The last few months have dramatically transformed life as we understand it. An invisible half-alive organism, dismissed as a threat by leaders and populations alike, has affected over 95% of the world’s population and stalled global economic activity. It is believed that this crisis will permanently reshape multiple aspects of our life, society, and business. This article seeks to outline the nature of this change for businesses and how a response led by enterprise technology can help them become more resilient.
Drawing on Innate Resilience
Given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and uncertainty around effective remedies and the likelihood of follow-on viral waves, it would be foolhardy to predict the timelines or the nature of recovery. While recognizing the scale of impact, it should however be emphasized that humans have endured past tragedies, including the Black Plague, Spanish flu, multiple continental and world wars, and a variety of financial panics. Although the current crisis will cause painful adjustments for individuals, societies, governments, and enterprises, history guides us to the new dawn comprising renewed societies, enhanced business models, and greater resilience.
As the leading financial investor, Ben Carlson, reflects on the crisis in a broader context on his blog, A Wealth of Common Sense1,
“…they all come to an end. Stocks recover. Economies continue to grow. People still get up every day looking to improve their station in life. If you’re betting against the human spirit, I’ll take the other side of that bet 10 times out of 10.”
History Teaches Us That Deep Crises Drive Radical Change
Like modern societies and enterprises, complex organizational structures tend to have a built-in equilibrium-seeking mechanism that guides them towards stability. This has been studied in evolutionary biology, with organisms adapting to unfamiliar environments through gradual evolution. However, when the nature of change is dramatic, induced discontinuity can cause sudden structural change that is sustained in subsequent generations – a phenomenon defined by sociologists as punctuated equilibrium2.
As an example, women’s participation in the US workforce3 before World War II remained low, with their involvement limited to roles such as store clerks and receptionists. During World War II, workforce shortages inspired campaigns to draw greater women participation in non-traditional roles, including army support, manufacturing, and transport. As this proved effective, female workforce participation continued to increase even after the war concluded. Likewise, while Germany was progressing incrementally towards green energy, the nuclear incident at Fukushima in 20114 drove an outright ban of nuclear power and the further prioritization of renewable energy.
Finally, as a cautionary tale and to paraphrase Victor Hugo, acting against ‘ideas whose time has come’ can be crippling. Johannes Gutenberg’s movable type printing press triggered an information revolution, driving the European Renaissance in the 15th century. Blind to its value, the leadership and powerful clergy at the Ottoman empire5 aimed to keep traditional manuscripts in vogue. Their decision to ban innovation and resist change resulted in the permanent decline of Turkish power.
Taking Charge of Change
“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters— one represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”
– John F. Kennedy, Former President, United States of America Given this historical context, it is pertinent to explore how economies are likely to emerge from the lockdown. Specific industry segments like tourism and travel will undergo a more fundamental churn, with many enterprises in these spaces not surviving the deep downturn.
It would be foolhardy to suggest that larger organizations are impervious to this threat. Companies across industry segments will experience a radical change in their operating models. The article categorizes this impact around three broad areas—customer acquisition, execution, and risk management.
Leveraging Technology to Drive Change
Given that organizations are aggregations of processes at varying levels of abstraction, the role of technology is central to deliver impact on processes along dimensions of speed, agility, intelligence, and compliance. Many of these capabilities are closely interlinked and are most effective when operating in concert.
Tying It All Together
While articulating a variety of themes, I do not suggest a standardized response to all organizations. Enterprises must calibrate their response based on the impact on business, their current sophistication, and the state of their technology architecture. Adapting approaches to the culture within the organization is also critical for sustainable impact. Specific organizations can drive change through a centralized decision- making structure, while others operate in a more federated consensus-based model.
Likewise, the focus of deployment might vary between customer-facing and execution areas. As part of the change management programs, enterprises will increasingly need to factor in skilling, communication, and increased sensitivity towards those affected by the change. Organizations will need to balance reticence and responsiveness.
This combination of navigating turbulence and charting a new path will create a competitive advantage that defines future leaders. To learn more about how Automation and AI-driven solutions help enterprises navigate the worldwide crisis, visit EdgeVerve’s Stronger Together page7.
- https://awealthofcommonsense.com/2020/04/what-good-is-history- when-dealing-with-an-unprecedented-crisis/
- https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/02/fukushima-nuclear- disaster-solar-wind-energy-plant/