In a time of global chaos, we outline the steps businesses can take to imagine new scenarios and build future-fit strategies to turn uncertainty into action.

Covid-19 has brought chaos – and vast new possibilities

23.03.2020 Retail : Society : Covid-19

With existing systems crumbling, businesses will need to quickly recalibrate, using fear as a positive catalyst to create future-fit strategies.

Casa by Mathery Casa by Mathery

We are realising the power of collective action. Perhaps in this chaos there is a window of opportunity that we can seize

Victoria Buchanan, futures analyst, The Future Laboratory

Covid-19 is forcing the world to act, despite being severely constrained by unknowns and uncertainties. While the pandemic is hugely unsettling and worrying, it is also an opportunity for organisations, businesses and communities to test their resilience while exploring new and more agile systems fit for a transformative 21st century.

‘Humans are incredibly adaptable,’ says Ana Andjelic, a strategy executive and doctor of sociology. ‘Even when a dire situation becomes a new normal and we start to operate within that new reality, new ways of socialising, joking and working emerge.'

Amid Covid-19’s grip, The Future Laboratory has already witnessed many of the innovations we’ve talked about with our clients over the past five years quickly moving into the mainstream. Businesses are adopting working from home en masse, while house-bound humans are nimbly pivoting to social gatherings using digital platforms like Zoom, House Party and Instagram to create cloud-based club nights, live-streamed sound baths and digital book clubs.

Restaurants are exploring new operating models; in lieu of physical footfall they’re becoming dark kitchens, embracing to-go formats and no-contact food delivery. In Seattle, fine dining restaurant Canlis has already redesigned its entire fine dining business model to offer a breakfast beigel shed, a burger drive-through and a dinner delivery service.

Despite the challenges they face, brands are also stepping up to their civic responsibilities by helping governments and public institutions to navigate the crisis. Luxury goods group LVMH drew on its manufacturers to swiftly produce hand sanitiser, which it donated to French hospitals. In the UK, Best Western hotels has even offered to turn its properties into temporary hospitals if the NHS requires bed space.

The Covid-19 disruption is already having positive environmental benefits
Do Not Crowd by Mathery Do Not Crowd by Mathery

While the daily sense of anxiety feels like it might never end, the foresight professional in me is already looking to the future. We are realising the power of collective action, and perhaps in this chaos there is a window of opportunity that we can seize in order to rewrite old ways of thinking.

I have been re-energised and inspired by reading Antifragile, a book by philosopher and author of The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Back in 2012 he examined how humankind – as well as industry – not only gains from chaos but requires it in order to survive and flourish. Amid discussions around uncertainty as being something desirable and powerful, Taleb argues that ‘some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder and stressors’.

Indeed, the Covid-19 disruption is already proving to have positive environmental benefits. NASA and the European Space Agency report that, since January, their satellites have recorded a major drop in global air pollution. In Venice, wildlife is returning to a tourist-free city as the quality of its canal water improves.

It is an exciting time to work in the discipline of foresight; to lean into this changing landscape, imagining new possible scenarios and building future-fit strategies to turn this uncertainty into action. Right now, businesses need to recalibrate and regard fear as a positive catalyst, not a threat to all that we know.

Our Covid-19 report examines the pandemic’s cross-sector impact and outlines key opportunities for brands and businesses in the year ahead. Read it here on 25 March.

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