On the odd occasion over the past week, I will admit to a tinge of regret over the timing of a 100-day alcohol-free challenge. It doesn’t last long. A quick glance at any news footage swiftly calibrates my thoughts as to the true challenges in our utterly transformed Covid-19 world.
The human, economic and social losses are already dreadful and we have no idea when our lives might return to a more normal rhythm. The not knowing is tough. However, that day will come and a very sobering ten days has prompted a search for positive thoughts. Ironically, as financial markets fall in value there are welcome signs of other socio-economic essentials gaining in value. Here’s our top ten:
- Value of Science: Science and facts have recovered their essential role in decisions of critical importance. In this era of social media dependency there has been an alarming consequence of individuals “choosing” their own sources of information. Widescale disdain for science and subjective selection of “facts” has facilitated a dangerous conflation of opinion and fact. Unfortunately, it has taken more than 10,000 deaths, horrific ICU scenes and a global economic shut down to disabuse the “just a flu” view. The facts and real doctors have overwhelmed the spin doctors. Now the hope going forward is that expertise is once again valued rather than sneered upon.
- Value of Leadership: It is unfortunate that Ireland’s two most important trading partners are burdened with dysfunctional political environments and chronic fact-free leadership. The “herd immunity” gymnastics of Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings have cost the UK precious days of Covid-19 containment. There is a real danger of needless additional loss of life and a painful realisation that a leader’s casual acquaintance with the truth in a crisis is extremely damaging. Indeed, the consequences of Donald Trump’s daily delusions could be even more catastrophic for US citizens. In contrast, the informed and realistic public messaging from Merkel, Macron and Varadkar has illustrated what leadership can be, but laid bare the risks of entrusting power in the hands of mendacious journalists and reality TV stars.
- Value of Planet Earth: We haven’t figured out anywhere else to inhabit. One would be hopeful that mass exposure to the threat of a global socio-economic collapse will focus minds on preventing similar threats in the future. Climate change is a scientifically documented threat to all inhabitants of our planet despite what Donald Trump and other fossil fuel champions might opine. So, expect the ESG revolution to gather further momentum.
- Value of Work: We have often written about the dangers of extreme income inequality which now rivals levels last seen in the 1930s. This crisis has surely revealed the true value of essential skills in the likes of healthcare, logistics, education and food supply. The irony of “unskilled workers” now being described as essential to the UK economy skirts over the fact that many of these workers are also immigrants. Perhaps the next round of pay negotiations will be more rewarding and supported by a more appreciative society. Furthermore, governments are also now being introduced to the instant evaporation of incomes from the gig economy and zero-hour contracts. Post Covid-19, expect companies who avail of state bailouts to receive serious scrutiny of their commitments to their workers, even if they don’t want them badged as employees.
- Value of Technology: As families, businesses and communities adjust to huge change many will be introduced for the first time to the solutions technology can provide. How many families were thankful of the online children’s PE class hosted by Joe Wicks yesterday morning? About 800,000 families apparently. Take your pick from tele-conferencing, online order/deliveries, entertainment streaming, telemedical apps and educational videos as 20% of the planet’s population is in lock-down. Life will never be the same again for many as they discover new services and more rewarding uses of their time. All powered by technology.
- Value of Education: As people experience a curtailment of their social lives and an exhaustion of Netflix, Instagram and Tik-Tok entertainment this is a timely opportunity to reflect and stretch the mind. In a sense, we have been forced to confront our own mortality and the safety of those we love. But also, we might reflect on the potential ‘mortality’ of a business or career. This feels like the moment when continuous learning and upskilling goes mainstream. Educational platforms like Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, EdX and Udemy can expect significant growth in the coming months.
- Value of Community: Who would have thought the UK Conservative Party would go full metal jacket socialist while the Labour Party ripped itself apart for a post-Corbyn coronation! On a more serious note, don’t be surprised to see the traditional and much-maligned European model of state/social support being the winner in a post Covid-19 world. Some communities will fare better than others in this crisis and it will depend on how all tiers of each society share the challenge and support the vulnerable. Reports of a spike in ammunition and gun sales in the US are not a particularly auspicious start to the challenges fast approaching that society. On a more positive note this is the first time the world is united against a common enemy since WW2. Community solidarity can achieve many things from innovation to workforce inclusivity. Even empathy.
- Value of History: Voltaire said, “History never repeats itself; man always does.” After the 2008-2009 credit crisis there has been frustration in many countries that previous bad actors in corporate, media and political life were able to re-invent themselves and airbrush history. Surely in a digital world we can do better this time. Exhibit A in the nausea stakes is White House economics advisor, Larry Kudlow, revisiting our screens to reassure and spout the same utter nonsense he floated on CNBC in 2008. This writer’s earnest wish is that all passive enablers and promoters of Trumpian and Boris falsehoods will be exiled from ‘expert’ panels, company boards, legislative bodies and TV screens forever. Covid-19 will have many innocent victims but history must convict the guilty few charlatans swiftly.
- Value of Mental Health: Social isolation will be a new experience for many. They will learn new coping mechanisms and swiftly understand the challenges of the lack of social interaction. For a significant percentage of society mental health is an every day, every year challenge. There is a genuine possibility this crisis will massively increase awareness, prompt good habits and deepen the understanding and importance of mental health.
- Value of Kindness: Already this crisis has revealed uplifting stories of outstanding kindness. What is less well documented is the positive feedback loop created by little acts of kindness. Just reaching out to 5 people a day and asking how they are doing is a good habit and strengthens the resilience of both parties during this period of quiet isolation. The same could be said in business. Those franchises that continue to communicate well to staff, suppliers, community and customers through this period will emerge from the crisis stronger versus less thoughtful competitors. It should also become apparent that deliberate misinformation or callous messaging could be fatal for business too. Fancy a pint in Wetherspoons any time in the next decade?
The months ahead will be tough. Hopefully, the values listed above continue to rise and society re-sets in a positive way. Honesty will probably save many lives and prompts one final thought. In some ways the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown was a greater threat to the planet but we just didn’t know about it at the time. The HBO series documenting these terrifying events had a wonderful line from the nuclear scientist, Valery Legasov – “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.”
Now it’s our turn. Covid-19 truths and debts are coming due.