Anticipating the world after coronavirus

22nd Apr 2020

If there is one thing that anyone can say with any confidence right now, it's that the world after coronavirus is going to look nothing like the world of 2019. Every aspect of our lives will be affected, as will every organisation, globally! Some will weather the storm, many will not - so how can you prepare? 

Coronavirus / COVID-19
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Whilst we are all dealing with the immediate concerns and effects of the measures put in place to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus, we should not lose sight of the medium-to-long term ramifications either. We learnt after the Global Financial Crisis of 2007/2008 that those organisations that not only survived the crisis but thrived afterwards were the ones that thought about and prepared for the future in the midst of the fog of war.

Thinking about the future may be hard when your organisation is struggling to survive today and when the forecast looks bleak. I do understand - jam tomorrow has to follow bread-and-butter on the table today, but if you are not getting ready for what comes after, you may be just delaying the inevitable.

I recently had reason to produce an emotional outlook forecast for the United Kingdom - exploring the differences between our emotional state before, during and after coronavirus and two things stood out immediately:

  1. emotionally, we are traumatised - for many people (and businesses), much of their future decision-making will be against a backdrop of heightened anxiety and uncertainty, both of which will suppress making big decisions and purchases.
  2. rationally, we are refocused on the basics - for a while there, it looked like the nation was one toilet roll from anarchy; availability, price and affordability will be even more important to consumers in the immediate future, as will be taking steps to hedge against future waves / outbreaks.

However, in the words of Winston Churchill "Never let a good crisis go to waste", For some, there will be a silver lining within the black cloud of coronavirus, whether it be through enforced entrepreneurship, or an acceleration of changes that were already underway, or something else yet to emerge. Which brings me back to my theme - how can you prepare?

For me, I am returning to my tried-and-trusted PESTTO model: looking at the macro-situation through the dimensions of Politics, Economics, Society and Technology and adding to that the specific Threats and Opportunities.

  • Politics - There are hard questions to be answered about the outbreak of COVID-19 and the Government's handling of it, but we can't forget about all the other business of Government that was put on hold (including Brexit), I anticipate that much of the remainder of this Parliament will be spent in dealing with the fallout of the national emergency.
  • Economic - the Government has had to spend an eye-watering amount of money to support businesses and workers during the emergency. That money is going to turn into a  national debt mountain that will have to be dealt with. The economic outlook for businesses and households may not be much better, so economic activity will be impacted on all fronts.
  • Social - How long will social-distancing stay in place? What will the 'new' world of work look like? To what degree will working from home become the norm, and how will the behaviour of the nation change our culture and habits? Whilst we are all desperate for the lockdown to end, I don't think we are all going to immediately flock to restaurants and bars. 
  • Technological - there has been a huge shift towards a digital ecosystem, with obvious winners (e.g. web-conferencing) and losers (e.g. bricks and mortar retail). But not all digital transformation is good - it is estimated that 70% of digital transformation projects fail. In some work I am doing with Martin Hill-Wilson for an upcoming article, I concluded that 'high touch isn't always better, and low touch isn't always cheaper'. Some of the decisions we are taking today will have effects that last for years and some of those decisions were taken in haste.
  • Threats - reduced consumer confidence, delayed spending, the Government's response to the national debt, ... the list can seem endless, but try to focus on the ones that you can respond to. A risk matrix is ideal for this: how likely is it that the threat will become real and how severe would be the impact. Then you can plan to mitigate or respond accordingly. To use a Hackneyed expression "failing to plan is planning to fail".
  • Opportunities - unlikely though it may feel, this inflexion point may ultimately end up doing some good - old paradigms are being rewritten, new business models are being created, and new businesses will spring up to fill the holes left by those that fall during the storm. I expect a tsunami of innovation, borne out of necessity and opportunity.

Let me give you an example of a specific threat that is also an opportunity: It is my belief that most of what we thought we knew about consumers is now obsolete - most of the data was gathered pre-coronavirus and during a relatively stable economic environment, where unemployment was low, retail spending was supported by relatively high consumer confidence, and there was a superabundance of choice.

The world of 2021 will be very different - consumer confidence will be low and their behaviour markedly different, the economy will be weakened (even if there is a short-term 'dead cat bounce'), supply chains will be disrupted and the retail landscape altered. However, those organisations that can regenerate their data quickly, understand their customers better, and build new predictive models, will outstrip their competitors and grab market share, especially in the B2C space.

So what can you do? I strongly suggest that you set aside some time to collaborate with your colleagues on your own PESTTO model - identify the potential threats to your organisation and how you should respond. Think about the opportunities - both external and internal - is there a new niche you can carve out and dominate in the future.? Yes, you have to deal with today's realities, but it's also a great time to get creative.

Finally, if you want to speak with me about my work on Predictive Behavioural Analytics (analysing why people do what they do) and what it may mean for your organisation - please feel free to contact me.


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