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The big break - Post Pandemic 'New Normal'

Whether we like to admit it or not, short-term thinking is entrenched in many of our thought processes and many of our working assumptions as business people. This is understandable at a time of acute crisis, but a new direction is now needed and the CEO will have to drive it. With key assumptions underlying work, innovation, globalisation, automation and more all being rewritten at pace, it is important for companies to anticipate and create change rather than be held hostage to it. No traditional strategic method can systematically help engender the type of thinking and methods needed for this. No tool nor person can predict the future with 100 percent accuracy, but foresight is key in ensuring you have the space to recognise and plan for multiple futures. It is, after all, better to be roughly right than precisely wrong.

In the broader consumer economy, COVID has induced changes in behaviour in five weeks that were previously expected to take more than five years to occur[i]. It is ironic that this great pause has initiated such an acceleration.

Through horizon scanning and in-depth conversations with our networks, we have been suggesting for years that globalisation is being replaced by a sort of regionalisation, or even reshoring were national politics and 3D printing to meaningfully collide. The COVID period has already seen corporate Japan begun a ‘mass manufacturing exodus’ from China[ii] for example. Long anticipated trends such as automation are now becoming mainstream, with machines and advanced automation now being paired with human workers in manufacturing settings as standard. Some 85 percent of manufacturers globally believe such connected workers will be commonplace in their plants[iii].

These instances of change are pixels of a greater picture visible to those who had participated in extensive horizon scanning. Building scenarios to these pictures and then following them with specific plans for impacts at the management, shop-floor and cultural levels will enable equipped organisations to make necessary pivots easier and quicker to enact. In times of ‘normalcy,’ let alone crisis, assembling the talent and resources to be able to do this is beyond the capability of many organisations, not to mention the time available to the CEO.

However, early evidence suggests those armed with tools such as scenario planning have been able to withstand the acute phase of the COVID crisis and even thrive. American food distributor Sysco, for example, built ‘ entirely new supply chain and billing system to serve grocery stores in less than a week[iv].’ Not only can applied futures techniques provide a more agile way of transacting business, they can help ideate and nurture whole new business models.

The three horizons methodology, for example, provides a way of temporally engaging with technologies across three timescales. Several of the technologies underpinning telemedicine, such as virtual reality, 5G and augmented reality were already transitioning from the mid-term of horizon 2 to the immediacy of horizon 1 and thus creating a viable market in Asia-Pacific prior to COVID. The crisis has prompted the number of new users on Ping An Good Doctor, a Chinese healthcare services platform, to rise nearly 900 percent in January 2020, compared with December 2019[v]. For a company that started out as an insurer, this is an impressive pivot.

The prospect of pandemic was in no way unforeseeable, but the speed at which it has spread and the depth of social and economic challenges it has prompted, demand a new form of anticipating change and theorising alternatives with concrete plans at the end of them. CEOs must now start planning for a different marketplace and wider environment with ever-more intertwined drivers reducing the efficacy of medium termed, siloed, strategy planning. At CEOforesight - - we are here to help CEOs change the way you think about the future with detailed, personalised data, foresight and implications for your organistion.

[i] Source: Guardian, 2020 [ii] Source: Voice of Europe [iii] Source: Forbes, 2020 [iv] Source: Economist, 2020 [v] Source: Bain, 2020

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