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I am concerned about the current discussions about the right measures to take to contain Covid-19 and its impact on people and societies. On the one hand, there are those who advocate protective measures, who believe it is important and right that our governments do everything possible to protect as many people as possible from infection and damage to health. And on the other hand, there are those who oppose it, who see health as an individual responsibility and regard any restriction of personal freedoms as an attack on their fundamental rights. 

Actually, the term “discussion” is already wrong, because, at least in the social media on this subject, we have hardly any exchange of opinions and no more juxtaposition with the views and arguments of the other side. There are points of view, but no more willingness to get involved with the other and to want to understand him. 

This is all the more astonishing because we still know too little about the virus today to have concrete and reliable statements about its properties, the probability of a second wave, or the lasting effect of a vaccine. 

We live in a time of maximum uncertainty about our future. It is understandable that many people who experience little security and orientation in the outside world find such a situation frightening and stressful. In their search for security, they orient themselves on the one hand to their habits and experiences – “what was good yesterday will be good tomorrow” – and on the other hand to their social environment. Both lead to the subjective solution to a challenge in the past. The aim of such a strategy is to restore the original state of affairs as well as possible. Psychologists talk about resilience here; economists talk about a V-curve. A possibly deep but short cut and a rapid return to the original state. 

The assessment of experts increasingly indicates that, with regard to the social and economic effects of COVID-19, we should probably not expect a V-crisis but rather an L or U-curve. An L-scenario would mean that COVID-19 would put the economy into a kind of stagnation and remain in recession. A U-scenario assumes that the economy will experience a recession, may recover after a certain period of time, and may possibly grow beyond its pre-crisis level. 

“The solution lies not in the past but in the future.”

We can imagine a similar scenario for our societies. The crisis triggered by COVID-19 worldwide leads to changes, possible restrictions, and to the fact that we will be shaken by some dear habits of the past, we may have to give up (temporarily). For example, the conviction that the state has to take care of our health and well-being, or the absoluteness of individual rights of assembly and movement. In short: we have to give up habits, although many people want to hold on to them right now.

This conflict forces us to rethink business, the economy, and society. The solution lies not in the past but in the future. To do this, we need innovations – so that we can serve markets better and more efficiently with new products and services, and so that business and society can overcome existing weaknesses and mistakes.

“If regression (a V-curve) is no longer an option, then progress (a U-curve) is the only possibility”

People are sense-oriented beings. If something does not make sense to us, we do not devote any attention or energy to it. Meaningfulness comes about when we can recognize the advantages of a goal for ourselves and others and at the same time have the confidence in ourselves and others to be able to achieve that goal. 

We do not reach new goals by continuing to shout out our positions, but by approaching each other, by dealing with each other and working together on solutions – innovations. If regression (a V-curve) is no longer an option, then progress (a U-curve) is the only possibility. The U symbolizes that it does not only go downwards, but that it can go upwards again after a turning point, and that there is a chance that this upwards state will go far beyond the original one. It’s up to us, whether we want this progress. It is also clear, however, that without ‘wanting’, without the dedication, there will be no innovation and therefore no progress. The faster and more sustainably we accept and integrate existing innovations in order to bring about a turnaround, the faster we can grow beyond ourselves – as a society, as a company, and as a person!

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Tessie Hartjes, Floris Beemster, Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.