2021 – HOPES ON THE REBOOT AFTER THE FATIGUE

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By Niranjan Gidwani – Independent Consultant Director and Former CEO of Eros Group

Niranjan Gidwani – Independent Consultant Director and Former CEO of Eros Group

From a VUCA world – a world of VOLATILITY, UNCERTAINTY, COMPLEXITY AND AMBIGUITY, the world is now become a RUPTured world. RUPT standing for Rapid, Uncertain, Paradoxical and Tangled.

Looking back at the year 2020, it would be fair to say that not even the most agile of the world could have anticipated the extent of the challenges thrown up by the pandemic. Yet in reality, the most transformative nature of any event offers an opportunity of a lifetime to rebuild a stronger and a more resilient individual as well as world. All indicators show we could be headed in a better direction.

As of now, Covid-19 has gone on to infect more than 80 million people globally, killed around 1.7 million people, sunk many countries into recession, roiled markets, grounded planes, closed schools, locked down cities, and placed incredible burdens on hospitals and medical and emergency workers across the globe. It has also had incalculable impacts, such as its toll on mental health. The virus has brought phrases such as social distancing, cluster, asymptomatic, contact tracing into the common language speak, and has made mask-wearing almost universal.

Yet there are many reasons to be hugely optimistic as we head into 2021. The pandemic has also provided people, governments, companies and families cause to pause and think about prevailing practices, forcing them to reconsider ways of living, governing and doing business.

The pandemic has accelerated several trends that were already set in motion – (A) the digital revolution, (B) the move towards purpose-led countries, governments, organizations and humans (C) a visible shift in buying behavior, (D) Investment in medicine and healthcare and (E) the ability to rapidly reskill all kinds of workforce across all institutions.

(A)The digital revolution – Technology has truly proved itself extremely capably during the pandemic. One can only fathom the extent of the global problem if technology had not kept pace in 2020. It is not only technology which has kept pace, it is also all generations of humans, literate as well as not so literate, who have adapted to technology to stay afloat and maintain their sanity during the pandemic. From people to payment, from health to medicine, from offline to online, the world has successfully pivoted to a digital model. Such rapid transitioning is obviously going to require an extremely robust and constantly evolving cybersecurity system in place globally, in governments, organizations, medical care, defense forces and homes. This will need to be a key focus area in the new year, since intelligent human beings come in both good as well as not so good varieties, irrespective of the pandemic phase.

Cloud computing, blockchain, 5G and IOT will become the fulcrum of change. To roll out, maintain and sustain these, a highly skilled and efficient team will be just as critical as the software that backs them. 

The year ahead could also bring progress in quantum computing, and improved disaster management through the use of AI, or artificial intelligence, and big data.

(B) The move towards purpose-led countries, governments and organizations – A larger percentage of the world now realizes how important clarity of purpose is in order to live a value-driven existence. 

Decades of financial speculation has created scenarios where asset prices run away crazily, making a few richer and richer, even as mainstream economies continue to bleed. And to add to it all, very scant attention is being paid to the environment, overuse and abuse of natural resources, and a slow pace of handling environmental waste. Covid and the post Covid reset has definitely focused much more attention on these areas, and hopefully 2021 and beyond will provide countries, governments and organizations a more balanced approach to economy and business. China, the world’s biggest emitter, has pledged to cut emissions per unit of GDP by 65% from 2005 levels and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 25% by 2030. India, meanwhile, is expected to be the largest contributor to the renewables upswing in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency.

If these lessons learnt and commitments made are quickly forgotten, as may be the case with human nature, then humanity will stumble from one pandemic to another at a faster pace. And many of us may leave our future generations with a lot of wealth, but with very few clean places to live. And even if we reach Mars, if our nature does not change, it won’t be too long before that planet also becomes messy.

Yet the enormous saving grace is that the newer generation is exhibiting better value systems than some of their peers. They will surely act as very effective speed breakers.

(C) A visible shift in buying behavior – Consumer loyalty is at an all-time low. This is giving category leaders a lot of sleepless nights, and is also making room for smaller players to move in. Distribution, which was always separated from marketing, has now been plugged in to the responsibilities of marketing. As far as 2021 goes, companies and brands will need to realize that the home will become the space of focus for marketers. Marketing investments are likely to increase in new age media, mobile, influencers, gaming and video. The most likely losers will be print media, cinema and events. It would make good business sense for media houses to reduce and rationalize printing of too many publications.

The newer generation is quite rapidly shifting to spending more on an experience as opposed to acquiring an asset, be it transportation services, online streaming and music services, Airbnb services etc. The organizations and brands who will succeed are likely to be those who capitalize on this phenomenon and tweak their selling processes accordingly, even if it means creating innovative tie-ups. A two-level business model, where one allows for “rapid box movement” kind of service or product, and another allows for premium service experience will ultimately be tested and successfully managed by better and agile organizations, regardless of which field they are in. 

In the technology-driven era, more and more brands, producers or retailers will come to consumers instead. As on-demand mobile services become the dominant business model, a number of innovations will emerge.

The winners in a global economy will be those players whose collaborative relationships effectively augment their own operational excellence, consequently enabling them to deliver value farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper to customers wherever they may be.

(D) Investment in medicine and healthcare

The pandemic has completely changed how societies operate and how we perceive and value health. The situation demands that we break down barriers, collaborate and cooperate in solidarity, provide a space for new ideas and new partners and embrace uncertainty and creativity and take calculated risks.

Telehealth services are flourishing, and the pandemic has also accelerated consumer awareness of health and sustainability issues — younger consumers are buying more ethical, sustainable and healthy products. For instance, makers of plant-derived meat, which reduce the environmental footprint, are seeing sales soar. Unrelated to the virus, 2021 is likely to herald advances in genome editing — an important tool in developing COVID-19 diagnostic kits and anti-virus drugs, as well as new treatments for cancer and rare diseases.

(E) the ability to rapidly reskill all kinds of workforce across all institutions.

The Covid reset has brought to light the fact that work from home is not any less productive. Therefore, office and commercial space will need to be rationalized globally.

The Covid reset has also brought to light the fact that current education, current training programs and practices are ill equipped to bring the student force and the workforce of the world to a much higher and mature level of skillsets to match the rapid changes which have taken place in 2020. 

This realization must not go waste. This, in effect, is the true investment in the future of the world. This return is probably the best that the world could get in terms of the massive investments made in new age technologies. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it is not the creation of technology, but rather the rapid miniaturization and assimilation of new technologies which has leapfrogged the world into faster and more sustained growth phases.

This means that not just the teams which will roll out the technology implementation, but also those who are decision makers and users will need to be willing and capable to get skilled and re-skilled more frequently.

Caveat – However, sitting at the very top of all these 5 trends which have come into focus, (thanks to the world’s resilience in handling the Covid), is basic human nature and behavior. Majority have come out wiser, more understanding of each other’s problems, willing to work both collaboratively as well as competitively to resolve issues. Yet, true success will depend upon the small minority who control the world’s resources, wealth and decision-making. The part of this small minority who believe that collective sustenance and growth benefits all, will speed up the process. 

But there is also another part of this small minority who believe that pandemics are yet another excuse to optimize their own wealth and mean behavior, hang on to their chairs, their power politics and positions, and just focus on money wealth.  

One of the two categories mentioned in the caveat will decide which way the world will head in 2021 and beyond. All those countries and organizations who have more of the latter category of humans running them, may end up paying a bigger price in the long term. 

The Reboot Process is on, slow but sure. Resilience will always get the better of Fatigue.