As the disease is brought under control, businesses will need to start reinventing themselves in a post-crisis world. Massive crises shift attitudes, behaviours, and patterns of demand.
We need to understand the deep changes that are operating under the radar in how we may live and work in the future, changes that may accelerate history rather than necessarily reshape it. We need to learn from previous crises, in what conditions created the space for these changes to become the “new normal” (i.e. bringing women into the workforce post WW2) and what trends were short-lived (i.e. fear of flying post 9/11). The trend of digital embedding itself into much more of our everyday lives feels obvious, but how about the trend of people wanting to consume more sustainably and improve the environment, or the need to decentralise more to be more self-sufficient and resilient.
We need to look at how we can support organisations & sectors to survive and re-invent at the same time in ways which can continue protecting people’s lives and livelihoods while refocusing them around new missions or “giants” as Beveridge would have said, that the UK should focus on to build a renewed civic economy.
As BCG outlines, crises can lead to significant changes. The Black Death may have helped ended serfdom and feudalism while preceding the Enlightenment. Cholera outbreaks accelerated the need for sewerage systems and public health. World War 2 brought women into the workforce much more significantly than before. It also not only forced the invention or accelerated the commercialization of jet engines, radar, penicillin, helicopters, pressurized aircraft cabins, guided rockets, artificial rubber, and a host of other products, but also ushered in or accelerated commercial aviation, a suburban housing boom, the participation of women in the workforce, and other profound social changes. Some trends might become short-lived. While there was a fear of travelling after 9/11, people got back into flying at a similar rate they had done before within two years.
What could it look like for a post-pandemic economy?
Embed resilience in everything you do. The pandemic has taught us that we don’t plan sufficiently and anticipate trends on the horizon, nor do we create organisations that are sufficiently agile to respond to a crisis and re-invent themselves within a transformed economy.
Digitalise your culture. Through our employees having to physical distance themselves through to specific sectors no longer being able to deliver a face to face service, organisations are having to accelerate digital transformation so everyone can work from home where possible while delivering a digital-only service.
Decentralise everything. From not being able to source let alone deliver quickly enough essential goods — from medicine to PPE via food, we’ve learnt that just in time global supply chains works in peacetime but not in a crisis. How can we decentralise our supply chains so that our organisations can work with much more localised production, skills and distribution?
Deconstruct to reinvent. The pandemic has also exposed the fragility of social and economic models, from the underinvestment in public services to the structural decline of the high street. We shouldn’t just react and then try and rebound, we should re-invent our new economy.
Develop services that can help people in the home. If we have extended lockdown or if we have seasonal bouts of lockdown, we’ll need to use our homes much more as offices. What services can people develop that can help this?
Many organisations have reacted by restricting travel or work from their offices, rolled out digital technology and flexible working, implemented contingencies. How many are assessing scenarios for when we come out of lockdown, identify ways they can develop new services that can meet people’s needs in a post-pandemic world and work with partners and their supply chain to prepare?
Whether we’re public services, charities or businesses, we all need to ask ourselves?
- What are the most important needs right now?
- What needs aren’t being met by current services or propositions?
- If we invented local government or indeed any other organisation, what services and infrastructure would we develop?
- Who we collaborate with and what role would we play to support them?
- What can we learn from how organisations reinvented themselves in previous crises?
- What can we learn from people having to meet needs now because other organisations can’t?
We know that after World War 2 we invented the NHS and the welfare state, but how about individual organisations. Who knows that LEGO originally made homes and household products, until the Great Depression of the 1930s forced it to experiment, and they tried building toys which ended up with the LEGO we know today.
What are the lessons about industrial conversion for the long term, rapid transition to a low carbon economy, not just from the pandemic response, but also ranging from conflict to the end of the Cold War?