I remember, as if it were yesterday, a night in 1983 when I went to the cinema to see the film “The Day After”. I came out of the cinema so moved, that many years later I still remember what I felt at the time. The film showed us a world in which nuclear war is already inevitable. Terrified people flee to atomic shelters, but first they raid supermarkets for supplies. And finally (spoiler alert) what everyone feared happens: missiles, with nuclear warheads, are fired from various points on the planet. The missiles hit their targets and mushrooms of devastation and destruction form. Chaos ensues. The world is reduced to rubble and ashes, the surviving population is confined to shelters.
The Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University and the Global Challenges Foundation calculates the likelihood of which events could end civilisation in the next 100 years. Among the top five are extreme climate change, nuclear war, ecological catastrophes and global pandemics. What is most striking about the list is that most of the enemies of human civilisation are born of it. Some dangers, such as nuclear war, are relatively new, but climate change or pandemics have been with us for centuries.
The question many of us are asking today is what will the day after this coronavirus crisis look like from the perspective of the ordinary person?
The idea that crises have both a negative and a positive aspect is well expressed by the Chinese word wei-chi. In the country where it all began, the first part of the word, wei, means “caution, danger”. The second part, chí, has a very different connotation; it means “opportunity for change”.
We are all preparing for a new post-crisis world, but no one knows for sure what that world will look like. Perhaps that is why we should think that the day after will not come in May or June or July; the day after is today.
The bumpy start to the 21st century.
We are, as a society, at a turning point, which will undoubtedly mark a before and after in our modern history. The covid-19 pandemic brings with it – this is almost 100% certain – the third and biggest economic, financial and social crisis of the 21st century. The first was 9/11 and the second was the global financial crisis of 2008. There is not and will not be a return to a known normality and the curtain rises on a different scenario. For some, it is a scenario of unprecedented opportunity: “we came from a normality that was not good for us citizens or for the planet, we needed a change”. For others, the scenario is dressed in red lights: “we are heading towards a normality of control, of lack of privacy, of state interventionism, of complex economic problems”. Perhaps both positions have a point.
The world changes with your example, not with your opinion
Old questions, new answers.
One of the recurring questions that comes up between phone calls, WhastApp chats, Zoom conference calls is: What is normality, and is there such a thing as normal? While many want everything to return to normal quickly, what most people did not realise – and will soon realise – is that things will not return to normal, because a new reality is emerging, a new normality (if there is such a thing), which will have little to do with the one we knew.
What is happening to us, locally and globally, is already beginning to be one of the great transformational shocks of the modern era. A new era? I don’t know if it is fair to put it in the group of great ruptures with the two world wars, but certainly with the financial crises of 1929 and 2008, the end of the cold war and the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001.
In many cases we are talking about a very uncertain scenario for the business world, but as is always the case, in times of disruption, many disappear, others are born and some survive.
There is no later. It is now.
There will always be “a day after”, even if it is not how you imagined it or how you wanted it. And the questions follow one after the other in the videoconferences or virtual meetings that flood Zoom, whose CEO Eric Yuan is a Chinese billionaire, Microsoft’s Teams or Google’s Hangouts. What will tomorrow’s customer demand? What will they want or expect from brands? What will companies be like the day after? How will the way of working be transformed? A new social dimension, a new era, a new job?
And we keep asking ourselves,
Because a new era needs new questions. And we keep asking ourselves: Will we stop hugging and greeting each other with a handshake or a kiss? Will we avoid going to cafés, bars and restaurants? Will we no longer go to the stadium to watch our team? Will we give up travelling? Will we prefer not to go to the theatre, cinema or concerts?
Human beings are social animals, it’s in their DNA, it’s natural. Bonds are powerful and our ability to adapt is even more so. If we delve into the depths of human nature, we can see that at the height of the virtual world, we desperately want to return to the essentials of the physical world: hugs, kisses, coffees with friends, dinners, walks, meetings, life.
