Crises are the mothers of invention—and reinvention—both from a socio-economic and technological viewpoint. COVID-19 will accelerate change across the world, leaving us with no choice but to work differently and become better prepared for any future disruption we might face. Founder and Creative Director Chris Butterworth delves deeper into what we could expect.
Over recent days, as lockdowns have been enforced worldwide, it feels like society is going into a kind of hibernation. No-one can accurately predict how long it will last or what the long-term effects will be. But one thing we can be sure of, is that when the world awakens, it will be fundamentally different to the one we’ve just left behind.
Crises are the mothers of invention—and reinvention—both from a socio-economic and technological viewpoint. World War II is a prime example, rapidly accelerating computing, rocket technology and materials science.
Similarly, the COVID-19 crisis will also accelerate global change.
New world order
The last decade has seen the rise of what Ian Bremmer* describes as a ‘geo-political recession’. The world has moved from global cooperation, institutions and common goals to a more mistrusting, siloed and ego-centric outlook. From Trump pulling out of treaty after treaty, to Russian cyber-meddling in foreign affairs, to Brexit, to Chinese expansionism, we are in an ‘every nation for itself’ mentality.
Perhaps the global nature of the pandemic will prompt governments to once more realise that we live in a truly connected world that can’t be controlled through isolationist policies. Just as in 1945, the UN was established to prevent future wars and act as a force for good, perhaps the power of the World Health Organization, among others, will be bolstered and recognised as the best way to respond collectively to increasingly global challenges.
The effects on commerce
Business too will change. Right now, the news is concerned with how businesses will survive, how wages will be paid and how to curb the impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. Governments are looking at rescue packages not just for companies but for individuals too. Trump’s consideration of sending US workers personal checks to cover lost wages would have been unthinkable just weeks ago. Could it be the first step toward Universal Basic Income? Certainly in a healthcare crisis, the idea is more appealing, even to those who would never otherwise have considered it.
The behaviours we’re being forced to adopt at speed now will inevitably have long-lasting impacts. Changes that would once have only happened after much pondering, procrastination and regulation, are being enacted with immediate effect. Suddenly, for example, business travel is not an option. Nor are trade events. And overnight, remote working has become the norm for millions. Large global corporates are saving millions on their travel budgets and reducing their carbon footprint, while still managing to conduct business effectively, enabled by new technologies and digital experiences.
For many, this will become hard-baked into the way they work and result in long-lasting effects on the airline and travel industries.
Location, location, location?
By the same token, commercial property could look different in the future. As more of us are forced to work from home, will companies begin to question the need for vast office spaces to both support their operations and serve as symbols of power? The whole concept of how work gets done, by who and where, is already undergoing fundamental change. The current crisis could lead to a faster, more radical rethink of office space, corporate premises and their purpose. Could business parks as we know them now be at more risk of disruption, much like bricks and mortar retail on the high street has been in recent times? Will we see a rise in more localised task-specific hubs that can be accessed as-a-service such as laboratories, engineering facilities or 3D print production workshops?
Spotting the weak links
Supply chains too will be affected. Many companies already operate shadow supply chains so they can shift gear or switch track if a local crisis or disaster occurs. For example, a seed manufacturer may have duplicate farms and facilities in both Latin America and Africa, so in the event of drought or disruption in one, demand can quickly be met by the other. When everything’s running smoothly, these shadow supply chains and just-in-time global production can cover needs efficiently.
But faced with a global crisis, where transport and logistics are so disrupted, shorter, more localised supply chains become more appealing. As the panic to get essential goods and services—whether food, meds or protective equipment—direct to the point of need continues, long-term questions will be asked about relying on disrupted international distribution systems.
It’s sobering to think how much the world has changed in a heartbeat. Businesses that took years to build, have shut down in hours. The media is full of advertising and marketing campaigns, created just weeks ago that now seem flippant and irrelevant. Supermarkets are still brimming with stock that few will likely be buying such as holiday outfits or festival gear. And what of all those expert 2020 Vision pieces that so many companies put out in January? How relevant are they in this new world order?
Disruption – no longer a buzz word
We’ve been living with and hearing about disruption changing the face of industries for a while now. But the scale of this disruption will push the resilience of every business to the max. It proves that change, after all, is not driven by dates, convenience or the C-suite agenda. It’s driven by events that are often beyond our control or powers of prediction.
And when events move this fast, it brings into sharp focus the need for businesses to be constantly change-ready for any eventuality. Not just as a compliance tick-box, but literally, to survive.
Our path to change-readiness
At Omobono, we were already on a path to being change-ready. We just didn’t realise the scale of how important it would become and how quickly we’d need it to support us. In 2019, we had embarked on a deep rethink about every aspect of our business and how we operate – the way we work with clients, with each other and how we talk about ourselves.
The core is that uncertainty, change and complexity are the new norms in the world. Only systems and approaches that recognise and respond to that truth are fit for purpose. We’ve evolved a new set of working principles that address this:
In these extraordinary times, the work, which we call Omobono 2.0, has genuinely brought a dispersed team closer, created a new sense of togetherness and supported us as a community. It’s enabled us to harness vulnerability, turning it into a positive to give everyone in the business the chance to take collective responsibility – and a share of the credit.
For all of us the current crisis creates opportunities to think how we could work differently and develop better resilience to future shocks. So that when we do come out of this, which we will, we have the tools in place to keep moving forward. Whatever the future holds.
*Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group and GZERO Media
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