The new post-corona world

May 8, 2020
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Our decade started with a showstopper and grave reality checker. The surreal scenes of empty cities, streets and skies remain that nothing can be taken for granted. The permanence of change is evident when walking in high streets with shops for tourists or other retail locations. Many of them are not coming back.

We cannot just reboot and pretend that early 2020 was just a bad nightmare but fortunately it is all over now and things are back to normal. The sooner we realise this the easier the transformation will be.

It is equally tempting to skip the part where one evaluates and assesses what happened, what we can learn from it and how we want to change in order to prevent similar mistakes in the future.

There are several lessons to learn.

Trust

Building trust takes a long time but you can lose it in minutes. And it’s very hard if not impossible to get it back. This is something that democracies need to face now when looking back their communications and actions earlier this year. The ends do not justify the means. There’s a heavy price to be paid for short-term optimisation. At the time it may have seemed like a good idea to tell the public that masks don’t work in order to protect the supply for essential healthcare personnel. The intention was good but it corrupted the public’s trust towards the authority that gave the information. If you cannot trust that the officials are telling the truth it’s hard to act upon their advice without scepticism or serious hesitation. What if they are just protecting their careers or covering up for something? Will the next time be any different?

Trust needs to be earned, and one way to claim authority is to show consistency over time. A fiat dictum has only formal influence. People may interpret your message in a way that it’s in their best interest to do exactly the opposite. The price is high for a short-term gain. In contrast, showing a bit of trust towards the public and including them to the solution might go a long way. Even with the risks involved the truth and transparency may be the only moral choice available.

When no information is accessible people start to come up with their own versions of the truth. This may result in high peaks of toilet paper sales or worse.

Transparency

Withholding information has been a powerful way to maintain control and formal authority position. Information is power and the ones using it bear a great burden as well. It takes courage to admit the limitations of knowledge and wisdom under pressure when others are looking for clear and definitive answers on what to do. A true leader is strong enough to admit that they are no wiser than others and it takes a team effort to figure everything out. This type of behaviour does not come naturally, and especially in public organisations that tend to be risk-averse, the admittance of ignorance seldom sounds like a good idea.

Yet, the truth has its way of coming out eventually. Hiding ignorance without asking for others to help when the outcomes are for everyone to be seen is not a pretty picture. It does not benefit anyone either. The problems still need to be solved regardless.

Trust and transparency go hand-in-hand. With today’s complexity and fast pace, it takes a crowd to gather enough information points to draw conclusions and act accordingly. Without data, there are only opinions, and there are plenty of those. Without transparency, others cannot contribute, evaluate and build upon the existing knowledge base. When time is of the essence the open data is the only way to move fast.

Humility

It’s hard to say we don’t know. But it may be the best option available. A culture of humility is not afraid to admit that there are unknowns.

The other alternative is to go the way of authoritarian regimes where no one makes mistakes and everything seems to be perfect. The leaders have visionary wisdom towards future events and they take measured actions in a timely manner. Yet, their factual track records do not seem to correlate with the projected image of superhuman wisdom.

For the rest, we need to include others to solve the issues at hand. It is okay to say we don’t know now but we will figure this out together. Mistakes will be made but it’s better to try, fail and learn than do nothing or bet everything on a single lucky shot. Hiding and doing nothing is easier, and sometimes the problems may disappear or priorities change but do we really want to be persons or organisations doing this?

It takes humility to allow experimentation. It takes humility to ask how can we make this to happen instead of pointing out all the ways things are not going to work or may go wrong. It takes humility to have a let’s try -attitude. It takes humility to have a risk-sharing approach where the public sector works together with the rest of the society towards a common goal.

Us against others

Nepotism, nationalism and all the isms favouring arbitrarily some people against others result in worse outcomes, inefficiencies, less innovation and productivity. If you think it is a good idea to become self-sufficient in everything the historical facts are not on your side. It does not make sense for each nation to start producing their own facemasks and disinfectants, which are still relatively simple to produce. How about ventilators, payment systems, mobile phones and so on. The list is endless. This road does not turn back the clock. It just makes everyone worse off.

We are dependent on each other, globally. Period. Contingency planning is preferred but we cannot sustain extended periods of time without each other. Humanity’s missions to Mars will demonstrate what it takes to build a completely new society with limited or at least delayed support from others. It takes still a few years for those results to come in. In the meanwhile, globalisation is the only way to go. Or are you willing to give up some of the quality of life you’re having at this point? Should we start with Netflix, iPhone, Spotify or your home deliveries?

Everyone is only hundreds of milliseconds away

The globe is flat. Everybody is on the same level (well, almost everyone – there are still some people that are missing smartphones but you can help them to get theirs, too). It takes only a few hundred milliseconds, or less than a second, to reach anyone around the world. This is no new news. Yet, the mainstream acceptance of remote work and meetings even in the most conservative international organisations became a reality just now. The social pressure to meet and greet physically have been lifted.

This is a huge advantage for everyone. Especially, for those that are not living exactly in the focal points of the world. The consequences of this change are enormous. But they will start to realise and dribble in this decade for every fabric of the society in every nation.

What are the effects for your country, city, municipality, company, family, or you personally? If you can as easily collaborate and cooperate with anyone from anywhere are you sure you need to use the person next door? Maybe there is a better, cheaper, faster, enjoyable or just plain superior option available should you choose to decide to look for it?

The larger impact comes into play when lots of people start to use this opportunity for more than ordering cheap goods from Aliexpress. What does it mean to your physical location’s tax base, competencies, competitiveness, regulatory environment or public services?

If you can earn your income by living practically anywhere where do you live? Where are the best locations with good public services with the most competitive offerings? Some countries have already started to figure this out, and act accordingly. Estonia is one of them with their https://e-estonia.com/ strategy.

Curiosity and encouragement

Probably the biggest challenge will become in attitudes. It calls for favouritism, towards the new and untested: a culture of building, making mistakes and trying. An attitude that encourages to take risks and tolerate failures. It understands that the opposite of success is not failure but not trying. It accepts that the future is unknown and we need to learn while doing. It acknowledges that building the future is not a direct line but a messy one with risks that materialise.

It requires friendliness and encouragement towards small and fragile. It expects thick skin and moral backbone to resist the temptation of favouring incumbents and old solutions. It accepts the fact that something new is strange, different and unfamiliar. And it takes courage to still actively choose the unknown in order to have hope for building and having something better in the future.

It calls for deregulation and realistic perspective where new initiatives are in equal foothold to do something great in comparison to existing incumbents with armies of lawyers and billions in assets to protect their existing interest. It requires vigilant individuals that keep the public officials, politicians and public spending in check.

It takes humility, courage and moral compass to build a better future. But most of all, it takes creative actions.

This is the final part of the article. All the parts are:
Post-Corona new normal
Second-order consequences of post-corona new normal

Coping with post-coronavirus realities
– The new post-corona world.