Wen Lu, 2020 Sony World Photography awards

THERE IS NO ESCAPE. YOU CAN’T OPEN UP A NEWS APP, SOCIAL NETWORK OR INBOX WITHOUT SOMEONE GIVING YOU AN OPINION ON WHAT WILL CHANGE POST-PANDEMIC. WHAT IF IT ISN’T SMALL STEPS AND IT’S MUCH MORE DRAMATIC THAN WE REALISE? BUT WHAT IF NOTHING CHANGES? AND WHY DO WE CARE EITHER WAY? HEAD OF STRATEGY BEN SHAW VENTURES INTO TWO NEW WORLDS.

We’re in the middle of a pandemic, people are dying in their thousands and we can’t help ourselves from predicting what the New Normal will look like. Turn to one insight PDF and you’ll get the positive outlook of the new normal most likely saying its a V-shaped recovery and we’ll all be in cinemas sharing popcorn by June. Turn to the other friendly email you just received from that place you swear you unsubscribed from and its doom and gloom with a facemask on. This is going to last for years and you better invest in Zorb balls because that’s the only way we’ll be back outside again. 

Who can you trust when everyone is saying everything and nothing will change and yet both will be the New Normal? What world will we get back into? It seems simple to summarise into two distinct, and extreme, possibilities:

A. We go back to a world we haven’t seen before. This world is called PandemiCity. A world that has been irreversibly changed and continues to be under influence by the condition of a pandemic. Following the most devastating terrorist incident for decades, the 9/11 attacks, U.S. airspace was only closed for 2 days. However, it took nearly 3 years, until July 2004, for the industry to match and finally surpass the pre 9/11 levels. This is just one example, from a vaguely transferable event, in one country and category. The speed and scale of the return to what life was like 6 months ago is seemingly underestimated. Yes, when the lockdown is lifted we can go outside, but will we want to? We’re now getting the consumer data from China and intentional surveys from the U.K. indicating it will be a defrosting rather than a quick boil back to ‘normality’.

YouGov COVID-19 report

Or 

B. We go back to a world with a few new adjustments. This world is called Post-Covid. A world where the Coronavirus is the definition of 2020, everyone is gaslit and told it wasn’t that bad and we make jokes about the silly people wearing face masks. To use the previous example, 9/11 happened and we now all still fly, in fact at levels even more before all this happened. At a time when we know, we’re causing the air pollution that everyone now seems to notice. In fact, our desire for travel has not been tempered by our isolation it’s been teased – we still want to get away to the exotic overseas and yes in a tin can with wings that burn petroleum at 35,000 feet. 

BVA BDRC COVID-19 Tracker weekly report – available via email

So where are we? A or B. Well. All this chat about ‘The New Normal’. Fuck the new normal. We were never at normal in the first place. We’ve already been in constant change, desperately trying to adapt to dramatic social disruption caused by technological change and political upheaval and then we’ve been sideswiped by a pandemic that no government in the world was prepared for. We have stuttered at the speed of the social and economic disruption the virus has caused but previously sleepwalked into a new normal every day.  

The reason why everyone is so fixated on talking about the new normal is because of both an innate desire to question whether this is the world we want to return to and at the same time, where are the opportunities for my own selfish growth? The vaccine for Covid-19 is currently in a test tube and it feels that’s the exact same place we all are as well – as Ben Evans has written excellently about

We yearn to talk about normal when we actually are talking about rhythms, habits and repetitive behaviours. The most striking behaviours that have come out of this time has been the clarity and doubling down on what we value the most, and what certainly won’t change. 

Connection. The need for human connection – in-person or in-zoom we have and always will crave the ability to connect, share, bond and demonstrate affection. Before, during and after the pandemic this will still be true. Zoom has boomed but so has people sending mail again. Invest in people investing time in each other.

Endeavour. No amount of self-isolation disrupted distribution or presidential mandates are able to stop the natural ability of our species to create. We have seen innovation across manufacturing, a novelty in expression and resilience in the creative process. Our instinct to take on the challenges of today and use creativity and collaboration will always lead to endless innovation no matter how bleak the outlook is. The ease and adoption of creative platforms and the ability to now do all this from your phone means Connection + Endeavour will result in a continuous stream of creativity. Encourage that. 

Consumption. There have been various reports on how our demand for meat may have started this problem, but it’s our insatiable and incessant demand to buy buy buy that has truly been showcased. In the middle of a global pandemic where food, shelter and medicine are the only must-haves we have still found a way to get the clothes we want, the games to play and the tools to make our homes nicer. In times of need, we want basics and treats. Oh and that thing to make cutting avocados a bit easier. There is a time, place and proposition for every product. 

Everything would change in PandemiCity. Potentially some things would change for a bit Post-Covid and then return to ‘normal’. Maybe, instead of pondering about what could change, what might change, what looks like it’s already changed, we should be listening a bit more to the man who is making billions from this pandemic – Jezz Bezos.  

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

Jeff Bezos