We don't know what the future is going to hold, but we have the opportunity to make it better, Rhett says.
Back in 2005, academic and author Philip Tetlock wrote a ground-breaking book, ‘Expert Political Judgement’, which showed that when it comes to predicting the future, the so-called experts aren’t any better than your average person in the street. In other words: no matter how much we think we know, we don’t know what we don’t know. Or something like that.
Yet, here we are in the middle of the greatest pandemic of our modern time, and suddenly everyone’s an expert. Sales will be back to their normal levels within six weeks. The impact on the economy will be X or Y. Working from home will become the ‘new normal’ when the pandemic subsides. And so on.
If anything, what this crisis has shown us is that the ability to forecast in times like these is impossible. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We have no idea of what the ultimate impact on our business, our industry and our economy will be. And that’s a good thing. We don’t need to guess. We don’t have some sort of crystal ball. Let’s just stop pretending.
That doesn’t mean we’re simply going to drift along without a rudder, or be a leaf in the howling gale of Covid-19. On the contrary, we’re going to focus on what we can control at this time. What we can do is to get super-prepared, dynamic and agile around what we do know. We can focus on the metrics that are moving and making sense right now, and use those to make decisions quickly to position our businesses for the coming months (and even years).
Once we identify those movements, and have real information and data to work with, the key is to create products and services that are relevant and affordable for clients who’ve been battered by the financial fallout of this disaster. Businesses constantly need to ask what products will suit its clients at this time. Across the full spectrum of the business, we have to focus on what consumers need, what’s affordable, and how quickly we can take a feasible product to market.
Covid-19 has also given us perspective. At the beginning of the lockdown, everything was all new and exciting. We sat and worked at home, did our Zoom and Teams calls, and patted ourselves on our backs at how well we were making the transition, and how flexible and dynamic we all were. We pledged that we would never again take things like a paycheck or our health for granted.
Nearly three months later, the novelty’s worn off. We’ve realised that all the video calls, pep talks and quick check-ins in the world can’t fully compensate for the camaraderie and culture of an office environment. The fabric of most of our businesses is built on human relationships: those quick coffee chats, the critical five minutes before and after meetings where you shoot the breeze and make human connections, the passing interactions in the corridors or the canteen.
We’ve also learned, and re-learned, the power of empathy. We’ve seen sides of our colleagues that we never thought we would. We’ve smiled fondly as children and pets and loved ones interrupt video calls, because we’re all in it together.
When the social distancing barriers finally fall, our challenge will be to take everything we’ve learned about ourselves and our teams – the perspective, the compassion – and use it to recreate a better version of our businesses and ourselves. We don’t know what the future is going to hold. All we know is that we have the opportunity to make it better. It’s a chance we dare not waste.