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Nostalgia is a niche business: Thoughts on a new normal (part one)

Hi, I’m a Digital Advisor at Intergen – I’m not here to give you digital advice though. Instead I’m offering you a digital context for the new normal, a new normal that might drive you in new directions.

Internet meme: What’s driving digital transformation

My inclination is to the philosphical and I’ve been given the opportunity to post some thoughts about how we can engage with a realigned reality. I want to talk about three intertwined ideas that might help you to process things or even give you something to disagree with. As I see it, knowing where you are or knowing where you are not are both useful things,       

The first idea I’d like to explore is the arrow of time. Unlike three-dimensional space, we can’t move back and forth through time. We can learn from it, but we can’t live there.

Secondly, let’s call a spade a spade. This new normal is weird. It’s not just tomorrow arrived early; it’s fundamentally different and strange. Let’s recognise and acknowledge that before we try to move on.

Finally, we aren’t the lotus-eaters of Greek mythology. This new world isn’t going to provide us a sustabainable food crop that will nourish us and keep us in a state of satisfied apathy.  We’re going to have to do new things, in new ways, and with new tools.

My plan is to tackle these ideas over three blogs. Some ideas need to be digested, especially when they are not provided as answers. Also, the new world still obeys the laws of physics – TL;DR still applies. I’ve trapped you in the first one; I hope you return for the rest.

Making peace with the arrow of time

Newsflash: We can’t ”go back to how it was“ – that’s nostalgia. That’s not a place we can live for any extended period. Generally the clothes are restrictive and the haircuts suck! Just flick back through a photo album (digital or otherwise) if you need proof.

“...What's past is prologue.....”;

Shakespeare  - The Tempest

Often, this quote is used to infer that the past defines the future. The line that follows resets the thought.

“.....What to come, In yours and my discharge,"

It reasserts the primacy of free-will and the power of human agency – the future is still to make and do. 

We have to live with the arrow of time. That’s not the same as saying what will be, will be. The present is the moment of release of the bowstring and we have some choices in where we aim. That’s the gist of where we are.

Today, the wide open spaces of the archery range have been taken away.We’ve been dropped into a landscape with new obstructions. Some of our targets can still be hit but in the post-Covid world, some of them are obscured and require us to move. Others may be out of range for quite a while.

So, the question becomes: How do we make sense of this new landcape? What are the targets we can hit? What new vantage points do we need to get to and which targets do we let go of for now?

Four Alternative Futures

I’ve argued that the past doesn’t predict the future, so I’ve declared that I’m not a determinist. In my book, doing and deciding make a difference. That doesn’t put me in the camp of the “anything is possible” irrational optimists. The laws of physics are real, cause and effect are observable, repeatable and predictable. In some cases, you can put constraints on complex systems to influence outcomes.

Thankfully, I’m not alone in this viewpoint and it’s one that’s accepted by futurists. One futurist in particular has a way of framing the future that is incredibly useful and can help you to think about the realigned targets that we are facing in society and in business. 

Professor James Dator has spent nearly five decades in the discipline of future studies. He contends that, ‘It is not possible to predict the future—to say accurately what will happen before it happens”. Instead, he argues that we can forecast alternative futures. Based on his research, he has identified four general categories that we can use to guide how we approach the future. 

James Dator - Four Futures

Continued growth – I’d argue this has been the dominant view of the future for the last 150 or so years.  It’s a  focus on doing more of the same but bigger and faster. It’s the strategy of industrialisation, growth in GDP, global trade or international trade deals.

Collapse – The second alternative future is based around the concerns of collapse. It’s currently embodied by concerns around the environment and climate change. It’s not necessarily doomsday thinking and can lead to positive change. For example, think about how concerns of the future of nuclear arms proliferation led to Glasnost and strategic nuclear arms reduction.

Limits and Discipline – To me it feels that this is the alternative future that we steered towards a month or so ago.  NZ’s swift move into a Covid Level-4 constrained social and business model was the acceptance of the need for a highly disciplined short-term future.   

Transformation – The final category is a transformational future. This is where we invite you to connect with us to discuss what these kinds of alternative futures might look like. 

It feels to me that Covid-19 has been that inflection point on the diagram (IP1).  It represents a real and large-scale disruption to a “business as usual” continued growth future. A simple back to the future option is probably not going to be viable for society at large and for all businesses. I think we need to explore what business as unusual might look like. 

Here is the ray of light I see. It’s this – let’s accept the Covid-19 has hugely disrupted the world. However, the disruption has been to the analogue world, the world of things and physical presence. There is another world available to us though. It’s the digital world.

Covid-19 is not the type of virus that impacts this digital world (others do, but that’s a future topic) and it potentially offers society and business alternative alternative-futures to consider. Some of these might be fully digital futures that are highly transformational; others might involve digital ways to create limits and discipline futures to your analogue products and services, or provide ways to defend the collapse of purely analogue futures. 

As a digital company, we are actively living and learning our way through this process. Each of our people is learning to live in this new world, where physical geography and face-to-face are losing their relevance.

 My next blog will delve more into this experience as we’ve lived it recently and explore what it might mean for the future of work. Hopefully you’ll rejoin the conversation. 

Alternatively (there’s that word again) we’d be happy to have a digital conversation if you’d like to discuss, debate or disagree.  We are all learning as we follow the arrow of time.

My final thought is about the meme I shared at the start which suggests Covid-19 is leading your digital transformation. I don’t agree. It’s the thought of Covid-20 that will lead it for me. After all, that’s what’s in the future – let’s think about new beginnings, not old stories.


Kia kaha

This blog is part of the #ReimagineWork series. For more experts' insights, clients' experiences and to download our datasheets, click the banner.

For more experts' insights, clients' experience and to download our datasheets, click the banner #datareimagine

Posted by: Mark Smith, Head of Consulting and Architecture Services | 04 May 2020

Tags: Digital Transformation, COVID-19, #ReimagineWork

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