Life at “Ernie and Theo” had been unusually quiet since Boris locked down to defeat the virus.
Out on the streets, each day felt as eerily quiet as a New Year's morning. Many businesses had closed...suffering, and sometimes dying, to help save people facing the same fate.
Theo had checked the business plan. He reckoned they had enough cash to survive the year. But he thought they needed new revenue sources to cushion them from any more bad news.
He’d advertised some of "Ernie and Theo’s" products on the new “Makers’ Market” website and incresed the company’s social media presence.
As a result, sales had picked up a bit. But Theo knew they needed to do something else, something really novel and in tune with the times, to navigate through the enormous changes taking place.
He organised a zoom meeting with Ernie and the humans to discuss what to do.
“We need innovation,” he explained, “we can’t carry on as we are. We need new ideas for products or marketing strategies - or ideally both.”
Ernie had misunderstood Theo’s request for a zoom meeting and gone into his garden to practise his zoomies. So, he was a bit breathless and unfocused when he finally got to his lap top and joined the meeting.
“What’s innovation, Theo?” he asked.
“I explained that if you’d listened carefully to what I said, Ernie,” Theo replied impatiently, “it means coming up with new ideas for the business.”
“Oh right,” Ernie replied. “How do we do that?”
Theo didn’t have time for Ernie’s questions just now. But at least they showed his little friend was paying some attention to what he was saying.
“Well, you know, we need to re-imagine what ‘Ernie and Theo’ is for in the ‘new normal’,” he explained.
“And how do we do that Theo?” Ernie asked.
“I just said by coming up with ‘new ideas’ for these changed times, Ernie,” Theo replied, impatiently.
“Ah right,” Ernie said, “I understand.”
“Good,” Theo sighed, “I suggest we meet at the end of the week to share our new ideas. Is that okay with everyone?” he asked.
The humans and Ernie all nodded and went away to put their thinking caps on.
Ernie spent the following day trying to do what Theo had asked him to. He got himself a cup of tea and lay on his favourite bed to think:
However, hard as he thought, Ernie didn’t come up with anything new. In fact, he reckoned he dozed off for a while from thinking too much.
He FaceTimed Theo to say he wasn’t very good at this thinking up news ideas thing and asked what he should do.
Theo said he thought Ernie was probably doing the wrong type of thinking:
“You need to think in a very specific way,” Theo explained, “the experts have names for it. You need to do ‘blue skies thinking’ or ‘think outside the box’.”
Ernie wanted to ask Theo how to actually think in these special ways. But he knew his mate was very busy and decided to work out how to do it himself.
As good fortune would have it, the following morning Ernie was welcomed by a cloudless sky. So, he had a hearty breakfast, took a couple of things out into the garden and tried to do exactly what Theo had told him to:
Ernie had been sat next to his toybox looking at the clear blue sky for over an hour. He thought he’d been thinking much harder than he'd done the day before. But, still, he hadn’t had come up with one new idea for “Ernie and Theo”. Maybe it was because the sun kept getting in his eyes when he looked up. Or perhaps it was the sparrows breakfasting on the bird table that distracted him.
The bit of his brain that wasn’t trying to think up new ideas began to think that all Theo’s talk about “blue skies thinking” and ‘thinking outside the box” was…well…just talk!
Then something remarkable happened.
Ernie heard his human talking to their next-door neighbour about life under the lock down:
“I know, isn’t it awful?” their neighbour said to his human. “the experts are advising us to wear a mask or face covering when we are out and about. Well, they should go to the shops and try to find one. They are all sold out!”
“I know exactly what you mean, we need some new supplies and fast!!” his human replied.
Ernie didn’t know it, but he’d just had what humans called a “Eureka” moment.
His tail wagged. He looked up and whispered “thank you” to the sky. He gave his toy box a kiss and ran in for some well-earned lunch.
The next day, Ernie, Theo and the humans zoomed to share their new ideas.
“I’ll get started then,” Theo said. “Now we’ve added our drying robe and started to make coats, we’ve got a great range of products which people love. But we all know folk will have less to spend for the foreseeable future. So, I think we need to try to reduce our prices,” he explained.
“How are we going to do that?” asked one of the humans.
“Well, I have two well-proven ideas,” he replied, “we need to improve our supply chain and invest in technology.”
“What sort of technology?” the other human asked. Unusually, Ernie was very quiet. This was because he didn’t have a clue what Theo was talking about but was also impatiently waiting to explain his idea.
“Well, I was thinking about investing in robotics,” Theo said. “If we bought a robot, our labour costs in the factory would fall to almost zero,” he explained.
“But then our goods wouldn’t be hand-made,” one of the humans said, “that’s one of the things our customers like about what we do!”
“I’ve been looking at some dog robots that are already working in Singapore's parks,” Theo replied, “they have paws which they would use to make our products. So, strictly speaking, our goods would still be hand made.”
One of the humans asked Theo if he’d show them what the robots looked like. Theo held up a photograph of one for everyone to see.
Ernie didn’t like what he saw. It looked like the sort of dog Henry the Hoover would have. He already found Henry frightening enough without him rolling round the place with a dog like this.
“I’m sorry Theo,” he explained, “but I wouldn’t feel safe having a dog like him in the factory. He might bite me!”
Theo screamed inside but knew this wasn’t the time to argue. So, he bit his tongue (which wasn’t as bad as the robot biting it would have been).
“Okay,” he said. “We don’t have to decide one way or the other right now,” he went on. “We’ll do more research into product safety and so on. Have you any ideas Ernie?” he asked.
“I think we should go into the face mask-making business,” he said in a very proud voice.
“That is an interesting idea,” Theo said, “what is your case for doing that?”
“I’m not going on holiday Theo so I haven’t got a case,” Ernie replied. “But I heard my human saying ‘we need more masks to help fend off the virus’.”
“Yes, but it’s the humans need the masks not us,” Theo said, “we make pet accessories so I am afraid we can’t help.”
Ernie remembered how excited he’d been when he got his idea. He wasn’t going to give up now. He looked up at the sky and asked it for some more help.
“Theo, are we or are we not our humans’ best friends?” he asked.
“We all know dogs are man’s best friend Ernie!” Theo replied laughing.
“Well then,” Ernie said, “if we’re man’s best friends then he must be ours. Think of all the things our humans do for us. Right now, though, man needs all the help he can get from his friends to fight this virus!!"
“Hear, hear, well said Ernie,” the humans shouted in a chorus.
Theo scratched his chin. Maybe his little friend was onto something. Only that morning, he’d read in Boris’s plan to end the lock down that wearing face coverings could help reduce the virus from spreading in some circumstances.
He could see on his screen the rest of the team looking expectantly at him. ‘Moments like this mark out the great leaders from the ordinary ones,’ he thought to himself.
“I hear what you all sayt team, you may well be on to something there Ernie. Let’s go for it” he announced. The humans cheered and Ernie looked very pleased with himself.
“Time’s of the essence though folks,” Theo went on. “Many other companies will have the same idea. We need the humans to produce a design; I’ll check our supply chains can cope and Ernie can sort the marketing. We’ll go into production in 48 hours. We’ll zoom this time tomorrow to check progress.”
“Yeo Theo,” Ernie shouted and, jumping of his chair, started doing zoomies round his living room. He ran off to his office to get working. But on his way stopped to look out of the window and said a big ‘thank you’ to his new friend...the sky.