You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller*

When a crisis, calamity or catastrophe hits, you can be sure of one thing: there’ll be a load of advice about what to do next. This will often be from people who talk in platitudes and generalisations, and who don’t have your particular problems.

It’s always easier to see the problem objectively from the side-lines than being stuck in the middle of it. But while you’re trying to regain control of what used to be your ‘normal’, this sideline advice is all too easy to ignore.

The future was always going to be different

The problem here is that the future was always going to be different to today, and you were always going to have to respond by being courageous and creative. It’s just that the level of courage required has gone up.

The truth is, nothing changes by looking at it, so you have to be the difference. 

The COVID-era

COVID-19 has launched us all into a world of WTF happens next, when we’re still in the middle of WTF do we do now?

We’re not immune to this at room44. Only three weeks after we launched our new eBike business, and while our city centre partners can’t keep up with demand from commuters trying to avoid public transport, out in the provinces these issues aren’t felt in the same way – yet. 

In fact, while carbon emissions are reported to have dropped by 60% in city centres, there is a growing sense that the only way to stay away from other people is to cocoon oneself in a car when the movement restrictions lift. It’s going to take a pretty determined attitude to fork out £2k+ for a decent bike to get to work, when you’ve already got a car on the drive.

Two sides to every story

But, as with every story, there are two sides to this one. Limited access to city parking is going to make your life pretty difficult if everyone drives themselves to work. Traffic will increase again and air quality targets will mean local authorities will need, once more, to encourage you out of your car. How will they do this? By raising parking charges and restricting parking spaces. The answer: get yourself a bike. 

Immunity

Have you noticed that, just this week, news media have started saying ‘immunity, while it lasts’?

As with everything, COVID-19 is expected to mutate and because we know so little about it, the level of immunity, from becoming infected and getting over it, is limited, maybe. Watch this space.

Here are a few more readings from trends that you can ponder while locked-down. If these help you to see the world we’re heading into differently, please ‘like’ the article so your colleagues and contacts can see it too.

Air Travel

Air travel after lockdown is likely to be very different than before COVID-19. Companies must now consider the health and safety of travelling staff in the context of risk of infection. Working from home has provided everybody with the perfect conditions to monitor the experiment, and guess what? People can be trusted to be productive when not in direct line of sight, and IT is enabling closer monitoring too. The absolute need for a face-to-face meeting has been re-evaluated, so fewer business trips will be necessary.

Fewer planes in the air, fewer pilots in cabins, fewer cabin crew working, fewer ground staff, luggage handlers…if you work in the aviation industry, now could be a good time to consider retraining.

Choose your travel like a 12-year-old

When you were a kid, you could travel four ways: get a lift, ride a bike, catch a bus (or a train), or walk. This is how our transport options are looking for the future too. Terms like shared and multi-modal are coming soon to a vernacular near you. 

After lockdown, you can always revert to the way things were and go with the flow until there is no other option. That’s your choice.

High streets will become local again

We may all rush out to eat again in town centres after physical distancing restrictions lift – for a while. Then we may wonder why we’re running the risk of contracting COVID-19 (it isn’t going anywhere for a while yet) and high street restaurants and coffee shops will shut down, while other local and regional speciality outlets will thrive.

Fewer planes moving masses of homogeneous packaging and less shopper inclination to visit interchangeable retailers will allow speciality stores to find an audience. Less moving of food around the world will help locally produced, seasonal foods step into the spotlight. It may end up being more expensive, but perhaps we’ve now reached the point at which food should cost what it costs to grow, and not what it is subsidised to be sold at. Perhaps we’re looking at a brighter future when the norm is that we can’t get strawberries out of season, all our cauliflowers come from Cornwall, and our pork from Suffolk.

The miracle of globalisation has lost its shine

If you work in a business that manufactures in China or India, you know that you are hostage to the supply chain. When COVID-19 happened, your supply chain failed. 

Solution: shorten the supply chain, retake control of your production and get to know your production partners so you can call in a favour.

Effect: production comes back to the EU and US and others. Market countries start to rebuild vocational industries.

Can this really happen? Those tuned into economic modelling seem to think so.

Furlough leads to Universal Basic Income

It’s possible that, where industries and companies have failed through COVID-19, governments may introduce a basic income. This will shift the measurement of an individual’s value to society from the value of their output, in terms of a wage received, to one of measuring their consumption – how they choose to spend their funded support, and how they top it up.

UBI may only move people from an existing social benefits structure and income support to a different fund name but, if attitudes shift, it could become an acceptable alternative to the 9 to 5. Gig-economy workers may see the sense in this and, after the first phase of COVID-19 has played out, there are likely to be many more of those.

Less work to do

Considering UBI also prepares society for a time (not too distant) when robots and AI have succeeded in reducing the number of people needed in the workplace.

Who pays? Good question. Logically, we could ask the robotics infrastructure industry to compensate displaced workers, or newly rejuvenated manufacturing to contribute. Just ideas.

Delivery gets multi-layered

In this unprecedented** time, you can order every consumer good you want and it’ll arrive in 48 hours, but you can’t buy flour and you definitely can’t easily see a doctor. You can thank the God of Home Delivery, Amazon, or think again.

The people who are getting you the things you need, who aren’t prepared to give up to Amazon, are the local and small businesses who have adapted. The guys with a deli down the road or the bakery in the high street you can call to get a delivery next day are the ones we should be thanking. Support local. 

When the chips are down and chips are all you want, Amazon won’t be there for you the way the local fryer has always been.

Work security 

Jobs that were gold-plated like air crew, retail buyers, baristas and GPs look a bit less secure. Service provision that has shone through during lock-down, like small food producers, online health services, delivery drivers and, dare I say, eBike delivery riders are not going to fade away. Job-security has been a declining concept for years and, now more than ever, people are realising that their trust in larger corporations might need a rethink.

The trends we’ve listed here have some inter-relation. They are suggestions of a degree of change that is happening now. 

How much these changes will affect you remains broadly in your hands.

To some degree they will come to bear on your life whatever you do. You can consciously try to modify your behaviours after the peak of COVID-19, or you can resist. 

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Many of these will be changes for good. Less airborne pollution has such a wide range of environmental and health benefits that it’s hard to see why we would allow it to reoccur. 

‘Nothing changes by looking at it’ – and the least painful route forward is to take responsibility to change now. Trying to go back to how things were is going to be frustrating, expensive, and probably doomed to fail.

Better to devise a new set of behaviours while you have the time to think.

Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.

*Richard Buckminster Fuller was an American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist.

** This ‘unprecedented’ time is relative. The world has seen population-changing epidemics and pandemics before and the intervals are surprisingly regular. The decisions you make today will have a direct effect on the health and well-being of your grandchildren – and that must be worth thinking about.

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