After the 2001 attacks in New York it seemed that no one else would get on a plane, and there were never as many people and flights as there were between then and before the pandemic.
During the financial crash of 2008 it seemed that there would be no tomorrow for economies. Since then the upward cycle, driven mainly by technology companies, only paused in times of pandemic.
Crossing the chasm.
We all hope that this virus will soon be history. That we already have retrovirals and a vaccine to control it. Some say within a year, or maybe two. And with not knowing, the challenge for everyone, governments, institutions, companies, brands, the academic and scientific world and citizens, will be to build that tomorrow so that we do not have to elucidate what will change and what will not. Not long ago, the day after was a day in which the climate emergency was our priority, space exploration and the arrival of man on Mars were not a utopia, autonomous cars and flying vehicles were going to be part of everyday traffic. Today, science, creativity, innovation, all areas of our existence are being affected differently by covid-19, so much so that priorities are changing.
Even at great cost, especially in human lives, human beings are and will be able to overcome this abyss and move on. We are crossing the chasm, and we can find some light amidst so much darkness, on the other side.
Man, perhaps, is not aware of his capacity until he puts it to the test.
During a large part of the pandemic I was talking to great professionals from different fields, digital, talent, art, sport, branding, innovation, sustainability; practically none of them would want to go backwards. They are all committed to a new model based on values, on a new social contract, on changing the way we look at things and the way we do things, on a more humane, honest, ethical and committed society.
Change is an opportunity for brands to become something they were not.
What things will not be as they were?
It is highly likely that the business world will change 180 degrees. The discovery of remote working presages that it was not so necessary to keep to a schedule, in one place, with the same daily routine. Beloved and respected brands will have a prominent and relevant place. Hygiene and prevention measures will be stricter in public places, especially in transport, and in their hubs (airports, ports, train stations, bus stations), study centres and workplaces. Online in all its variants (telework, commerce, finance, communication, etc.) will finally become a reality and will be stronger than it was. Governments‘ relationship with transparency will change. Although there will be new mechanisms to control the population, with the excuse of caring for their health, algorithms will make them know even more about us. Privacy will be a luxury. We are likely to consume more but better.
The global as symptom.
Globalisation will be transformed into something new, which we do not yet know what to call. Hopefully, a new international order based on cooperation, exchange and solidarity will prevail. The coronavirus is not a disease of globalisation, but rather a manifestation of it. The virus strikes hardest in densely populated cities connected by air transport, by tourist movements (business, leisure, etc.), with a lot of outward and inward activity as part of invisible interwoven networks.
Covid-19 has caught the West distracted by other matters. It could have reacted earlier and did not, Europe’s slowness is sometimes alarming. It is too early to determine what social, political and economic footprint this pandemic will leave on Europe and the world. Although we have more resources and more developed science than in previous pandemics, the global dynamics of an interconnected world also seem to make us more vulnerable.
The break that opens up a new scenario.
The day after could be presented as the end of a great crisis in which one returns to a known, but not the same, previous state; or a great rupture in which almost everything is transformed. And I am more inclined to the latter.
Behind the breakdown we are witnessing is the human mind and its limitless capacity to build and to destroy. The battle is on, over what kind of civilisation we will build our future, the day after. I am convinced that the constructive capacity will prevail; the future of the human being depends on it.
We already have the tools and knowledge to be able to act. We have a choice and future generations will not have that choice. But above all, I am struck by the fact that most global policy makers are not up to the challenge.
The change that is coming is not just for political leaders, each and every one of us must be aware of the consequences of our decisions for tomorrow and what they will mean for future generations.
And as we build the future, we are in an era in which there has never been so much progress for human beings. As always, the challenges of progress must be taken seriously and seriously.
The battle to build a more balanced relationship between progress and society, nature and technology is still pending. In any case, tomorrow depends on us. Tomorrow is already today.