A lone voice in an empty cathedral on an Easter Sunday—nothing about this scene indicates something extraordinary. Yet, when the famed Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli live-streamed his Music for Hope concert from Milan’s 400-year-old Duomo last April, it topped the charts as the most recorded classical music concert on YouTube, reaching 2.8 million concurrent viewers from across the world.

Bocelli’s use of advanced technology to live-host one of the world’s oldest musical traditions provides an important lesson. Businesses must learn to think outside the box—and sometimes, like Bocelli, wildly outside—and design for both agility and adjacencies.

In today’s marketplace, the urgency to pivot to radically new ways of doing business in the light of the pandemic becomes paramount. Companies must operate like startups—with an ability to shed old skin quickly and adapt to innovative ways of adding value and enriching customer experience.

Let us take a look at a few companies that have done this well.

Turning up the heat in advertising with A.I.

Consider, for example, what global consulting firm Deloitte did in the advertising space. Its advertising agency, Heat launched a new practice in 2019—Heat A.I.. The agency deploys A.I. and machine learning to predict with up to 70% accuracy which online conversations and trends are likely to gain popularity 72 hours before they gain traction.

Heat A.I. collates and analyzes about 100 million posts a day from over 50,000 sources, including news websites, blogs, and social media. These are then distilled to produce insights with which to develop curated creative content in real-time, to reach the right audience. Since its launch, Heat A.I. has applied this technique successfully to a variety of brands.

What is interesting about this development is how Heat’s new practice is striving to unearth new, exciting ways to capture customer attention and share a wallet. In providing its customers with data-backed projections about themes and conversations that will trend in the next three days Heat A.I. proves just how agile, nimble, and tech-enabled companies will need to be to ride the wave in the coming years.

I am not surprised that greater agility produces valuable benefits. A recent article by McKinsey on enterprise agility says that a study of 22 organisations that underwent agile transformations led to three significant outcomes: 10 to 30 points improvement in customer satisfaction, 20 to 30 points improvement in employee engagement, and 30 percent to 50 percent improvement in operational performance.

Further, these three benefits are also ‘mutually reinforcing,’ and taken together, lead to a fourth positive outcome, namely a 20% to 30% improvement in financial performance.

Aiming for wider reach

Usually, when companies are considering leveraging adjacencies, they tend to limit themselves to thinking about what is immediate and right around them—they either consider introducing a new product to an existing market or reaching out to a new customer segment in an established market. But companies must set their aim higher and wider. Businesses should not only include adjacencies in terms of products, markets, and distributions systems novel to them and the world at large but also adjacencies in terms of resources, competencies, and networks.

Consider, for example, Amazon. On the face of it, its free shipping model, Amazon Prime comes across as just that—a value-add, free-of-cost delivery service. However, it is a smart business tactic to understand customer requirements and learn what else can be positioned and sold to the consumer while providing a relevant and sticky service.

This is how Amazon has mastered its ability to launch one product after the other by leveraging its knowledge of customers. During the pandemic, for example, while most companies were cutting down on their workforce, Amazon witnessed a huge surge in its business and went on to hire more than 175,000 new full-time and part-time employees to meet its customers’ orders and requirements.

Amazon also began leveraging its in-house competencies to find better solutions to tackle the operational challenges that the pandemic threw up. Robotics engineers were, for example, asked to find ways of making the company’s warehouses comply with social distancing norms, whereas the warehouses had been previously designed to optimize operational efficiency.

Extraordinary times have a way of teaching us important lessons. I believe businesses will do well in remembering that being quick, adaptable, smart, and wise are attributes they will have to imbibe and apply to ride out the future.

Views are personal. The author is CEO, Mphasis.

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