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COVID-19: Navigating without a map - Implications and looking ahead

Five-minute read to gain a different perspective (1,000 words)

/// Uncharted waters ///

These are unsettling times, and COVID-19 is clearly impacting our lives, the people we love, our colleagues and our communities. Firstly, I would like to wish you and your loved ones safe passage across this difficult terrain. I have no doubt that we will get through this together and emerge stronger as a collective. During this period, we will all undeniably experience repeated ‘groundhog’ days, where each day will feel identical to the previous one. Our daily commute to the spare room or study will be measured in feet and seconds instead of miles/kilometres and minutes/hours.

My wife and I are still trying work things out, juggling our work and parenting commitments around home schooling whilst trying to maintain connections with family and friends through applications, such as Zoom or Houseparty. After a relatively short period in lockdown, we are longing for normality to return and to embrace our loved ones once again.

/// Innocent questions, complex answers ///

In my attempts at home schooling, it has become evident that I am not cut out to be a teacher. We are only a couple of weeks into this mission and I must say, I have renewed admiration for the teaching profession and those within it. In particular, I have failed miserably at explaining equivalent fractions to my youngest daughter.

It was during one of these teaching sessions that my daughter turned to me and asked the most innocent of questions: “Papa, what happens when this is all over?”

I paused and reflected upon the magnitude and multidimensionality of such as question. Then, whilst reassuring her with a hug, I replied, “Darling, we go back to normal – however, we definitely have more fun.”

Yet I doubt that things will be normal again.

There is no blueprint for managing the current situation, it would appear that we must navigate without a map. The truth is that we are all finding our footing – whether at the global, country, organisational and/or individual level.

Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic is a health and economic crisis which we have not witnessed in our lifetimes. It appears that we are in a prolonged period of repeated shutdowns, and neither the human nor economic toll has yet to fully reveal itself.

I have been reflecting upon my daughter’s question. The pervasive nature of this pandemic will impact many areas:

-         Global and national economic models and institutions

-         Geopolitics, security and military models and strategic alliances

-         Physical and digital infrastructure models

-         Law and policy

-         Energy, market, business, operating, business resilience, business recovery, investments, human capital, technology and cloud, data, sourcing (including supply chains), risk models

-         Healthcare, education, social and religious practice models

This is by no means an exhaustive list.

The impacted areas are all hyper-connected, dependent upon one another in a familiar and proven ecosystem that operates according to a set of common rules. Over the course of a few months, our usual playbooks have been cast aside and new ones are being written and revised in real time.

This process will require vision, innovation, leadership and a strong sense of realism. Leadership within times of disruption and distress will test many an organisation, and the actions taken today will be judged for many years to come. Without question, the execution of our new playbooks will require difficult trade-offs and tremendous patience. Execution should be approached as portfolio level transformations and not as independent initiatives, in order for the benefits to be fully realised. One can only hope that such choices will be the right ones and that our collective core will ultimately be strengthened. Trillions of pounds have been set aside to support economies and the hard work starts now.

/// A better tomorrow ///

It is often in our moment of need that the character of nations, societies, organisations, communities, families and individuals is reinforced or made. Ever the optimist, I am positive that we will emerge stronger from this, together.

My positive outlook does not in any way detract from the misery and pain that the journey to the other side of this will inflict upon us. It seems as though we were already in a constant cycle of retraction followed by the emergence of green shoots of recovery, only for this global event to undo our gains. It is depressing that some companies will not emerge from this crisis, and the implications of this upon lives and communities will be severe.

This crisis has prompted the loosening of financial prudence at the state level and led to the introduction of historic stimulus packages. A ‘we will do what it takes’ approach is required, and whilst the benefits to the real economy are yet to be realised, the current set of measures constitutes a positive initial step.

This crisis has already seen communities come together with unprecedented levels of volunteering commitment, clearly demonstrating that there is a collective will to overcome our current hardships. Also encouraging are the levels of mindsharing and collaboration within and across sectors.

A better tomorrow shall be one where these accomplishments are not ‘fire and forget’ activities but part of our DNA. A better tomorrow shall be one where humanity and community are central and where the best of agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, science, data and technology (i.e., cloud and disruptive technologies) is leveraged to ensure that the most vulnerable among us have protections. A better tomorrow will require a different way of thinking and increased levels of agility, collaboration and smart use of technology. In a better tomorrow, barriers will be removed whilst the economy and public and private sectors will demonstrate increased levels of balance sheet, business and operational resilience and agility.

The ability to pivot on a sixpence has never been so critical.

What does a better tomorrow look like to you?

/// Waiting to see grandparents ///

Physical separation from loved ones is difficult, and the frequent question that our children ask – “When can we see grandma?” – is often a signal that a reassuring cuddle is in order.

Although we converse via the range of cloud-based social collaboration tools at our disposal, these will never replace physical interaction and that customary cup of tea accompanied by Rich Tea biscuits that visiting our elderly relatives entails.

At this point in time, we have never been richer in terms of wealth, capability, resources and know-how. With vision, collaboration, innovation and increased agility, we will thrive as a collective. Of this I have no doubt. When we do re-emerge, I look forward to having numerous cups of tea and biscuits with those whom I hold most dear. I suspect you will be doing the same… perhaps without the tea and biscuits.

As we re-draw our blueprints and playbooks, I hope we build in and not bolt on the human factor and make the right trade-offs.

Please share your thoughts and hopes for a post-COVID-19 world.

We are in this together and we will emerge stronger.


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