The year 2020 has been a watershed year. Or, as I would prefer to say (if allowed to coin a new term) – a ‘tearshed’ year. The breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted economies, businesses, and individuals at an unprecedented level. This crazy year has also completely busted many long-standing business myths.
Research conducted by the Centre for Risk Studies at the University of Cambridge took a look at the impact of the coronavirus on the global economy. The consensus projection: A loss of $26.8 trillion, or 5.3%, of global GDP in the coming five years. To make this data point more relatable, however, one needs to review it from the perspective of jobs. And this is where the numbers hit home harder. According to an ILO (International Labour Organisation) study, about 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy (nearly half of the global workforce) risk having their livelihoods destroyed. Even for the sharpest minds amongst us, to fathom the humanitarian implications of such displacement would be challenging.
Then, it is no surprise that leaders – ranging from Heads of State to religious figureheads to business leaders – have scrambled. They’ve called on all their intellectual, technological, and financial resources to rewire how we operate. What has emerged during this radical transformation? Some of society’s well-ingrained business myths have been turned on their head. Not surprisingly, given that our business and personal lives are so intertwined, these changes are being experienced across both work and life dimensions.
So, which business myths have we busted this past year?
Business Myth No. 1: The Bottomline Rules
The pressure that comes with the quarterly results cycle has kept CXOs on edge for far too long, forcing them to watch every dollar. While social causes have been the focus of many CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs over the years, the pandemic encouraged many to truly understand that in the interest of long-term sustainability, adding value to their entire eco-system was the raison d’être.
In a heartwarming move, the United States was ground zero for the ‘Together Without Hunger‘ initiative by the bakery-café fast-casual restaurant chain, Panera Bread. In association with Feeding America, the goal is to feed half a million children and families during the US lockdown. Like many others, this organization stepped up to support the community, showing that capitalism has a heart, and not all business myths have a home in today’s corporate world.
Business Myth No. 2: Scale is King
Ever since humanity started congregating around communities and building the structure of modern-day nation-states, we have grown to believe that there is safety in numbers. The explosion of social networks with the ‘follower count’ metric fuelling the growth has further solidified this belief, at least, until now.
With the exponential spread of the coronavirus, we’ve learned that social distancing and limiting contact with others can save lives. Cocooned in their own homes, with additional time available to themselves, many have realized that it is not quantity but the quality of our relationships that is paramount. Similarly, we’re redesigning our workplaces to ensure the right balance of physical and virtual contact. Worldwide, organizations emphasize that our safety lies in our ability to be agile, not our ability to scale.
Business Myth No. 3: Size Does Matter
Maybe fifty square centimeters of cloth has become a critical weapon. A small mask now protects millions of people worldwide. Leading healthcare bodies, including the WHO (World Health Organization) – whose guidelines unequivocally mention that “Masks should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy of measures to suppress transmission and save lives” – strongly advise wearing a mask.
Now as ubiquitous as the mobile phone, the mask has become an extension of our beings. (Not to mention a new addition to our daily wardrobe.) Until we welcome a vaccine, a small mask has emerged as our biggest and best defense tool. In effect, the mask has proven that size doesn’t matter. It is what role one plays that does.
Business Myth No. 4: The World is Flat
Through his 2005 bestseller book, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, Pulitzer prize-winning American political commentator and author Thomas Friedman introduces us to the concept of the “flat world.” In this world, boundaries had melted, and trade flowed (almost) freely.
Today, as the world reels under the pandemic’s ravaging impact, global supply chains have been hit hard. During the middle of India’s lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the ‘Atmanirbhar’ (‘Self-reliance’ in Hindi) campaign. The initiative includes built-in incentives for Indian industry to enhance local production and reduce dependency on imports. Given the calls for protectionism in countries as diverse as the United States, Japan, and many in the EU (European Union), it is clear the world is fast developing an undulating (and perhaps self-serving) character.
Business Myth No. 5: Remote Means Distanced
As the pandemic took hold, people isolated themselves as a precautionary measure. Many leveraged video-conferencing platforms to maintain contact with their elderly parents and their social circle. Similarly, workers transitioned into a ‘work-from-anywhere’ mode to keep the engines of the economy running. Soon, they began to increasingly rely on the same platforms to remain connected to their colleagues.
If anything, humankind has realized that remote connecting can help meet much of the objectives of in-person meetings. This realization has lead us to far-reaching benefits such as a reduced carbon footprint. Bill Gates, known for being a visionary apart from his philanthropy, has already predicted that in the post-COVID-19 era, 50% of business travel will disappear.
Yes, over the past year, the changing world has completely shattered these five myths. Of course, even more will come to light as we segue into 2021.
For people who have seen their entire world changed in the span of a few months, the implications are immense. However, the dexterity with which we have accepted change shows that – like battle-hardened soldiers – we will continue to push forward against all odds. No doubt there will be scars, but they will be symbols of a victorious campaign.