Barely halfway through 2020, just about everyone can agree that this year will go down in history as one that shook up the world as we know it. On the individual level, people are experiencing various challenges as they seek to adapt to the disruption. But business leaders need to cast one eye toward the future as well if they are to survive. What might the new normal be like, and are you prepared to respond and thrive in a changing world? Here are some points to ponder as you tackle these questions.
It starts with the takeaways
Today’s coronavirus pandemic is quite literally a once-in-a-century event; the 1918 flu pandemic has often been used as the closest model for comparison. These diseases may have been different in their specific impacts on health and the global economy, but they share a common lesson: people must never forget the respective takeaways.
World and business leaders may have forgotten the lessons of the 1918 pandemic, and there’s nothing we can do about that – but we can avoid making the same mistake. You may be busier than ever trying to keep pace with all the changes as they unfold, but take some time to reflect on what your team has been learning from this situation.
Adaptability is a common theme underlying the efforts of both businesses and employees. No one was fully prepared for a pandemic, but some teams have been able to adapt better. People who embrace learning can use technology to remain productive under remote working arrangements. Employers who prove willing to accept the increasingly important role of remote work will be able to operate even under lockdown.
Working from home increases our sense of social isolation. It has the potential to detract from productivity and amplify every little miscommunication or mistake. You can’t have the CIO dropping the ball on your CMO when it comes to their overlapping area of digital marketing, even under normal circumstances; in the present situation, such conflicts and missed opportunities can cost dearly. How has your team been able to communicate better and collaborate effectively over the past few months?
We’re all learning as we go during this time of unforeseen change. By paying close attention to how your team has been responding, you’ll ensure that those lessons aren’t forgotten.
Is future-proofing possible?
Every human has a survival tendency to avoid unpleasant experiences, and businesses combine this with a practical need for continuity and risk management. It should come as no surprise that leaders want to find ways to become more resilient to disruption. But can you realistically future-proof your business?
One of the major lessons found in The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book about risk and randomness, is that extreme outliers are unpredictable and have vastly disproportionate effects. Yet the author himself has stated that today’s pandemic is not a “black swan event.” It was predictable. Experts have pointed out warning signs in the lead-up to 2020. And even when the threat emerged and was identified, delayed responses and failure by leaders in many areas to take it seriously made matters worse.
Several business practices need to be dropped in this era of uncertainty. Trends towards increasing size and complexity, a lack of proper contingency measures, and “just in time” supply and production are all predicated on the assumption that average outcomes will rule the future. That assumption simply won’t hold firm in a world where systems are becoming tightly interwoven and complicated.
Becoming lean and nimble
Complex systems tend to fail under the impact of severe disruption. This happens through a mechanism called ‘tight coupling.’ Piloting an airplane is a complicated procedure, but you run relatively low risks as long as you stay grounded. Once you take off and the plane is airborne, the pilot and aircraft are tightly coupled. The system becomes complex; a failure in one leads to a crash.
Increasing complexity in business organizations and processes creates more fragility. It exposes you to a high level of risk. Rely less on the networked economy; have a lean organization model, keep things simple, and emphasize creating back-up plans as much as managing risks. Above all, use the pandemic as an opportunity to retool your business. Shift towards decentralization. Allow your employees to have a greater degree of autonomy, and organize them into local teams where applicable. This way, your people will be empowered to act, innovate, and respond quickly to the needs of your customers in every location.