Weeks when decades happen
Which of us doesn’t turn to a Bolshevik dictator when we’re in need of good quote about a twenty first century pandemic?
My mass murderer of choice is Vladimir Lenin who said:
“The are some decades when nothing happens, and there are some weeks when decades happen”
So much has happened in the last eight weeks. Decades worth of news as we’ve passed through the various phases of Coronavirus.
All the phases
First, we had the Ostrich phase. “It’s a Chinese thing”. We stood, motionless, as if watching a slow-motion train crash, as the virus travelled westward round the globe towards us.
Then when reality hit, we became a nation of shop fighters. We thought nothing of pushing past our neighbour to get to a family pack of Andrex in the bog roll aisle at Tesco.
And then we entered an elaborate game of lockdown Top Trumps. You weren’t at the races unless you were performing a multi-part harmony version of Zadok The Priest, with members of your family in ten different zoom locations or, recreating the entire Star Wars Trilogy in Lego.
Then we reached the “fuck it all” phase. People who had started lock down with plans to run five miles every morning, and learn to meditate, lost their way and their resolve. Suddenly they were pouring the custard straight onto the pasta as they started episode 78 of Mad Men.
But now we are entering a new and more serious phase. I want to call it business as usual, except it is anything but. It is the steady state we will reach when the initial restrictions are lifted. This is the phase where is begins to dawn on people that what was billed as a 2-3 three-month period of restrictions, is actually something much longer.
I’m not an Epidemiologist, but those that are tell us that there are two ways out of this. Herd immunity or vaccine. Herd immunity ain’t it. So, by a process of elimination, we are left with a permanent solution that may be a year away.
If you believe that, then you must believe that we will be living with some kid of restrictions for at least twelve months. Let’s talk in round numbers and say, until the Summer of 2021.
In the business conversations I have, people have been talking about how things will be after Coronavirus. There is an optimism in their tone that tells me they think “after” is just the return to “before”.
There isn’t going to be an after.
There was a before. But we will not have an after Coronavirus. We will have a new.
We are not going back to before. We will never return to February 2020.
In business terms, Covid-19 has changed everything. Working practices we took for granted are now impossible, and things people thought impossible have become a routine part of our life.
Bosses who railed against working from home, regarding it as having a day off, are now beyond delighted that you are able to work from home. But in their heart of hearts, they still see it as a temporary fix to the challenges of Coronavirus. We can return to normal after.
There isn’t going to be an after.
By the time this is over, working from home will have disappeared from our vocabulary, as will working remotely. It will just be working.
Where it gets really interesting is how we are providing products and services to our customers.
If you’re a coach, consultant or trainer who relies on getting a group of people into a room to do business, you have some thinking to do. Even if the rules say you can, and even if you want to, you have to get used to the fact that customers may not want to.
If you’re a salesman who believes that there is no other way than to fire up the Quatro and go and do it face to face, what have you been doing for the last two months? Oh yeah! Closing sales on Zoom. The idea of driving a hundred miles to meet one person for an hour suddenly sounds very last century. Actually it was common practice until just last quarter.
Right now, you’re doing all this stuff over Zoom. But Zoom is like the temporary accommodation you move into after your house burns down. It’s functional, it works and you’re incredibly grateful for it in your hour of need, but it’s not the solution.
There’s a limit to how long people will sit in front of Zoom presentations. Remember, when they finish your two-hour coaching session or presentation, they have another one to go to. They will soon be all video’d out.
Zoom has papered over the cracks in the same way the furlough scheme has helped shield us from what’s really happening to the economy. They are both stop gaps. Beyond both is a reality that you have to face up to at some point. My suggestion is that now is the time to break the glass on your reluctance.
We are entering a time where digital is king. And by digital, I don’t mean having a team meeting on Hangout after getting someone to fax you the notes.
Digital means your business processes and even your product live in the Cloud and can be accessed by anyone, anytime, from anywhere. Digital means your revenue generation is always on. Digital means getting to a position where a lockdown doesn’t affect your business.
Digital means remote everything.
And if you’re in the information business and you’re saying that what you do can’t be digitised, there’s definitely not going to be an after for you, any more than there was for the Dodo.
Information of value can always be digitised. Think online courses, membership groups, paid content, publications. Can’t be digitised is a smoked screen for can’t be arsed.
People are stampeding to digital at a rate not previously seen. That in itself should be a clue. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft said that they have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in just two months.
George Gill, co-owner of digital transformation experts GGMR, says that they're doing digital projects for clients, not because it is on their strategy road map, but because it is part of their survival plan.
So we’ve had before and it looks like during is about to start coming to an end, but there is not going to be an after. There is just going to be a new. You have some existential decisions to make about what kind of brand you want to be when that new starts to emerge.
What you decide could open up the opportunity of a lifetime, or the beginning of the end.