful, given the dire predictions about the survival rate of small to medium enterprises in the months ahead.
But when you step back and look at human nature on a historical macro level, there’s the opportunity for the resourceful, agile and courageous to harvest from this confusion.
Cash can breed complacency
Like in Russia, the winners won’t necessarily be the ones with the most accumulated wealth, but those that are most resourceful and adaptable.
Having cash reserves gives a sense of security, but can also lead to longer term complacency.
Conversely, people pushed to the extremes immediately, are forced to start thinking like survivors, accelerating learning speeds and resourcefulness.
Essentially an enforced business fitness bootcamp, while competitors sit back bingeing on Netflix and junk food.
Shed pride for grit
People must embrace and lean into the uncertainty and forgo pre-Covid business thinking.
It’s the first movers and those that create new revenue streams amid new markets that will set themselves up for long term success.
I will give you the story of an uber wealthy family I know in present day Russia, who lived in Siberia at the fall of the Soviet Union.
Like nearly everyone, they had nothing and needed initial capital – their difference was they were able to quickly study and respond to the changed market conditions.
They understood Russia’s deep long standing cultural emphasis on style and fashion, which remained dormant, but undiminished throughout Soviet era austerity.
Russians, especially young women, will quite willingly spend up to 80 percent of their income on classy fashion items to signal wealth and ensure their status in the community.
The husband and wife team matched this established trend with the new market conditions, such as international trade, open borders and the population’s eagerness to join consumer society.
They travelled to Turkey to buy clothes, bringing back small shipments to sell to Russian customers at their local market.
They had to leave their two kids behind and go abroad, sleeping at dodgy places while purchasing goods, then coming back to Siberia to wake up early in the minus 30 temperatures to set up their market stalls.
They quickly grew and were soon riding off the back of Russia’s booming consumer luxury retail market – but it all started after unglamourously scrapping away for their first store at a ramshackle flea market.
Quick thinking and resourcefulness were integral, but equally was their ability to rise above any unuseful and outdated feelings of pride.
They were then able to invest the capital into new business ventures, which made them incredibly wealthy.
A Resource VS Resourcefulness
In times of economic upheaval you must be prepared to do what it takes initially, to create a life of wealth and comfort in the long term.
While both are important assets, there’s a big difference between a resource and resourcefulness.
Having money in the bank or government food stamps is a resource.
While resourcefulness, through agility and courage, is the ability to convert prevailing economic trends into monetized services and products.
The latter proved far more advantageous in post-Soviet Russia and I suspect will be the same in the post-pandemic economy.
Nadia Hughes is a licensed Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who has worked with Australian businesses for almost two decades to optimise operations and profits. Before moving to Australia, Nadia worked as a journalist in Russia, where she studied linguistics and literature at OMSK State University.