Main content

Shock and awe - adjusting to the new abnormal

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy March 23, 2020
Does anyone have time for reflection? Coronavirus provides a unique opportunity to do so in our view.

On the crossroads

In the last few days, I've spoken to many business and technology leaders with only one question: what do we do now? Few have convincing answers. 

These are times that very few of the living generations have experienced, with the possibility of those who are still alive to talk of global conflict or the Great Depression. In my case, I am a 'war baby,' just old enough to remember the harsh reality of general food shortages and a period when no-one except a very few knew genuine hardship. Today feels very similar. 

As a former CFO who operated through the three day week, recessions aplenty and good times, this current period of crisis displays common characteristics; only this time, it is different. Right now, we are living in a period that's best described as chaos where the ability to make rational decisions is limited almost to zero and where the shock of what is happening weighs heavily. It represents a state of near-paralysis that few if anyone has a good sense of what the 'other side' looks like. 

Here's the good news - this will pass quickly, and we will enter a phase of build/rebuild. 

Again, many of my colleagues are being asked: what do we do? With little by way of rational guidance beyond the notion, we can return to 'normal.' If the current crisis has taught me anything, it is that reliance on legacy thinking and an expectation of returning to anything we have understood as normal represents fantasy thinking, 

Many media colleagues talk in terms of economic impacts, and I would be foolish to ignore any of those. But I believe the novel coronavirus crisis provides us with a unique opportunity to re-examine what it means to be a successful and impactful business in the 21st century. 

Turning the current crisis on its head may seem far from realistic when workers are holed up under the many varieties of 'stay at home' restrictions or left working with digital-only communications. We should not forget that technology-enabled transactions are strange experiences at best or foreign at worst for significant numbers of our peers. But these are times of what some leaders characterize as a renewal. And rightly so. 

When we emerge from the novel coronavirus crisis, as we will, we must take lessons from the technology-enabled and now proven to be fragile supply chains and ask deep, fundamental questions. 

First, among these must surely be the place of people and the community. My free-market capitalist colleagues may balk at such suggestions, but if COVID-19 has taught us any lesson so far, it is that the human playing field is completely level in the face of a pandemic. And in that regard, we are genuinely all equal.

How we respond next will define the next generation. Immediate answers are precious few. That is to be expected, but be sure that now is a time rarely granted to any business leader. In essence, it is a time of fundamental rethinking of what we are genuinely achieving in the short time we all have on this Earth and how we add value to those around us today and those who come to follow. 

We are, for example, faced with the prospect of long term 'social distancing.' This is a bullshit term that has rapidly emerged but which doesn't reflect the necessity of physical distancing while preserving the essential human need for social intimacy. Don't count me as a  leader in that regard. Instead, thank Jonathan Becher

Now is very much a time for considering not just renewal but how we bring lasting change for the good of us all. What's your next move? Do the tried and true management principles of the past seem relevant? Does the 'war room' mentality that has characterized past responses to crises seem credible? How differently do you need to think to not only survive but thrive? How much do you truly value your people beyond the reflexive desire to ensure they are at their jobs?

A grey colored placeholder image