By Kathleen M Nielsen
Headlines emphasize a widespread desire to return to normalcy post COVID-19, both in business and in daily life. In many locations, phased re-openings are underway and pictures of subways and business districts vary from pre-COVID-19 only in the masks diligently worn by commuters. As more cities emerge from sheltering in place, resumption of operations is primarily distinguishable by operational adjustments and actions of people.
In my view, coupled with practical and safe resumption efforts, organizations must take this unprecedented moment to delve into a challenging examination of the many profound shortcomings of the pre-COVID-19 era. These shortcomings broadly include global unsustainable industrial production and consumption and significant disparities, biases and inequities. Instead of narrowly focusing on how close organizations can get to their pre-COVID-19 past, leaders should instead be collaborate with diverse stakeholders to envisage a different future.
Unfortunately, the comfort of the familiar may be irresistible. In a recent “Global Business Barometer” report in which The Economist Business Intelligence Unit surveyed “2,758 executives from 118 countries, fielded from March 26th to April 6th”, respondents unanimously confirmed two planned “strategies” for “weathering the economic storm” Global executives surveyed agreed on two approaches to recovery:
take market share; and
improve operational agility (broadly defined as a variety of tactical actions to achieve cost savings.
These approaches are neither strategic, nor innovative. These are familiar business tools used to bolster profits and meet traditional shareholder and market expectations. At present, global executives are executing plans to return to normalcy.
Among the many compelling examples of how unsustainable our pre-COVID-19 world truly was, we see the world’s most polluted cities enjoying blue skies.
Remarkably, “India’s powerful car lobby has long disputed that cars are a major cause of Delhi’s pollution.” However, since the cessation of automobile traffic, blue skies prevail in Delhi and “the world’s most polluted city [...] has […] some of the freshest air the capital has seen in decades”. The same is true in Bangkok, São Paulo, Beijing and Bogota.
Blue skies across the globe are just one of the catalysts that should be disrupting the status quo. And indeed, visionary leaders will resist the temptation to return to normalcy and seize upon this moment to examine the evidence, re-imagine the future and prioritize impact, sustainability and equity as the critical measures of future success. And we must join them to shun the normal and plan visionary actions that allow our post-pandemic world to recover and thrive.
1.Economist Intelligence Unit, The (2020). “Global Business Barometer.” The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited, May 2020. Print.
2.Economist, The (2020).“Goodbye Globalism.” The Economist Newspaper, Ltd., Vol. 43, Number 9194, p.7, May 16-22, 2020. Print.
3.Criado Perez, Caroline (2019) “Invisible Women, Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.” Abrams Press, 2019. Print.
4.Ellis-Petersen, Helen; Ratcliff, Rebecca; Cowie, Sam; et al. (2020). “It’s Positively Alpine; Disbelief in big cities as air pollution falls.” The Guardian, April 11, 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/11/positively-alpine-disbelief-air-pollution-falls-lockdown-coronavirus