Prior to the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, exponential digital transformation was the biggest disruption many organizations and leaders within those organizations concerned themselves with. Will artificial intelligence (A.I.) take my job? Will machine learning make our entire operation irrelevant? Is there something on the horizon that will change our industry, and how can we be the ones to discover it?
Even given the increase in the rate of exponential transformation of business practices thanks to those aforementioned digital disruptors, it astounded me how many of those same organizations feebly considered what would happen if digital technology truly disrupted them or how to get in front of it. They were agile and reactionary, resting on their laurels and taking refuge in the antiquated phrase “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Then as we kicked off 2020 with a booming economy, COVID-19 barreled into the United States like a freight train, disrupting every single industry in its path while impacting the entire world. It didn’t matter if you were “essential” or “nonessential,” COVID-19 changed you or your organization’s day-to-day operating procedure in some way.
There may have been no way to predict the level of impact the pandemic was going to have on us all, but it has given us new opportunities and, better yet, it has taught us that resting on our laurels and relying solely on agility can, even in the most extreme circumstances, be the end of the line for many.
Agility Alone Is a Risky Bet
Given the relatively slow pace of the early stages of exponential change over the decades, it makes sense that agility has been the established tool of many organizations—the practiced ability to react to problems, shifting market conditions and events as quickly, efficiently and effectively as possible.
However, agility alone has always been a risky bet to place your career on. I’ll venture a guess that now during the coronavirus pandemic, agility and reactionary behavior alone probably even frightens you to some degree.
Don’t be afraid; agility is still a valuable ability to have! There are many times, including the pandemic and global lockdown, where agility is needed. None of us saw the pandemic coming; we only knew very little about what it was doing outside of the United States. It is likely that nearly everyone practiced some agility in 2020.
But the missing competency here that perhaps could have made your 2020 much smoother throughout the unpredictable nature of the pandemic was anticipation. Anticipation and being anticipatory is a complement to agility, and the coronavirus pandemic is the perfect storm as to why the two of them go hand in hand in many cases.
Anticipation Could Have Complemented Our Agility
We exhausted the term “new normal” after flattening the curve in the early days of COVID-19, but I think of the “new normal” as being the “next normal” instead.
The reason is that COVID-19 leveled the playing field in many ways, while in other ways sped up what was already in motion. This juxtaposition of seemingly two opposite after-effects in the wake of the pandemic is why agility and an anticipatory mindset must be united in your business practices. Digital disruptions were already occurring prior to COVID-19, and how the world responded to it actually sped up the rate of those disruptions tremendously.
Take for example the education sector. Never before have we seen education become so virtualized, and seemingly overnight, every teacher, administrator, and dean alike had to pivot and figure out how to teach all grade levels remotely. Previous usage of software like Zoom, Google Chat or Microsoft Teams was minimal when, suddenly, the names of those very companies became verbs. “Let’s ‘Zoom’ and discuss” was just one of many popular phrases.
Virtualized education existed as an option as the Internet grew more prominent, yet look how fast online learning increased due to a pandemic disruption! While schools had nearly no time to plan for going completely virtual and went into agility mode, that is not to say that they could not have paid attention to the Hard Trend—or future certainty—that online education was becoming more accessible as video communications developed further. They could have used that Hard Trend to pre-solve any problems they could foresee with teaching completely online, and find solutions before a disruption occurred…instead of saying “we’ll cross that bridge if we get there.”
Guess what: we got there!
Connect Anticipation and Agility Going Forward
Agility is like playing defense in a sport: you’re protecting yourself or your organization from the “what if.”
But anticipation and implementation of my Anticipatory Leader System is like playing offense in a sport: plotting out how you’re going to score while the defense tries their best to neutralize your efforts. And while you may win more championships in anything with a strong offense, that’s not to say you will never have your defense on the field or court. You need both!
I truly hope we have learned something from the coronavirus pandemic; 2020 and having obstacles thrown at us unlike ever before should not go to waste. Implementing an Anticipatory Mindset, where we focus on the Hard Trends shaping the world both inside and outside of our organization, pre-solve problems that come with them, and become positive disruptors in what we do was paramount prior to COVID-19 and is even more crucial in our “new normal.”
Even in the face of absolute uncertainty, there are still future certainties. Therefore, the “new normal” should not mean that we all just revert back to our old ways. The lockdown has given us a chance to witness in real time the value of playing offense with an anticipatory mindset. Don’t squander it. Use it to turn disruption and change into opportunity and advantage!