- The pandemic teaches us that all the facts are not knowable but this can make our decision-making more flexible
- Business cannot delay decisions. It needs a set of plans based on the ‘if this, then that’ protocol
- Crises such as a pandemic produce forks and accelerants. The effects will be permanent
A constant refrain throughout the coronavirus pandemic has been uncertainty.
We don't know how long it will last, what the death toll will be, when we'll have a vaccine, how effective it will be, when borders will reopen, what the economic cost will be or how the crisis will change our world.
One thing Steve Sammartino, a futurist and technologist, is certain of is that our lives will never again be the same. He will expand on this theme when he speaks at a virtual conference for Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand on 27 October.
As with the terrorist attacks on the US in September 2001, which changed the way we travel, the pandemic is a magnifier.
"If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that we never really know all the facts," Sammartino says. "It may teach us to be better decision makers because we've learnt that all the facts are not knowable.
"It has changed our mindset and, in a way, it frees us up from a business perspective. It enables us to make decisions more quickly and, if we make the wrong decision we can say, that's OK, now we know that, we can change direction."
But he says the biggest mistake business can make now is to wait. "We have the opportunity to build new habits, to improve our scenario planning," he says.
"We need to have a set of plans that I call the 'if this, then that' protocol. When you decide on plan A, it is based on what you know today and, if things change, you change your plan based on what you know then."
Sammartino likens the situation to walking in a deep fog. We can't wish it away. We don't know how long it will last, what the tax situation will look like next year, where the government will inject funding to stabilise the economy.
He refers to forks and accelerants. "When you have a crisis such as the pandemic, you see forks – things that exist now that didn't exist before, a changed trajectory that will forever be there."
So, business leaders need to think about the forks – the things that are changed forever. "There might be extra things we have to do or entirely new directions we need to take."
The other is accelerants. These are slow, bubbling-up trends that are accelerated by an event. One of these is the 'work from anywhere' revolution. "It has been possible for 20 years, but it has taken an event like this for that to occur," he says.
Technology is now the weapon of invasion. It is no longer guns and soldiers. It is digital control.
Its effects will flow on to what cities look like, to transport infrastructure, to where people live, to a regional renaissance. Such effects will be permanent. Like the changes to travel after September 2001, things will never go back to the way they were.
"Then there is e-commerce. Since COVID-19, it is nearly 30% of retail revenue in Australia. That will never go back."
He sees the emergence of deglobalisation, reversing the trend of the past 40 years. We're seeing trade wars, almost a technology Cold War, we had Brexit and now supply chain insecurity.
"Governments are thinking of how to bring manufacturing back home – even if it's less efficient. After World War II freedom was the doctrine, now it's security," he says.
And Sammartino sees a trend towards autocracy. Nations are becoming more insular, less open-minded, more polarised. "You used to invade a country with your army, now it's technology. If you don't control the most important infrastructure in your country, you lack sovereignty. Technology is now the weapon of invasion. It is no longer guns and soldiers. It is digital control."