In the post-pandemic era, we’re starting to measure time with a different kind of clock. Every passing second forces us to make radical decisions in order for our organizations to survive.
Its invention came and went, and very few people realized it marked the beginning of the modern era. But if we think about it, we’ll find it was this wafer-thin innovation — and not, say, the steam engine — that was directly responsible for shaping the way we live.
I’m talking about the second hand. The first portable watches only had an hour hand. Around 1691, the concentric minute hand began making its hourly revolutions, thanks to English clockmaker Daniel Quare. The early steam engine was still a few years away. And although it was the steam engine that eventually transformed production and transportation, I dare say the second hand changed how we live even more profoundly.
When this tiny little hand was added to our watches and clocks, our perception of time was forever altered. Life became faster; our existence became measurable. Our very idea of reality shifted and so did the rules that defined it. The result? Our mindset adjusted to new rules governed by the endless ticking of a world in a state of perpetual motion.
From abundance to sustainability
The pandemic is our new second hand. We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel: by December 2021, if vaccines are properly distributed, around 70% of the global population could be inoculated against the disease.
Given this, we can start projecting what the post-pandemic world will look like and — more importantly — what our mentality should be in this upcoming future. In doing so, we need to address three topics: abundance, globalization, and sustainability.
Let’s talk about abundance. When people decide to go out again, travel the world, repopulate the streets, and visit shopping centers, they’ll be anxious to spend the money they’ve been saving up for over a year, driven by a desire to return to pre-pandemic standards of living and leisure.
This will lead societies to think in terms of abundance and increased demand. And this momentum will be spurred, not only by people’s savings after many months of lockdown, but also by government stimulus packages.
Those countries that have put the worst of the pandemic behind them are now seeing uncommon growth. The Chinese economy ballooned 18.21% in the first quarter of 2021. In the United States, the GDP grew by 10%, bolstered by the Biden administration’s $1.9-trillion-dollar stimulus bill. Meanwhile, commodities are on the rise. Oil prices have climbed above $60 a barrel and soy is ticking upwards as well, recently going over $500 a ton.
Globalization is likewise accelerating. Those who argued the pandemic would slow globalization down are now finding it difficult to defend their claims. With the normalization of remote work and virtual communications, the world is now more interconnected and interdependent than ever.
Online commerce has skyrocketed worldwide, while virtual meetings have partly replaced traditional business trips, which, moving forward, will not be as common as they used to be. The price of freight transportation has tripled. And value chains are changing, too, as nearshoring becomes a more viable alternative to pre-pandemic offshoring. When considering their value chains, businesses used to focus only on production costs. They will now have to examine the resilience of their value chains as well.
The world of the future will be dramatically smaller. Physical barriers are being brought down by virtual means and value chains are being redefined in more interconnected ecosystems. The only barriers still standing are linguistic. But these are being torn down, too, with specialized apps.
It’s time to think sustainably. In 2020, jackals were spotted in downtown Barcelona and Haifa, a flock of sheep tried to enter a McDonald’s in Wales, and a family of pumas strutted down the streets of Santiago de Chile. These were some of the more charming anecdotes to emerge from lockdown. But they were more than social media memes; they were wake-up calls.
We must take our natural environment into account in everything we do, every day — both in our personal lives and our business ecosystems. A new generation of consumers is demanding such a mindset from companies and brands. And beyond that, the pandemic has revealed the cracks in an economic model that encourages us to use up our (limited) resources instead of responsibly managing them.
In the future, all businesses must be sustainable, not only in terms of their value chains but also in terms of the global environment. Those organizations that cannot make this adjustment will soon find themselves bankrupt. One need only look at the regulations put in place by the Biden administration in the United States. Business is no longer possible without sustainability.
To summarize, the post-pandemic world will rebound in a big way. But the old world we used to know won’t be coming back. New rules and markets will soon rise to prominence. And so the question is: are our organizations ready for this change? And another, more important question might be: do we belong to an industry set to grow in this new world or are we going to be left behind unless we reinvent ourselves?
We already have an answer to the first question: the post-pandemic era will require another mindset. As leaders and organizations, we have to figure out whether we want to manage the present or redesign the future. It’s not the easiest decision to make — and this is not the most comfortable time to make it. Especially for company owners torn between holding on a while longer — as they pay out of their own pocket — or restructuring their operations.
However, if we can run the next lap with our sights set on the future, we’ll be able to keep pace with the speed of the post-pandemic clock and its ever-ticking second hand.
By Alberto Bethke, CEO y founding partner at OLIVIA