Business Resilience and Historical Wisdom
by Lisa Short
It would be impossible for anyone to not reflect on the fact that COVID-19 has detrimentally impacted and disrupted the very socio-economic fabric of the world. As the World Economic Forum says “it will cast a long shadow over the world” with some saying it is so dire it may take 5 to 10 years to recover. The irony in the past few weeks is cognisance of this catastrophic effect, and at the same time seeing the turmoil of protests, violence and social unrest flaunting the extreme sacrifices made by every person and every business. McKinsey’s speak of the implications for business, but also of a ‘social recession’ from loneliness and isolation, with profound consequences for our health and flow on productivity in workplaces. Even for business stalwarts it’s difficult to comprehend the enormity of the situation.
At the same time, it’s more difficult to comprehend that the world knew in at least 2006 that should a pandemic emerge, it would become the single greatest threat to business continuity, and could remain so for years. It also knew that organisations, companies, business, governments and the economy at large needed to develop rigorous contingency and resilience plans to manage the progress of a pandemic and limit its impact on employees, shareholders, partners, consumers, and communities. The world categorically knew that this would require more than simply double-checking the soundness of existing business continuity plans, if they were in existence at all. The world didn’t plan. That’s obvious.
And if another issue could compound that lack of preparedness, it is the failure of the economy to have at least kept pace with skills required to live and work in the 21st Century – even though we are 20 years into it. Governments, educators, business, workforce and society need to understand the changing environment, be resilient to its changes and relentlessly and continuously learn and innovate. These are new educational capacities and concepts and the ones that unify our capacity to live and work now and into the future. Yet current educational frameworks evolved in the 1800’s when the time and relevance to study, learn, and develop capabilities were linear and mechanistic and have largely ignored these capacities. Systemic future focused change is urgently required, and was urgently required when we all anxiously waited for the world to implode on 31 December 1999. This was recognised on the 13th June 2019 when the UN and the World Economic Forum signed a strategic partnership that placed 6 key areas at the international critical level requiring acceleration, if as a world we are to attain the SDG’s by 2030. Two of those areas were Education & Skills and Digital Co-operation. And the deficiency in both has been highlighted like a neon light in Times Square for everyone to see and shake their heads in wonderment about. I’ve personally had to assist leaders in business through basic digital engagement, and for many they’ve had to sink before they even wanted to swim.
To be really frank, whilst politicians and people from all nations are pointing fingers and finding blame – it is every single stakeholder who failed to listen who is accountable. It reminds me poignantly of a long-standing joke where there are rapidly rising flood waters and people seek refuge on the roof of their house. Rescue services arrive in a canoe, a boat and finally a helicopter with the offers of help being refused each time – suggesting that God would help them. After drowning and arriving at the pearly gates, the people say to God, ‘why didn’t you save us?’ God says, ‘I sent a canoe, a boat and a helicopter – what more did you want?’
With that in mind when I hear that countries like Australia, the United Kingdom and others are ‘100 days from an economic cliff’ I think, what do we need to do to ensure we don’t fall off. I don’t think it’s a destiny. It will take resilience, planning, strategy and taking action to innovate – and most importantly learning lessons from the past. History gives us hindsight and the ability to take alternative pathways moving forward knowing the consequences of taking historical choices. Seeing our global history vandalised, desecrated and torn down in the past week feels a little like an out of body experience where humanity has fallen into a state of decay. And I relate that situation to recovery from the pandemic. We cannot change the past, but we do have the ability to reshape our future to be better, stronger and more resilient.
I tell this story often to my friends and family, however, the very first time I visited London I went to Westminster Abbey – a bucket list item for me having lived in Australia all my life, a nation with a comparatively very young modern history, and only ever reading about history. As I wandered the Abbey with the usual mouth open in wonderment expression I found myself completely overwhelmed with emotion when I was seeing and experiencing my history firsthand. Things that for me were never real – they just existed in a textbook. I walked past the plaque for Captain James Cook – credited with being the first to discover and establish a colony in Australia. I could touch the tombs of royalty farther back than I can remember. And then I stopped and glanced at the floor of tombs of great literary greats like Chaucer that I had studied at school – never for once really believing they were real. But they were real. I sobbed and felt a deep connectedness to my history and felt a real fervour to learn and embrace my past, and what I could learn from it to make life better, more enriched and diverse. I felt resilience, and experienced the fact that history builds wisdom. It wasn’t all good, but that knowledge drives you to ensure that those unwanted outcomes are mitigated for the future. Much the same as now. None of us want another economic and social impact from a pandemic but who is actually going to say we failed to plan, and want to reshape the future – but we must.
It may surprise most that more than half the entire population of the world work in SME’s. They are the backbone of the global economy, both financially and to social development. Collectively that is a huge untapped market and conversely a market where innovative solutions and business resilience can have a profound and catalytic impact to a disproportionately disadvantaged market. Reducing costs, increasing efficiency and overcoming the many challenges that are common causes of angst makes obvious sense. Yet SME’s are often missing or lacking opportunity and enough people, skills and knowledge to develop new strategies to transform their business. Many are entrenched in the status quo of making ends meet, generating cash flow, meeting compliance and trying to grow. Rarely are they at the cutting edge of innovation or contemplating blue sky thinking where making the ‘impossible possible’ disrupts the way things have always been done. Now is the time for them to pick up the gauntlet and run with it – not wait for destiny to push them off the cliff in 100 days.
While there are regular headlines on how blockchain will transform our daily lives, at the moment its potential application for small and medium size business [SME’s], mid-tier and other underserved sectors in the economy such as education does not feature as a priority on national or international agendas. Effective change requires a profound mind shift in thinking and those in the blockchain industry with SME experience and honesty that understand the real challenges of SME’s, to offer high quality relevant education, and actively support the step by step development of simple business cases that can deploy solutions. Trade finance, Invoice financing, reduced cost in financial transactions, systems to support verification of skills and compliance, greater administrative efficiency, valuing the identity and data of the SME, protecting IP, building international trade opportunities and creating business infrastructure that is affordable and trustworthy are good starting points. Imagine if SME’s could use white labelled smart contracts for important, yet costly infrastructure such as Shareholders Deeds, Employment Contracts and WHS Procedures. The flow on is not just a reduction in cost but a safer, more diverse, secure and sustainable business. When you hear statistics that more than 70% of SME’s experienced a cyber-attack – before COVID-19 due to lack of preparedness, and that 60% of these who experience financial losses over $100K will be out of business in 6 months it should be a wakeup call to act.
Catastrophic economic damage is pushing world economies and business of all sizes to think about how they will rebuild, but many are still waiting for a knight in shining armour to save them. Reactivity to poor planning must be replaced with proactivity for resilience and continuity planning and the necessary actions to embrace innovation to build stronger better business, economies and communities. This will require deep reflection on the historical aspects of the past few months and also of our previous times, education and lots of feeling uncomfortable as people enter a changed normality. Even when we embed the profound effects of inclusive diversity into our socio-economic fabric, which includes gender parity and its known gains on the bottom line – removing history doesn’t change the future. Only people and changing their mind set will drive change. Will you be one of them?
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