By Tom Davis, Vice President, Susan Davis International
Our endless summer has, at long last, come to an end.
Traditionally, fall brings an enormous spurt of energy, as those of us in the northern hemisphere pick up the pace in an effort to use every moment productively before winter sets upon us. But, this year feels different. In fact, the more discerning among us may have realized this year is different.
Thanks to the unanticipated, far reaching implications of the global COVID-19 pandemic, October arrives feeling as though we’ve barely moved on from March. One day moves onto the next with scant distinction, and the following week feels little different from the last. To some extent it feels like we’re all characters in a massive remake of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day.
Obviously we cannot and have not actually put our lives on hold, but something associated with that dynamic has occurred. We carry out our newly adapted daily routines with efficiency, and for the most part, it appears fairly effectively. Business has gone on reasonably well, although industries like restaurants, hospitality, and travel have been hugely disrupted. Yet it feels as though we are drifting more than moving, waiting for the catalyst that will change the world back to the way it worked before we were introduced to COVID-19.
From both a personal and business perspective, it’s useful to contemplate what the future may look like.
For businesses, this is the heart of strategic planning. I think, at some level, many of us – if not most of us – have pitched tents in the “science will save us” camp. Accustomed to the wonders of modern medicine we’ve bumped along, essentially playing for time, waiting to be rescued. The more farsighted among us have gone a bit further in their planning scenarios.
Suppose where we are now is roughly where we find ourselves a year from now. We may have a vaccine for COVID-19, but it continues to evolve, continues to be virulent, and continues to take a huge toll around the world.
Will seven months of social distancing become seven years? Clearly we’ve adjusted to our current circumstances, changed lifestyles, and many have found that despite obvious downsides there are also upsides to spending more time at home. Of course, our new lifestyles have generated massive change in the consumer goods industry, and call into question the long term relevance of much of the brick and mortar retail sector. Conversely, online shopping has skyrocketed. The increasing numbers of people who have switched largely to shopping online are not likely to forsake the convenience in the future.
Where all this leaves us from a business perspective remains guesswork. Large scale, in-person events are not on the horizon. It will be very interesting to see how this fact manifests in the next Presidential Inaugural. Communication firms that specialize in the hospitality sector will struggle. Those who specialize in the technology sector will do better. It’s a time in which effective strategic planning may make the difference between thriving or simply surviving…or not surviving. It is also a time in which the number of variables that must be considered in planning is large enough to make planning extraordinarily challenging.
Ordinarily strategic planning is anchored in the realm of here’s what we know. Now, “here’s what we know” is being diluted by the increased uncertainty of what the world will look like in the coming months and years. Here’s what we know is being mugged by here’s what we assume but don’t know, and in truth have deep-seated misgivings about our assumptions. Tough way to plan.
Still, some critical variables will be resolved relatively soon. In a bit over a month we should know who will be President for the next term. Yes, there are some who suggest we may not actually know who won for months or years, but we can bet the under on that one. Both businesses and government will adjust and move forward, and the certainty of knowing who will be President will unleash new business initiatives.
In the midst of much uncertainty, one thing that is certain is new opportunities will arise as we emerge from the massive shock to our system induced by COVID-19. Those who are methodically assessing opportunities, evaluating alternative scenarios, and are nimble enough to move quickly as opportunities emerge, will prosper.
Strategic planning may be tough at the moment, but it beats the heck out of wishing and hoping.