We’ve been so consumed with the impact of the pandemic, we haven't considered the impact of the life after. We need to begin to think about getting ready for the shift when the doors are opened again to what may look like a whole new world.
Nicholas Christakis, in his book Apollo’s Arrow: The profound and enduring impact of Coronavirus, imagines the pandemic to be followed by an era of technological, artistic, and even social innovations bringing “not only a renewed sense of purpose but a renewed sense of possibility.” I love that phrase “renewed sense of possibility.” That’s a new world.
In a recent article on Medium, a father wrote about his six-year old’s comments. One of them really struck me as suitable to our thinking today. When asked what his son was drawing at the kitchen table, the six-year-old responded, “I’ve never seen a giraffe without a neck, so I drew one.” We need to be thinking of what we have never seen before and imagining how to make it happen.
I think 2021 and beyond is about innovation. Not just technological innovation. We have to think differently. Innovation depends on good human interaction, on knowledge and learning, on purpose and feeling valued, and one more thing that I will leave until the end.
Innovation depends on good human interaction
Resilience has been shown to positively influence work satisfaction, as well as overall well-being, and can lower depression levels. There is even evidence that resilience can help protect us from physical illness. Resilience is tightly coupled to social interconnections. Psychologists have known for years that social support is essential to maintain the resilient individual. You need it to feel there is a sense of safety in your world even as you experience disruptions. We need to be thinking about how to make things more resilient through good human interaction.
Knowledge fuels innovation
We tend to think that technology is the major innovator, but in the end, knowledge is the great innovator, because innovation comes out of people thinking together, building on what we know. People have the skills of production. People remember the details and consequences. People dream of the impossible and how they might make it possible. McKinsey says that those who will need to switch occupations and be retooled is 25% larger than our previous estimates. We need to be thinking about how to encourage knowledge sharing and learning.
We need to be thinking about how to facilitate knowledge sharing and learning even beyond school, beyond the university, even beyond mastery. Virtual seems like the answer for the moment, but in the end, regardless of virtual or face to face, it is humans sharing what they know with each other in conversation where new ideas are spawned.
Believing your ideas are valued encourages knowledge sharing and creative thinking
Henry Ford wanted to produce cars, but he wanted to make sure that the people producing the cars could earn enough money that they could buy the cars. This relationship between economic growth that produces good jobs is a virtuous cycle. More of one builds more of the other, and you get this wonderful effect where the growth in economic output produces good jobs, which then helps grow economic output.
David Siegel of Two Sigma says there will be plenty of things for people to do in the future. The problem is, they may be things that we don’t want to pay much money for. Much of the investment in business in America is to essentially automate away human labor or, even more curiously, to devalue human labor. Yet humans are more dexterous, creative, flexible, empathic than technology. People need to feel valued. If they do not feel this way, they will find or create ways to feel important. (Think cult.) We need to think about how low-skilled and under-valued individuals can feel valued.
Eileen Murray of Goldman Sachs says that without hope to realize potential, people slip into despair. What does this mean when we ‘rent’ talent to fill the skills gap? Remember that one of the major strengths of the US has been the easy access to building new businesses. (Business startups in Eastern Europe after the breakup of the FSU had to wind their way through well over 100 steps just to be allowed to begin. I believe that has changed since then, but I don’t have current information.) Small businesses have traditionally employed more people in the US than the large companies. Innovation and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. We need to be thinking about how to give value to those who work.
And speaking of values…
We need to be thinking about how to make long term decisions popular again – Unilever is one company that has been doing it successfully. Employees have to see how they contribute to the purpose and values of the company. They rarely see efficiency as valuable to them unless they are part of ownership.
Innovation depends on human interaction, knowledge and learning, on purpose and feeling valued, and one more thing.
When we lose something important in our lives, there is a sense of loss – a loss that needs to be recognized. Yet we never talk about this. When we don’t recognize the need to grieve, we don’t take the time to do so. The impact can be long term and very debilitating. I recently had a grief counselor on my radio show who gave many ideas of how to facilitate grieving in any setting. Business has to acknowledge and make room for grieving.
If our future is about Innovation, we must seek the benefits of resilience and creativity from solid human interaction, the initiative from knowledge sharing and learning, the focus of purpose and the value of the human contribution. And let us not forget this is a liminal moment. The transition from today to the future must allow for our grief. If we come out of this pandemic without recognizing these, we will continue to suffer – as businesses and as a nation.
 6 Quotes from a 6-year-old that May Make you Stop and Think by Michael Thompson, Mind Café, Feb, 2021, Medium.  The Secret to Building Resilience, Rob Cross, Karen Dillon, and Danna Greenberg, HBR, January 29, 2021. https://hbr.org/2021/01/the-secret-to-building-resilience?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=dailyalert_notactsubs&deliveryName=DM117021  Bloomberg interview of January 7, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2021-01-13/two-sigma-s-siegel-sees-tech-negatives-for-human-experience-video