Reflective Journal #1 – Strategic View of the Pandemic

This post does not form part of my normal work – hence not the usual graphics – and i was unsure about writing it at all, but decided to share as part of #WorkingOutLoud. As we collectively struggle to make sense of the global pandemic, and the rapidly shifting social context, we seek to impose a frame of understanding. So i guess that this is mine: it’s what i’m using to get my own head straight, and also what i am using for business planning within Sea Salt Learning.

Both from the perspective of understanding, and planning, we are operating in six month blocks. The initial block is the ‘Industrial Phase’ – massive disruption, and adjustment. The following two blocks will represent a new and reasonably stable reality, followed by a final block representing a return to a more normalised state. Unless this is all wrong of course… as i say, this is simply my own reflection on a rapidly changing situation. In this piece i will share some thoughts around each of those three phases.

The next six months will see most nations take an industrialised response: heavy disruption to established social norms. Schools and Universities initially shut, then rapidly evolving, first to find their channels, and secondly to evolve pedagogy. Work will move from primarily office based to primarily remote, which will lead to some jobs becoming redundant (but still supported), and a clear skills gap.

We will likely see massive social innovation: bands will figure out how to monetise ‘lounge shows’ at scale, museums and galleries will evolve event calendars, even theatres will find ways to manage distributed performance. Gyms and yoga instructors will innovate remote classes. Coffee shops will adapt to a ‘walk through’ model, and clearly the secondary infrastructure of Deliveroo will thrive.

We are already seeing swathes of legislation that will enforce ‘social distancing’, and expect this to ramp up over time.

Nations will take a war like footing to industrial repurposing, primarily manufacturing ventilators, repurposing hotels to hospitals, and related hygiene and healthcare equipment, whilst probably industry will handle the infrastructure for eventual vaccine production and drug manufacture. Similarly, it seems likely that the food supply chain will be closely controlled, with supermarkets acting as proxies for the State and some form of standardised rationing.

All of this will feel like change, but change will not last forever. Contrary to some political assessments, this is likely to be an 18 month haul until we are seriously impacting the pandemic through drugs, both for vaccination and treatment. So we will see probably a year of a ‘new normal’: new patterns of work and schooling will be established, and whilst we may evolve a ‘wave’ like approach (where we relax controls until the next breakout), most likely we can factor on 60% of the time being more locked down.

I suspect that this is when we will see the greatest level of Organisational failure: service industry, tourism, probably some heavy manufacturing, all of which will simply have the wrong footprint for the ‘new normal’. Organisations that hold on for the first six months will simply not be able to exist in an evolved ecosystem where their costs and footprint are mismatched to market. On the positive side, some of the social innovators will not have solid tech foundations, so we will see the greatest technical innovation to ‘being together apart’. So some winners, and some losers.

I fear that this will also be a time of maximum social inequality, where those with money will find access to services and opportunities whilst those most impacted by a care overhead (elderly and children), as well as reduced income, will lose ground.

Assuming (and it’s far from a certainty) that vaccines are approved, it will be in the 12-18 month period that we will see scaling of manufacture, but that will also most likely be a socially unequal programme of rollout. The return to ‘normal’ (or whatever the new normal looks like) will almost certainly be an uncertain affair, both slower and more unequal than the lockdown has been.

The most interesting thing will be to see which of the innovative measures stick: will Organisations ever go back to a fully office base, or will the cost savings of remote, alongside the social satisfaction of it for some people, be too much to lose? I suspect that those who save $10k a year on the commute will be happy to remain remote.

Regarding education, the outcome is uncertain: if educational entities truly invest in the middle phase, they will retain a mixed model, but that will require significant retooling and training.

I suspect that the return phase will see profiteers: people who are comfortable enough in relaxing legislative regimes to make a lot of money from the uncertainty. Most likely we will also have a legacy of social inequality: those Organisations that have removed a significant cost base are unlikely to re-employ it, and those that have emerged will likely be slimmer and more tech focussed.

As i say, this is a guesswork assessment, but i am sure we are not on a two month journey. From a Business Strategy perspective, i find it most valuable to take a considered and longer term view, because it is easier to pull back from a strategy (focussed on remote and virtual) than it is to try to claw your way out of the mire.

About julianstodd

Author and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the Social Age. I’ve written ten books, and over 2,000 articles, and still learning...
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