We are living in pretty disruptive times. What was considered normal and a matter of course just a few weeks ago, no longer applies today. COVID-19 or Corona has turned upside down our many familiar routines and just about everything we took for granted in our lives. Within a few days, our expectations for the year 2020 were thrown completely out of whack. Suddenly everything is different. We’re all now trying to understand what is happening and if it’s a threat or an opportunity.
All of a sudden, it is no longer start-ups that are transforming markets and business models in a disruptive way. Instead, nature is changing the world around us. Our models of society, our expectations of the things we’ve become accustomed to in life. Measures that were unimaginable just a few months ago have been rigorously implemented. Basic civil rights have been suspended. Businesses and companies have been forcibly closed and global supply chains have been frozen. We can no longer drive to work, shop, or play sports as per usual. So much has changed.
What we have experienced across the globe in recent weeks is a massive deviation from our expectations. In terms of the year 2020, the economic development of our companies, political decisions, and the way we live and work during the European spring of 2020. Our brains function like a ‘prediction machine.’ Constantly setting expectations for our surroundings, checking these using signals from our sensory organs, and comparing them with what we perceived as reality. If there are any major deviations and there is no previous experience of these, our brain reacts by directing our attention to the deviation with our emotions and thoughts. Is what is happening a threat or an opportunity? Are we aware of any patterns, habits, and routines that help us to comprehend and appreciate this new situation?
We have never been able to predict the future. As human behavior and thinking processes do not usually change that quickly, we have been able to rely to some extent on the stability of these patterns of behavior and reasoning in the short and medium-term. In the long term, however, such predictions have never proven to be reliable.
What we are currently experiencing is that our need for short-term predictability and the ensuing need for security and stability no longer works. At least, not in the same way as it did before Corona. Many of our experiences, impressions, and routines no longer help us. Only a few of us have ever been through a crisis like this before.
We are forced to live in the short term, not knowing what political decisions will be taken in the next few days. Whether any measures will be loosened. When business and companies will be allowed to operate normally again. How the lockdown will affect economic development. As well as how the virus will affect our health and consequently all of our lives. We must learn to live in the here and now.
Typical reactions at this time include fear, guilt, and doubt. As the future offers no stability for right now, we naturally react with uncertainty and caution. Since our experiences and habits often do little to help us deal with a crisis of this magnitude, many people have doubts about what the right path forward is, the appropriate measures and decisions that need to be taken. And some people start to look for guilty parties from the past to blame for this crisis. Without asking themselves what responses to this crisis they should have provided themselves. Some hope that we’ll be able to return to ‘before corona’ times and circumstances as soon as possible. The longer this crisis lasts, the less likely this will happen.
New problems, new innovations
On the other hand, the longer the crisis lasts, the more we humans will become creative, and subsequently more innovative. We do this in order to cope with the new problems that have been created or have surfaced as a result of the coronavirus. We can already observe this in certain areas today.
Innovation has always been a reaction to prevailing problems. Accordingly, new problems will generate new innovations. Which, in turn, will become new problems over the course of time. And these, too, will require new solutions and innovations. The innovations of yesterday brought about the innovations of today which will spur the innovations of tomorrow.
The measures, be they political, financial, economic, personal, medical, or others, show us that much more is achievable than we previously believed. Plus, we have the social conscience to do so. These measures have also shown us that all at once a great deal is actually possible that was previously unimaginable on such a grand scale:
If we begin to understand that absolutely nothing has to stay the way it is, we can begin to rethink how we would like the world around us to be. This is precisely what we are currently addressing.
In this sense, corona provides a unique opportunity to transcend conventions and ordeals and enter into a new and alternative world. We will not fail because of corona if we do not manage to return to where we were before. We fail if we do not succeed in using this crisis and turning point as an opportunity for earth-shattering technological, social, and personal transformations for this world.
About this column
In a weekly column, alternately written by Hans Helsloot, Eveline van Zeeland, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Tessie Hartjes, Bert Overlack and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous episodes.