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Apr 28, 2020

A Fog of Uncertainty


As we all try to cope with this unprecedented and unexpected lockdown experience the question of ‘when can we get back to normal?’ is never far from our minds. What do we have to do to escape this enforced restriction placed on us? Which of the multitude of commentators postulating return to work insights, checklists and recommendations make sense? Why can’t anyone give me a clear idea of the pathway out of this? What course do we need to follow to get out of this surreal situation and back to normal?

Possibly it is unrealistic for most of us to expect any clarity from what is a black swan event. All our collective experience relates to relatively recent events whose principal characteristics were that they were finite in duration and for the most part only affected parts of the globe. Covid-19 is a totally different kettle of fish. So much so that most societies are finding it hard to come to terms with, especially since during times of difficulty and adversity human nature dictates that we congregate together to overcome the challenges and dangers in our midst– in this case we have been mandated to do the opposite. Keeping a social distance has become the leitmotif of our lives in recent months.

Just before writing this post I attended my first ever funeral ceremony of a rugby friend via webinar, with only 10 people permitted at the crematorium to pay their respects. When death comes closer to your own doorstep it takes on a much greater significance compared to listening to the statistics on news bulletins. This personal experience brought home to me the one emotion that no one talks about very much – and that is fear. It exists under the surface but it doesn’t really feature in business strategy discussions.

I suggest the unprecedented nature of Covid-19 will leave a legacy where people will have another consideration in their decision-making when it comes to where they are prepared to work. The fact is fear for the most part trumps pay and reward. If working means commuting to a city centre office with the added risk of getting sick or worse, the average human being will think twice about taking that job. Will they actually want to go back to jobs of that nature when the lock-down ends?

This is just one of a number of factors we need to consider when shaping our strategies to emerge from this lockdown period. There is understandably, lots of material out there providing some form of guidance. This includes big picture stuff such as talking about a “new normal ” or the emergence of seismic shifts in how we function. One thing is for sure is that there are no precedents to follow, no playbooks and no off-the-shelf remedies to help us.

We will have to think carefully about how we steer our own path to a safer future. In many ways this reminds me of a ship on the high seas during a storm, we are stuck in the midst of a dense fog of uncertainty and need to carefully figure out what how we navigate through it. This will require some fresh thinking, some innovation and most of all open mindedness.

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