“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”

COVID-19 and the New Abnormal

If I hear the phrase ‘new normal’ one more time I might just pop. One thing that particularly irks is the suggestion that ‘normal’ is what we should be aiming for. I’m not so sure normality is all it’s cracked up to be. Before the pandemic started, the world was already facing a climate emergency, pervasive prejudice, worsening inequality and increasing political polarisation. For anyone fighting to overcome these problems, ‘normal’ is the enemy. ‘Normal’ is what keeps the old ways going. ‘Normal’ is what holds us back from making the fundamental changes that must be made. So instead of talking about the new normal, let’s start talking about the new abnormal – the bolder, braver and better world that we aspire to build as we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis.

The active pursuit of a new abnormal is especially important in the business world. Working with professional development group Outstanding.Global, I’ve heard from business people across numerous sectors about how the Covid-19 crisis has affected them. Although they all reported huge challenges, there was a common feeling that positive lessons could be taken from their experiences.  The crisis has presented them with the opportunity to bring about changes that were long overdue. Back in the days of normality, discussing ways of making a business greener, more inclusive and more socially responsible was known as ‘Blue Sky Thinking’ – a phrase suggestive of dreamers conjuring up ideas with no place in the real cut-and-thrust of business. But now this kind of discussion is far from idle. At Outstanding.Global we call it ‘New Sky Thinking’ – the genuine pursuit of a better way of doing business. Covid-19 has pushed businesses toward positive change in three ways:

1. The COVID-19 Crisis has proven that positive change is necessary

Nothing is easier than ignoring problems. But Covid-19 has presented us with the kind of problem that nobody can deny. Every business has had to take the problem seriously and act accordingly. So why not take the same attitude to the problems we were facing before the crisis? We can take action to confront the climate emergency. We can take action to promote inclusivity. We can take action to fight inequality. None of these problems disappeared when the pandemic started. In fact, some of them got worse! So stepping up and taking responsibility has never been more necessary. The fact that some problems are easier to ignore doesn’t make doing so any more excusable.

2. The COVID-19 Crisis has proven that positive change is possible

When lockdown measures were put in place, businesses had to take unprecedented measures to change how they worked. These changes required decisiveness – business leaders had to be prepared to make big decisions with far-reaching ramifications. They required creativity – business leaders had to find effective solutions to challenges that they’d never imagined.  And they required speed – business leaders had to bring about these changes in an incredibly short timeframe. But if they could do this for Covid-19, why not for the other major threats that we face? To effect the kind of fundamental change we need, businesses need to act decisively, creatively and quickly. And the response to Covid-19 shows that such action is possible.

3. The COVID-19 Crisis has presented positive change with an opportunity

When trying to bring about fundamental change the biggest challenge we face is inertia. Normality has a life of its own. Old attitudes, old cultures and old organisational structures have a way of sticking around even when they’re not fit for purpose. But Covid-19 has stopped normality in its tracks. Have you ever had a computer that stops working and is completely unresponsive to your efforts to sort it out? There’s often a simple solution: turn it off and on again! By restarting the computer, you start with a blank slate. Things that were causing trouble are kept out of the way, the things it was doing can continue undisturbed and new things can get started. The same applies to business. It would be an exaggeration to say that Covid-19 is a blank slate – many old issues will stick around. But it’s the closest to a blank slate that we’re likely to get. What we have is a golden opportunity to get rid of the parts of ‘normal’ that we don’t want, to protect the parts of ‘normal’ that we like and to innovate the new abnormal practices that the world needs. Now is the time!

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