The Great Unwinding Of 2021: Six Questions To Prosper Through Reopening

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Our transition to 2021 feels more pivotal than years past. That’s because it is.

Imagine the first time you gather in a group with no risk of Covid-19. When you reach out— in-person— to your colleagues, customers, friends and loved ones. How will you feel? Multiply that by billions of interactions, worldwide.

Few notice that in 2021 we’ll experience the last first re-opening after a pandemic of our lifetimes. Sure, we might suffer future contagions, but this year’s will be the only first re-opening we will endure.
For any future recoveries, we’ll have our personal experiences, 2021’s successes and failures, as guides. For this one, though, we’re flying blind.

Tremors of imminent re-opening will loom large in our psyches, vexed by ambiguous timelines. With no single magic date of freedom, we’ll maneuver through fits and starts, surges and retreats. (Plans could even be derailed by new, vaccine-resistant strains… but so far, so good.)

The Great Unwinding

Like tight-coiled springs, our reopening lives will unleash colossal potential energy. The ‘Great Unwinding’— from suppressed personal desires to central banks’ balance sheets— will generate both chaos and opportunities.
How will you leverage the energy of re-opening? Consider the following:

· What objectives will you prioritize— and why?

· What changes from 2020 should you retain?

· What of the past should you regain?

· What will re-opening mean for each of your stakeholders?

· Who needs help, and how can you help in purpose-relevant ways?

· How will you muster the agility to respond as conditions change?

Leading organizations have been exploring these questions for months. If yours is not, waste no more time. Don’t miss the unprecedented, never-to-return opportunity that is 2021.

Returning To A New Normal

Our lives will never entirely return to 2019-normal. Many conditions, expectations and behaviors have changed. Who among us desires to reclaim a daily, multi-hour commute?

Nonetheless, as economies open, expect a surge in demand for in-person activities, from meetings and air travel to celebrations and concerts. We might thus experience a temporary, even significant, decline in online activity. Don’t be fooled. Consider this a backlash rather than a trend.

The Great Unwinding will manifest as a dramatic, temporary shift back to pre-pandemic behaviors. (With the exception of very large multi-day events— tens or even hundreds of thousands of individuals. Only a few— like Burning Man— will survive.)
Expect this backlash to be a speed bump along the inexorable digital transformation of our lives. In-person activities will continue to have compelling advantages of immersiveness and intimacy— but not forever. Imagine how much better online will be in five years. Or a decade.

Online, in-person and hybrid experiences will co-evolve, but digital capabilities advance far faster than in-person. Electrons are lighter than humans.

To Normalcy?

Many commentators opine the notion of a return to “normalcy.” While this feels like the right moniker, consider what it might, or might not, portend.

The term “normalcy” was coined by US President Warren G. Harding for his campaign of 1920, following World War I and amidst the last stages of the Spanish Flu pandemic which claimed over 100 million lives worldwide.
The word’s awkward relevance includes the fact that Harding, while one of America’s most “well-liked” presidents during his tenure, has been remembered as one of the worst presidents in US history. Following his untimely death in office in 1923, a range of scandals, corruption and mismanagement unraveled from his disastrous cabinet of cronies. Most historians agree Harding was unaware of the malfeasance, but that’s not much of a defense. A monument planned in his honor was eventually cancelled without fanfare.

Regardless of your political or policy biases, all agree we’re today transitioning out of one of the most divisive presidencies in American history. That active division— illustrated by the idiotic politicization of mask wearing— compromised America’s ability to meet the Covid-19 challenge. Let’s do better in 2021.
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