- Posted by admin@FC
- On 24th April 2020
This is the first of a series of three blog articles, entitled “Writing the Future” in which I will discuss and explore how many of the challenges of tomorrow are often known yesterday, but they can only be addressed if they can be brought to the present, which is actually the only period at which intervention can occur.
Writing the Future – Covid-19
“While we can’t predict exactly when or where the next epidemic or pandemic will begin, we know one is coming”
(US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention)
The above quotation, taken from the webpage of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention two years ago, is testimony to the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is a plague visited upon us from the future. It is a pandemic that had been waiting to happen, the warnings had been there, and it had been repeatedly talked about as one of the major threats to our security. We might even say, drawing on a biblical reference, “it was written”.
And now it has happened!
It is really the stuff of science-fiction movies, where suddenly out of clear blue skies something quite unknown and unexpected emerges that threatens our way of life, or even our very existence. The rest of the plot is quite familiar – human ingenuity kicks in and through a combination of innovation and courage, we somehow overcome the threat and life returns to normal. In reality, however, events rarely come out of nothing, thee are usually warning clouds on the horizon.
“suddenly out of a clear blue skies emerges something quite unknown and unexpected that threatens our way of life, or even our very existence”
So far, however, we are still in the early part of this real time, horror movie, where the threat has appeared and is wreaking havoc and we are not at all sure when, or if, life will ever return to normal.
It is likely that when the book is written on the covid-19 pandemic, what we have lived through so far will probably take up only the first third or so. The bulk of the story will be about what happens next.
This “what happens next” will largely depend on the response to the public health crisis triggered by the pandemic, and on how we manage to exit from the quite draconian assaults on our freedoms in order to contain and mitigate the pandemic.
Once again we find ourselves standing at the threshold to the future. We know it awaits us and this time it cannot be circumvented. The usual response of just waiting to see what it brings is not a luxury that is open to us, as the risks posed are far too great. Our entire way of life literally hangs in the balance although none of what happens is inevitable; history does not follow a set course, and people choose which direction to take, and may make the wrong turn.
As in all human achievements, the answer lies in planning and effective execution or the plan (or as it is sometimes called, delivery).
Every day we have listened to and read about the plans to manage and combat the coronavirus, which have been painstakingly developed by scientists, doctors, civil servants, politicians, university professors, health service professionals, researchers, etc. Some of the results of the scenario planning and modelling have been disclosed to us in order to in some way substantiate the measures and approaches selected by government and neatly captured in the mantra, “stay at home, protect the National Health Service and save lives”.
These plans were developed by using data – some of it real time – in order to construct policies and strategies to navigate countries through the public health emergency they are facing.
We have also witnessed some of these plans being executed and seen how sometimes the path of implementation does not happen in a straight line, and how we sometimes need to change course. Eventually the plans and measures taken and those still to come, will doubtlessly steer us through this storm and into calmer seas, but many lessons will have been learnt, not least about how we simply cannot leave our fate to chance.
“many lessons will have been learnt, not least about how we simply cannot leave our fate to chance”
Throughout my professional life, I have witnessed, and often been party to, the efforts of governments and other organisations to do the right thing, stand behind their promises and deliver tangible improvements.
Very often the reality for governments before deciding to have recourse to external advisors is neatly expressed in a quotation by Viktor Chernomyrdin, the second-longest-serving Prime Minister of Russia (1992–1998):
“We wanted it as good as possible, but it turned out as always”
The starting point for any strategic planning endeavour is to perform a scan of what we know is on the horizon, and to map the functions within our own organisation and plot these on the map against the challenges awaiting us. This is now referred to as future-proofing and describes the process of anticipating the future and developing methods for minimizing the effects of shocks and stresses of future events.
Writing in the Economist edition of 23 April, Bill Gates, who remains perhaps one of the greatest futurists, expressed the belief that the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic would be a more joined-up global response resulting in the development of an infrastructure designed to ensure that the World would not again be caught out by similar pandemics.
Gates sees the main tools of fighting future pandemics as being firstly vaccines, secondly major advances in anti-viral drugs and thirdly in testing. This will be a welcome, if belated, global response, but one which may also serve to focus minds on the challenges of future-proofing our businesses, economies and indeed lives. If this is what in fact happens, the losses we have experienced in terms of human lives and the wreckage to our economies will not have been in vain. It is sad that sacrifices are often the trigger for deep change, but it will be even sadder if lessons are not learnt in order to build a more resilient landscape to future threats and benefits the generations of tomorrow.
In the next article in this trilogy, entitled “Writing the future – tools and approaches to future-proofing organisations”, I will look in greater depth at the practical tools and approaches we can use to develop future proofed organisations and mitigate the risk of being caught out by events.