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Published on June 26th, 2020 | by The GC Team


GC Comment: The “New Normal”

Every generation seems to believe that the way of life it understands and has become used to is “normal”, and that change is disorienting, frightening and perhaps disastrous. It can be all of these things for various people at various times, but even a brief glance at history shows the only normality is change.

It used to be “normal” for a journey from Winchester to London to take a couple of days. Or a journey from London to Belfast to take a week. Most people had to live within walking distance of where they worked. Then someone came up with a slow, noisy, dangerous, unreliable and expensive thing called a “horseless carriage” that looked like it wouldn’t catch on. Yet in 2020 everyone has one, it’s normal to travel from London to Belfast by horseless carriage in a day, and millions of people commute tens – or hundreds – of miles to work every day.

In 1903 a couple of brothers in North Carolina managed to keep a fixed-wing heavier-than-air craft in powered flight for 12 seconds, covering 120 feet. Did they imagine it would become “normal” for millions of passengers, hundreds at a time, to be routinely and safely zipping to every corner of the world every day; so normal, in fact, that being temporarily prevented from doing so is seen as a major deprivation?

Within living memory, computers had their own vast rooms in big companies, with special geeks running them who you had to ask to “process your data” for you; results in a couple of days, maybe. It’s now normal for everyone to carry everywhere with them more computing power than NASA had to put a man on the moon, that can find the answer to any question in a matter of seconds.

The point is that “normal” never stays normal for long, and the most normal way to think, especially for businesses, ought to be constantly trying to prepare for a future you know will be different from now. Nobody would ever buy a washing machine or fridge online, until they did.

With this perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic is a temporary situation which, in the long term, will leave only a small trace on the economic and social progress of the world. It may make some things happen more quickly, some more slowly, but it has no fundamental impact on broader trends.

It would be insensitive to call it a “blip”, because its human cost in lives and livelihoods is beyond calculation and can never be recovered. But everything else – the wider economy, international travel, social interaction, education, all of the temporary problems –  is fixable and will be fixed.

That’s little comfort for those of this generation who have lost people, businesses, livelihoods in a matter of a few months. But epidemics – influenza, bubonic plague, cholera, Ebola, Sars – rarely have anything like the long-term effects that are achieved by inventors, entrepreneurs, thinkers, engineers and businesspeople.

It’s up to those businesses still standing, or able to get on their feet again, to create the “new normal”, not because of COVID-19 but because it’s the way things work. Our industry, like others run by resourceful and adaptable entrepreneurs and businesspeople, will have to do its bit to make sure the new normal is better, and that in the fulness of time it is inevitably replaced by another, better, new normal. That’s just normal.

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