In every walk of American life there is now a pundit estimating when we will return to normal or offering their opinion on what normal will look like.
Everyone agrees that to recover as a society and a culture, our economy must recover. Those that will succeed in a changed economy will need to rethink and rework both during, and on the other side of, an era of profound turmoil. The insights, the models and the beliefs we held just months ago are themselves the subject of both isolation and volatility.
For the investment community, normal is a world where there is little market volatility, stable credit and oil prices, bonds that move inversely to equities and gold is the ultimate safe haven. Currently, on any given day, none of that is true.
For those examining consumer behavior, there are predictions of enormous pent-up demand, an idea that there will be an “all clear” and we will race through the streets in a buying frenzy even though, right now, we cannot leave the house to get a haircut.
Others are certain that we will flock to houses of worship and immediately return to sporting events, concerts and public gatherings of every type.
No one knows how many, but some of these predictions and expectations are wrong.
It is a more reasonable expectation that much of what we see today will be diminished or more permanently altered. There are companies in some industries that are so over-leveraged that they will not survive, no matter how extensive the bail-out plans. It could be that your barber or your favorite restaurant or independent coffee shop will not be there on the day of the all clear.
In addition to those things that will change, it is possible, depending on the length of our relative isolation, that we will change. It may be that when we emerge, we may not see the same value in a $1,000 phone or a $3 cup of coffee. It may be that our tastes will evolve in ways that are no less trivial but seemingly unpredictable.
Industries and companies that will gain market share and thrive in a changed environment will not do so by waiting for the all clear. They are listening, learning and changing now.
- Clinicians and clinical delivery systems are reorganizing to provide healthcare more conveniently, digitally and even efficiently.
- Performing arts organizations are exploring new ways to connect with each other and with their audiences.
- Educators and institutions of learning are rapidly accelerating their embrace of the virtual classroom, innovating as they experiment.
- Restaurants are becoming more like personal chefs, perfecting eating in rather than dining out.
While home delivery has been a steadily expanding modern convenience, today, a new economy is developing that will reshape business models in ways we never expected—the contactless delivery economy for both experiences and things.
Without doubt, we will find normal again after the all clear. But normal is forever altered by what our experiences of extraordinary restriction teach us is both possible and prudent.
Bruce Boyle is a former journalist and a modern day content strategist who helps brands navigate crisis, recognize opportunity and express a compelling point of view.