The COVID-19 pandemic was a classic Black Swan event. Nobody had foreseen it. Nobody had a playbook by which we could ride it out. This was a paradigm shift. It affected economies and businesses. It changed lives. But was this change always for the worse? I’m not so sure. Being a ‘student’ of workspaces — and by extension, businesses — I saw enterprises react differently to the global upheaval. I saw certain people excel and certain businesses being devastated.
Why was this?
Interestingly, I found my answer at the intersection of two theories: one by eminent naturalist Charles Darwin and the other by renowned psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Darwin attributed survive-ability to adaptability; Kübler-Ross outlined the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) in her seminal On Death and Dying. These two observations, or theories, or call them what you will, played out on the global stage, at a mega scale.
Once the pandemic tightened its strictures, some went into the ‘wait and watch’ mode; others used this time to introspect and assess, recalibrate plans and reformulate strategies that were more suited to the new now. Which means some went through the grief cycle much faster. They were quick to embrace the situation. They were quick to befriend the challenge. They were quick to transcend the grief. And once they did that, they started building around it. They adapted to the new reality. Business models evolved. Hardcore brick and mortar retailers morphed into e-tailers. Akasa Air, the Indian stock market’s Big-Bull Rakesh Jhunjhunwala’s airline is ready to fly the nest. Instead of being daunted by the blood bath the aviation sector witnessed in the pandemic, Jhunjhunwala decided to pioneer the untapped segment of ultra-low-cost carriers. In London and Europe, ChargedUp, a portable phone charging company took a hit when the number of venues hosting their service — mostly the hospitality and leisure sector — closed down in the pandemic. So they started producing sanitisation stations instead, under a new initiative Cleaned Up, almost overnight. Their initial batch was a sell-out even before it was off the production line.
These are examples of how businesses have adapted to new demands. But there’s another story in there — of how people have adapted to make sure their ventures survive. By collaborating. I’ve seen even the shyest and retiring of personalities choose to emerge from the shadows and into the light by active collaborations. Zoom — that ubiquitous word in a world still grappling with COVID-19 — is a barometer of such interactions. Zoom’s daily video call participants increased 30 times in the pandemic — from 10 million to 300 million! Truly, the pandemic has been a ghost teacher imparting video conferencing skills to her pupils. Interestingly, we could have always done this. But we did it when our backs were to the wall, and only when we couldn’t get on planes. We realised this was the only way to communicate. More and more people started collaboration as a tool for survival-ability rather than an esoteric skill set to have.
My personal view, to indulge in a bit of crystal gazing, is that collaboration is going to be the key. People with excellent collaboration skills are going to emerge, winners — whether it is by way of collaborating personally or whether it is by developing products that catalyse collaboration.
How do you see the next couple of years unfolding when you see the world through this new lens? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…