Virtually overnight the world finds itself in survival mode.
It is a mode more familiar to some than others. Plenty in the developing world and in the less fortunate sectors of the American economic machine are used to scraping by, to making the food last as long as possible, to wondering where they would go should they become ill.
The rest of us seem astonished to find ourselves in some bad movie version of life, where jobs and entire industries evaporate overnight. Where the news runs in a narrow lane from merely bad to horrifying. Where nothing is certain except the fact that, for now, today will look eerily the same as yesterday.
So the focus on “return” is understandable. A craving for normalcy, and for the comforts we took for granted.
In this new world, concerns other than the immediate can seem like a luxury. Indeed, the Trump administration has eased enforcement of environmental regulations. “Don’t worry about such things,” such action asserts. “Just get us back to normal.”
Of course, while everything has changed in people’s lives, nothing about the urgency of our environmental crisis has changed. Nor has the grotesque and increasing inequity in the United States. And certainly nothing has changed about the fact these things are related: What the Covid 19 crisis has laid bare for all to see is that the poor and disenfranchised always bear the most painful burden, be it from pollution or pandemic.
Which is why this moment does not call for return at all. Rather we face a choice like never before. Will we go back to “normal” — a path already leading us off a cliff of unsustainability and inequity — or will we propel ourselves forward?
The pandemic has illustrated that we are all connected, and not only by economic markets or technology. But by our shared fate on this planet. We are not separate from our environment, nor from each other — and we ignore this at our peril.
Allowing business to return (and with a vengeance, no doubt) would fail to leverage this unprecedented pause, the most significant economic and cultural rupture in our lifetimes.
As strategists, we understand that culture is merely a set of agreements — ideas that either gain traction and ascend, or whither, no longer appealing or useful. This aggregating and disaggregating is happening all the time; today’s disruption is an opportunity for reassessment and transformation to happen rapidly and on a massive scale.
Therefore we ask, what if instead of being hellbent on return, we use this moment of fear and uncertainty to imagine and build sustainable and just systems, products and processes. What if every business and organization imagined forward — what would their promise and offering look like in this new world?
This type of thinking is not a luxury at all. It is what is required of us in order to build the truly healthy and just world we all crave.
April 17, 2020