This is the third installment of my New Regular series (seen anything normal lately?). The first was about customer expectations and cheese, the second one was about paradigm shifts, tiny and not so much. The goal is to establish perspective and maintain focus on whatever is coming at us in the post-pandemic marketplace.
This offering is about identifying the implications of a pandemic shutdown. In that quest, another book came to mind that perfectly reveals the power of gaining 2020 perspective clarity from the 20:20 hindsight of history. “In the Wake of the Plague,” by the late Norman F. Cantor, chronicles the bubonic plague pandemic of the Middle Ages. Don’t leave – you’ll thank me later.
As hateful and scary as the novel coronavirus is, this pandemic won’t rival the most devastating natural assault on humanity in recorded history. But the valuable common thread between our current adversity and the Black Death is found in Cantor’s title.
Cantor reports that in the five years from 1347-52, the plague killed more than 20 million humans across Europe. He then establishes greater perspective on that astonishing number by reporting that it represented half the population of western civilization at that moment in history. And here’s the energy source of Cantor’s wake: no respecter of class, the Black Death took down peasantry, nobility and clergy in proportionate numbers.
For centuries, the nobility and clergy shared dominance over people and ideas in the western world. And, as a result of their numbers and influence diminishing so greatly with such velocity, three new forces and one killer app emerged to change the course of humanity.
The wake of the plague gave birth in the 16th century to the Reformation (1507), then the Renaissance, and later the Enlightenment. But before those, in 1453, Guttenberg’s awesome printing press. Way to go, Johannes.
The bacterial pathogen, Yersinia pestis exacted a catastrophic bargain in order to change life on the planet for the better. Now, to the future.
Unlike Cantor’s story, the wake of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic won’t be driven by deaths, but rather unprecedented economic deceleration and financial decimation. This wake was created over a period of weeks when the once-accelerating global economy was T-boned by a political pandemic response. As noted last time, the impact and implications of this economic disaster will bisect our lives and livings for generations
Now, in the spirit of Cantor, let’s focus on what we may find in the post-pandemic marketplace that either didn’t exist before or will only now be revealed. As actual examples, and perhaps more valuable as metaphors, use these three marketplace indicators to gain perspective clarity in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Business model resets
There are already Main Street reports of business owners who – pausing their hand wringing long enough to make New-Regular lemonade from pandemic-response lemons – have reset their business models out of survival necessity. But in the wake of the pandemic, many will discover that the new model will not only work better for them and their customers, but also, incredibly, will be more profitable.
No business model – not yours or mine – will be immune to the implications of the pandemic-created shutdown. While you’re necessarily focusing on survival, keep your antenna up for how you can do business better by doing it differently – in the wake of the pandemic.
This implication is a touchy subject because your humble reporter is chronologically aligned with a certain demographic cohort: millions of Baby Boomer business owners, wise and worldly in their 60s and early 70s. As recent as February 2020, a strong economy tempted this group to continue to “slay the dragon” indefinitely. But unfortunately, now considering the time and effort of a post-pandemic recovery, many (perhaps millions) will declare victory and retreat to whatever retirement means to them.
Who will fill the resulting marketplace vacuum? The next generation of dragon slayers with their antennas up, and prepared for the implications of what could be an unprecedented demographic business shift in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Just when you thought we had maxed out digital leverage (seen any new killer apps lately?), the post-pandemic, global-economy reset will produce innovations that correspond to the new marketplace reality. Some will be brand new, while others will be pandemic-driven variations. You will become either a creator of these innovations, an early adopter, or irrelevant. Antennas up!
In my last column, I pointed out that today hundreds-of-thousands of CEOs are discovering mid-pandemic that, thanks to awesome digital tools, their teams can work productively from home, potentially cutting a boatload of physical plant expense. What will be the implications of this shift for the thousands of business models that once served the 20th-century “corner office” paradigm?
But the big tech story arises from the work-from-home shutdown exposing the lack of big pipes out to last-mile America. Millions of owners and employees live in low-density places with slow or no broadband Internet connectivity over which to conduct continuous, dependable, and secure remote work. The 21st-century economy is increasingly conducted over white fiber and less over blacktop.
But beyond work, Internet deserts also hamper or prevent remote education and tele-medicine for the most vulnerable. America will have to address this infrastructure deficiency in order to deal with COVID-21 – or 25. We will not shut down the economy again.
Focus on the implications that are manifesting in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Antennas up!
Write this on a rock …
Believe in yourself as we believe in each other. Survival is winning. This, too, will pass.
Jim Blasingame is host of “The Small Business Advocate Show,” and author of the award-winning books, The Age of the Customer, and The 3rd Ingredient. firstname.lastname@example.org.