What’s happening today is a human tragedy on a scale not seen since the second world war. It is most likely the most important global event in 70 years. It’s difficult to think about anything else than the human costs of this pandemic; death and misery is all around. As a means of escape, I’ve been thinking about this will mean once it’s all said and done and life comes back to “normal”. I took a deep breath last night and thought about this means moving forward.
What this crisis is demonstrating is that many of our past behaviors will no longer make any sense in a post-pandemic world. The rise of connectivity have changed our behaviors, culture, economy and politics over the past two decades. Yet, these changes have coexisted with an industrial world that still believes previous ideologies dogmas. The shock & awe of forced confinement has laid bare many of these ideologies and is accelerating the transition to the knowledge economy (acceptance). After the crisis subsides a new reality will emerge with entirely new economic, social and political structures (acceleration).
The future is yet to be written and it’s up for us to decide on what is acceptable and what is not. What I’m betting on is that everyone will embrace new mental models much more deeply than before and this will have important repercussions on the economy.
There is a cohort of people that don’t find computers intuitively easy to use. This is mostly due to the fact that they are not required to in their work. Which makes complete sense. It may seem quaint but the reality is this group makes up a large portion of the workforce and one with significant decision making power. This group is now being forced to work remotely, learn to engage with these tools all day long. A close friend of mine runs IT at a large university and he had to connect thousands of people to work remotely literally overnight. It is a drastic crash course in using digital programs and gaining fluency due to necessity.
Now multiply this phenomenon across every public sector, large traditional corporations. You get the point. Many people will gain digital fluency that younger generations take for granted.
We’re already started to see it play out. Social media platforms used to be disparaged by many are now seen as indispensable. During the early days of the crisis, while many governments were still not fully aware of the severity of the situation. Twitter was an excellent resource for quality information. Given the lack of gatekeepers like traditional media, Twitter provided the soapbox for experts to speak out and alert the public about the coming danger. Social media is already pervasive in many people’s lives and will now only become more entrenched.
Driving somewhere, fighting for parking and then walking randomly down a shopping aisle will seem rather quaint in a few years. Ecommerce adoption has been soaring as a means of avoiding venturing outside, further accelerating an important trend in shopping behavior. Amazon is being seen as a public utility and the food delivery category is exploding.
Commercial real estate will also undergo a radical transformation. Remote work was a cute novelty that only a few tech companies had figured out (hat tip: WordPress). It will now be a common question during planning. Should I hire these lawyers that work in an expensive office tower? Or hire the same level of expertise by a legal team that is distributed at a lower price? This will reverberate across the entire service industry. We will surely see massive deflation in commercial real estate costs as a result.
If you ever watch a late night TV show, it reminds you of a bygone era of Johnny Carson and a three cable channel world. The current batch of late night TV hosts are now forced to record without live audiences. They are alone simply facing the camera; and they are very clumsy at it. They are getting a crash course in what it means to be a YouTuber. Authenticity across a digital screen is a key skill of any online personality. The mobile phone is the key interface to access information. Most people will expect to consume content from stars using this platform alone. Live audiences will still have their place, but it will be ranked second.
The importance of quality journalism is never as evident as it is during a crisis. We are relying on journalists every day to inform everyone of key developments. The challenge for journalism is that its business model was already in decline prior to the pandemic. The radical decline of advertising dollars during a recession will accelerate the rise of subscription based models or reader funded ones. Individuals reporting news & opinions will also likely increase given the ease of use of subscriptions tools like Substack.
Remote services will touch traditional physical services much more deeply, for instance health will be transformed. Telemedicine is a relatively new model with companies like Dialogue leading the way. It is apparent that health care will also need to be more distributed and accessible.
With millions of parents at home being forced to play the role of teachers, the cookie cutter model of education will also be challenged. More personalization education will become the new norm. Online tools enable students to learn at their own pace and teach them skills that they are uniquely suited for. The Taylorist classroom will hopefully transform to something more measurable, personalized and meaningful.
Entrepreneurs and leadership needed
“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” This quote by Rahm Emmanuel sums up the thought quite well. Hardship will breed a new generation of entrepreneurs and leaders that don’t take into account conventional wisdom.
Many opportunities will arise. With a likely increase of nationalism and the decline of globalism, buying local will become a bigger focus. Micro-brands selling local goods will flourish.
A crazy theory I have is that Mother Earth created this virus to give humanity a wake up and to stop polluting/killing everything. I hope that we see more companies working on sustainability projects. Private equity and governments will provide economic incentives to these businesses which will move us to a greener world.
This is an opportunity to do things better. Let’s use this godforsaken virus as an excuse to change things and leave the old world behind.