COVID-19 is doing more than shaping a generation and leaving a mark. It is going well beyond a new normal or new abnormal. It is pushing people and humanity to a completely new state of mind and place, a world where ambiguity and uncertainty are the understood norms. A world where new possibilities are being conceived and pursued with vigor.
The pandemic has plunged us into a severely depressed economy, potentially prolonged recession, unprecedented joblessness and a potential wave of PTSD (social scarring TBD). We are between a rock – overwhelming nature of the present (e.g. cash flow) – and a hard place – the opacity of the future. At the same time, we are now able to do things we couldn’t do in a normal environment. The pandemic has provided an unprecedented opportunity for authentic re-invention, innovation, shedding of legacy systems and operations and new growth. This is a time for businesses to pause, re-assess, adjust, vision, adapt, re-organize and accept.
Rapid Transformation of Humanity
COVID-19 is a radical disturbance to society that is transforming humanity. People across the globe are sharing in an intense and prolonged hyperlocal crisis that is creating fear, frustration, cautious optimism, sadness, confusion, anger, cooperation, depression, lack of control, hope and new creativity. It is a Pandora’s box of potent emotions, some conflicting, that is producing a subtle sense of true disorientation. People’s expectations, desires, concerns and dreams are being re-shaped at scale. There is no turning back or going back. Humanity is now different. Fundamental change is underway.
To what extent will people wake up and behave differently? It’s already happening. We have been forced to try things that were held back by tradition, privacy concerns or fear of automation. The virus has accelerated transformation on many fronts from telehealth/telemedicine to remote working, online learning, curbside delivery and new forms of online group socializing. The pandemic may very well have condensed a decade of transformation.
People are also digging very deep, thinking hard and asking new questions, bold questions. This is unstoppable. They are thinking about things they’ve not considered before and taking actions whether that be learning new things, doing new things or reconsidering the very structure of their lives. Many are considering re-locating to be closer to family and to embrace simpler living. These thoughts are just starting now, will expand over time and lead to lots of movement and activity.
New Struggle for Coherence
Even if the post COVID world may look somewhat the same, it will feel very different. It is a VUCA World – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. What is the tolerance people have for uncertainty? What happens when people feel truly unmoored and struggle to make sense of just about everything? This is the beginning of a new modern struggle, a struggle to find new coherence and make sense of things that don’t make sense. Rising within this struggle, is the desire to see things for what they really are, to have clarity on truth and reality, and to no longer tolerate that which threatens the way we want things to be. Pandemics have a way of highlighting the problems in our world. And we have learned from COVID-19 that looking the other way, focusing on ourselves and giving into complacency or blind faith can prove devastating and potentially fatal. As people struggle for coherence, they will also move into a new series of actions that align with their new world view.
Practical Tips for Business Leaders
This is not a time to wait and watch. It is a time to think and act. It is time to put things in motion and be agile. To navigate, you must have your head in the clouds and in the weeds – be able to manage constraints and create novel solutions. Explore this question:
WHAT IS OUR MISSION-DRIVEN RESPONSE THAT CAN SHOW OUR RELEVANCE EVEN IN THIS CRISIS?
How does our mission encourage us to respond to create NEW value?
Take time to think about the things you WANT to change, because this is a time where big change is possible. Don’t ever waste a crisis. Be generous and abundant in your thinking. Build engagement. Build connection. Break out of the box. Ask the following questions:
What are we doing to elevate brand and build community?
What are we doing to help our customers cope, navigate and grow?
How does this change our relationship with our customers for the better?
How can we become a contributor to our community?
What partnership opportunities exist that will allow us to create transcendent value?
What no longer belongs in the changed world?
On an immediate, practical level, consider the following:
1. Digitize business as usual: Translate value to the digital venue. Imagine the current world where screens are the central hub of work, play, learning, socializing and life.
2. Brilliantly create and innovate: What is your mission-driven response that can show your brand’s relevance in this crisis? How does your mission encourage to respond in ways to create new value? The Barnes Museum created “Barnes Takeout: Your Daily Serving of Art” on Youtube, and grew viewership from 400 to 4000 in one month and has had over 85,000 views.
3. Constantly re-calibrate: Make re-assessing, envisioning, imagining, adapting and creating novel solutions part of daily business. Imagine the pandemic lasting 6, 12, 18 months and what that might mean.
4. Create compassionate content: Now is a time to build community and strengthen connection with content. Think deeply about how you can help those who matter most to your business. What can you teach? How can you provide an immersive experience? How can you reduce pain points? Make content simple and with a narrow focus so that it is relaxing and calming. It’s best to look at one thing slowly. Make things accessible, inspirational and very relevant.
5. Figure out how to re-assert your necessary role in the changed world: How can you maintain and strengthen relevance? Can you become more deeply entangled in meeting needs, serving the under-served or even provide a civic function? Can you become an “extraordinary organization” by creating something that is responsive and insightful and cannot be ignored?
6. Authentically Re-invent: Explore how to activate, re-purpose and re-mix resources for change that maps to the changed world.Take a hard, cold look at what new value can be created in the absence of historical value. Imagine what new role you might play.