We don’t live in the future, but in the ephemeral present. As individuals, our vision of the future, before the Covid-19 pandemic, used to be mostly an extrapolation of our interpretation of the past combined with what we were doing and experiencing in the present.
I guess most of us use the rear mirror to try to predict our future. Based on what happened to us and to other people in the past, we idealize a horizon and thence come up with a vague vision for our future.
In contrast, in order to determine how to best allocate their resources to compete in the marketplace, organizations use a more systematic approach to forecast their futures in a well-defined planning horizon. Forecasting here understood as “a technique that uses historical data as inputs to make informed estimates that are predictive in determining the direction of future trends.”
That used to be the praxis before the devastating outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, the biggest disruptor of the 21st century, that will undoubtedly leave lasting damages in the long run. The pandemic is impacting how we live, how we work, and how we use technology. It now seems we are navigating the turbulent waters of a VUCA-on-steroids business landscape.
On the bright side, however, current pandemic has been an accelerator for many good things, especially for the arrival of the “future of work”. Hyper-collaboration, fast tracking of scientific research and development, further digitalization of society as a whole, exponential use of e-Commerce, new dynamics for telecommuting (WFH), and much more. There is no doubt that we are transitioning to the next normal, one in which there will not be the former business-as-usual.
What’s next?! That’s the big question. We don’t have answers for what is going to be like in some months from now. But what is definitively true is that the crisis will reveal not just vulnerabilities but also opportunities to improve the performance of our businesses.
One thing seems obvious, we are facing the urge to rethink our businesses. We need to focus on envisioning a post-pandemic immediate future. People, organizations, nations, and society at large, we all need roadmap(s)—in plural to account for all possible and plausible scenarios—to ride to the next normal. Understanding what lies ahead is our responsibility as thoughtful leaders.
Predictions must now be based on the harsh and very fluid present when everything seems to be in transient state. It won’t be easy forecasting our businesses using data gathered in the past. On the other hand, most of our previous definitions of the future are useless or made for different contextual realities.
From where I see it, perhaps our ability to forecast will be a mixed or hybrid approach. On one side, a mindset pulling us back to the state of how-it-used-to-be; on the other side, circumstances pushing us forward to a perhaps difficult to harness elements of VUCA. The result could be an outlook made of fragments of our pre-pandemic projected future, along with valuable fragments of the current pandemic-induced transient state.
What seems obvious to me, is that 2021 will be a year in transition. It will most probably be an extension of year 2020, with pressing issues brought by the pandemic that humanity needs to continue to address for many months to come.
Let me offer a short-list of areas of concern I feel will be in the agenda of most nations and global institutions during the whole year:
- Health: namely, the vaccination of the whole population, and the containment of the propagation of the virus (and its mutations);
- Economy: resetting domestic as well as global economy, creating jobs, boosting growth (GDP), fighting inequality, and distributing wealth;
- Education: defining an effective model—perhaps a hybrid one—that ensures inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all;
- Technology: harnessing the power of a more inclusive and beneficial use of technology in favor of sustainable prosperity and well-being.
Perhaps we will be well into year 2021 before we can really commemorate and enjoy the ‘new year’.