It may take much longer than any of us hope or expect, but the COVID-19 menace will pass.
When it does, what are some ways to make sense of what’s happened and then think about a better tomorrow?
Let’s start with some painful truth. As individuals who make up societies, organizations, busineses and countries, we dislike uncertainty and ambiguity. We want black and white answers with probabilities attached. We want A/B-tested outcomes, algorithms that eliminate gray areas, and AI-driven scenarios that allow us to sleep at night knowing that we’ve done all we can to control ROI. That's where we were all headed, wasn't it? Until the day that something completely unforeseen derailed all those meticulous plans.
And now, without knowing how this story ends, how can a business plan ahead? Should we just throw up our hands and resign ourselves to doom and gloom?
I think not.
Beware absolute statements: the need for some critical thinking
It all starts with taking deep breaths and using one of the greatest gifts we have in high-uncertainty situations: the ability to think critically. This includes asking deeper questions about what you read in the news cycle: at the very least, stop consuming absolute numbers about what’s happening and try to get a percentage-based sense of the damage being done.
Next, let’s apply a bit of critical thinking to technology and the globalized economy. You might have heard that the coronavirus lock-down heralds the end of globalization, the end of working in offices, the end of classroom-based learning, and so on. It is dizzying to make sense of all these major changes on top of figuring out how to manage working from home, keeping kids engaged and then planning for a post-globalized virtual world where we are tele-ported around by Siri.
The magnitude of the COVID-19 shock will for certainly result in changes. Again, though, what those might look like is fundamentally uncertain - especially when it comes to technology.
If you don’t believe me, take a trip back two decades and see what futurists were predicting. Most were wildly off. And at the risk of sounding cliché, the only certainty at this moment is that lots will change, but lots will also remain the same.
Technological change is a given, but what that change might look like will vary massively from country to country, from market to market. The same is true with practices like working from home. It may be a novel concept for some, but it has been practiced for a long while at some progressive organizations. Even then, it didn't mean we all worked from home virtually 100% of the time.
Globalization has always gone through peaks and troughs. We may call it by different terms, but the movement of people, ideas, and finances goes back to ancient times and will continue, albeit in a modified fashion.
So remember: human beings are very bad at making predictions. Our biases and vested interests always cloud our views. So don’t get caught up trying to predict the future. Understand the landscape clearly. Then start planning.