One of my ex colleagues called me up to check on how to deal with the current crisis. I told him that “ I don’t know” and that’s the truth. Although I have spent almost four decades working for the best corporations of India and the world, I have not come across a crisis of this type.
This is symptomatic of what the future has in store for us. Our future challenges cannot be solved based on past experiences. Our past may not be able to help us to solve the complexities of the future. It is as simple as the seasons in a year. In the past, we could predict, summer, winter, monsoon, spring and autumn. We could also predict when it will rain in our region. Now with climate change, nothing is predictable. It snows in Middle East and its hot in Europe, which nobody would have even dreamt.
Our life is not going to be very different. We may not be able to anticipate the future. The best of corporations with their intelligent employees and the best of artificial intelligence cannot anticipate the future. Someone has beautifully said that “ The future has a habit of suddenly and dramatically becoming the present..”. That is what is likely to happen. Who imagined a 21 day lockout in a country like India ?
Economic power or technological power may not be able to enable nations to find solutions for human problems. We can find a solution to a problem provided we understand what it is and how it going to impact us. What the current Covid crisis has taught us is that we neither can predict the future nor anticipate it. We have to adapt to the future as it evolves in front of us.
One of things we always talk in corporates is adaptability. It is this ability to adapt to change,which could enable organisations and individuals to cope with it. Even though we may not be able to anticipate or predict the change, we can develop the ability to adapt to it and steer it to our advantage.
All of us may have gone through multiple crises in our lives. Some of us manage it well and get over it fast and move on. While others may get sunk by the crisis and get stuck for the rest of their lives like sinking in quicksand. They can neither pull themselves out nor help others stuck in a similar crisis. The successful people find ways and means to adapt to the crisis and move on.
Organisations are no different. They are like a summation of individual behaviours. That is what we call the organisation culture. HR specialists and managers need to develop this adaptability as a special skill in their teams. If members panic and get sunk, then the organisation may never survive and thrive.
The other quality one can think of is Resilience. This is our ability to withstand a crisis without getting ruffled too much and bounce back. While we may not be able to anticipate a crisis of the Covid type even in the future, we can show resilience and bounce back sooner than others. Organisations which bounce back faster than their competitors are the ones who will succeed and not the ones who keep analysing what went wrong and how to deal with it in the future. This is because the future is no longer going be a reflection of the past.
As individuals, one great lesson this crisis has taught us is to be close to nature. Everything we have done to move away from nature has harmed us. The more we cut forests, build on lakes, dump garbage in the oceans, the more we may have to pay in the future. Individuals in the past fought for survival and growth. On the other hand, individuals in the future will fight for clean air, drinking water, healthy food and so on. These may appear basic today but may become extinct tomorrow if we do not get back to respect nature as we did in the past.
I am a born optimist. I believe this crisis will wake up the world forever. As nations, communities and individuals, we will be more conscious of our duties and responsibilities than in the past. We will create a future of our choice and try to evolve it to become predictable again.
Time to start is today. Let us as individuals commit to make one change in our personal lives. It could be as simple as carrying a cloth bag for all our purchases rather than dumping single use plastic, which is used as carry bags even today. It is not for governments to mandate anymore. It is for individuals to change our own behaviour.
As in the photo above, if you are rowing a boat in the ocean, adapting to the waves will be the key to success as a boatman can never anticipate the wind or waves on the sea.
S Ramesh Shankar
28th March 2020