COVID seems to have stripped bare way more than we bargained for. Not that we bargained for COVID in the first place. But as we are physically less mobile and in some cases, literally locked in our homes, the impact on how we will live and work in future is one of the persistent daily dawning realisations. It's like some kind of ongoing slow reveal.
Even as we are itching to get back out in the world, by the time we do, we will go back with a renewed sense of values and as a society, with less spare cash. COVID has given us some big winners and losers and whichever side of the divide you land on, what is universally true is that we now know that our lives are way more unpredictable than we thought. What we now celebrate as success is way more personal and the increased recognition of personal value is one of the big winners from COVID.
If you don't need to go to the office, how does that impact your wardrobe? If you can't fly overseas, how does that impact your wardrobe? Clearly you can't go naked especially if you are anything like me, you bear literally zero resemblance to David after months out of the gym and way too much of my own sourdough.
Post COVID isn't all about wardrobes, but it is one big symbol of how life has changed. I look at racks of shoes and jackets in mine and wonder if I'll ever need them again. While I can slip on my vintage Prada for the occasional in person meeting or pair them with my trackies and go for a brisk walk (maybe not), I can't think of a single place I'd wear most of the heels in my wardrobe.
What is non essential? So many non essential businesses rely on consumers wearing our own brand at every life layer - through what we wear, what's in our homes, what breed of dog we have, who does the shit we don't want to, how our hair works, how we socialise and how we celebrate. While much of this is still relevant to how we live, meaning has changed, more of us live closer to home and more of us have a lot less money.
Living closer to home, for the first time in a long time has given us some good planetary news. One of the big COVID winners is the planet. So much so that Earth Overshoot Day was delayed 3 weeks in 2020 compared to 2019. Coronavirus-induced lockdowns caused the global Ecological Footprint to contract 9.3% year on year. We are simply consuming less - no flight travel, less catering waste from eating out, adorn ourselves is kind of irrelevant, we have limited ability to socialise. We're pretty much stuck in our own homes, communities and if we are lucky, our state borders.
Speaking for the planet, empty airports planes hasn't just seen a massive drop in airline GHGs and airline viability, but the whole system of businesses and behaviours attached to flying is disappearing in their wake or changing dramatically as businesses seek out new markets.
What happens when you can't fly? PreCOVID, at any moment, at least 500,000 people were in the air at any time. Every one of those people were going somewhere to do something. They had to be processed through airports, entertained, transported, housed, conferenced, pampered, dined - everyone of 500,000 people at any given moment, had an entire infrastructure of support activity surrounding them. Grounding 95% of flights means that is all gone.
While zero travel has killed the physical conference industry, it has also opened out enormous digital communication as people can now attend events that they would never have travelled to or could afford. There is also way more opportunity to get up close and personal with event presenters.
Literally thousands of people now attend events that would have been limited to a hall size and often for free. For instance, we are partners with the WE Empower Global UN SDG Awards and we would never have gotten on a plane to New York for the Sept UN meeting, but now the meeting is virtual and we can go - and so can thousands of others who would never normally be there.
This article was originally sparked by a conversation about the loss of big events and related businesses. Sceptic Motivator (it's a thing) and businessman, Ian Whitmorth was worrying about the 65 people working at the previously successful Scene Changes business, now left with very little prospect of event work. Businesses that are based on big crowd events like conferences are not only banned from operating under COVID, but it's hard to see those events coming back anytime soon.
Scene Changes are a great example of pivoting talents. Scene Change are (were) in the business of large gatherings, but their diverse talents are really about the value they add to business, school and corporate mass communication. Schools still need to graduate their students with appropriate recognition, companies need to communicate to employees and culture doesn't develop on it's own. While we have already shifted to a home / office / school hybrid way of living, the skills of big event planners are strangely more important than ever because it's celebration, culture and communication that they work with.
Businesses that were good at running big events know how to capture culture and as we see less of each other every day, careful management of gatherings is going to be way more important than many realise right now.
Like so many parents, I get many as many lessons from my children as I give. I have a teenage 16 year old son and he has given me many insights, but this one strikes me as being very relevant to the importance of realigning the way we see the world. When he was 11, we were sitting at dinner one night and he said:
"JOHN SMITH CAME OUT ON INSTAGRAM TODAY. EVERYONE IS SO PISSED OFF. HE SAID HE'S GAY, BUT WE ALL KNOW HE'S BI."
At the time, I was luckily rendered speechless and only managed to blurt out a question about why he thought the guy was bi. The point for me, was not so much about sexuality, as his complete confidence in opinion. Fast forward 5 years and the same boy comes up in conversation.
"NO MUM, HE'S NOT GAY OR BI, HE'S STRAIGHT. HE JUST WASN'T SURE AT THE TIME. BUT ALEX, ON THE OTHER HAND IS DEFINITELY GAY. EVERYONE KNOWS BUT HIM."
Nothing. And that is the point.
One of the key things we have to understand is that the lens through which we look at the world is different for different people. In this case of sexuality, a whole generation - our next group of leaders, not only have an opinion, but they have a completely different world view. A view that will make some businesses redundant, start new businesses and empower some existing businesses.
Of course sexuality is just one example of how Gen Z will change the world and there are many other ways as they face different future challenges to those who have gone before. COVID is no different - except it is happening right now to every generation and is creating a very different future even as you read this article.
Something eco innovator businesses do very well is to not assume they know answers. Many successful eco businesses have been started and built by people who have never been in the specific line of business before and that makes it easier for them to rethink relevance, strategy and design. Because they aren't bound by in situ systems and ways of thinking, they are free to make it up as they go along. It is costly and many fail, but it changes everything. Literally.