Building a better world beyond COVID-19 requires leaders to imagine the unthinkable. Here’s your guide.
The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed changes that seemed unthinkable just a few months ago. In February 2020, it seemed unthinkable the entire white-collar workforce of many countries would soon be working solely from home. It seemed unthinkable air travel would plummet by 96%. It seemed unthinkable millions of migrant workers in India would be forced to undertake a herculean exodus, walking thousands of miles to their home villages.
Of course, COVID-19 and the extraordinary response were not really unthinkable – they just seemed that way to most of us. While the pandemic took the vast majority of the business world by surprise, epidemiologists and other experts had long warned it was only a matter of time before such a disaster struck. And though the crisis seems to have been with us for a long time, the reality is the pandemic is still in early days. It is likely to bring more changes in the months ahead that seem unthinkable now.
Understanding the pandemic’s impact demands scanning for risks and drawing insights from a wide range of domains. We convened more than 100 senior professionals around the world – futurists, non-governmental organization representatives, investors, CEOs and other business leaders – over four virtual sessions to develop a far-sighted view, imagine the unthinkable, and, crucially, identity the steps business leaders need to build into their thinking about the future. We are grateful to the professionals who generously shared their time and perspectives in these Ideation Jam sessions.
To shape these discussions, we used our EY Megatrends framework of future working worlds, which is designed to expose business leaders to trends and forces far outside their usual scope of analysis. We examined these four domains to understand not just how the business community can shape the world beyond COVID-19, but shape it for the better:
- The global order
- Societies and economies
- Firms and markets
- Households and individuals
The result? Leaders expect far-reaching changes but, critically, believe there’s an opportunity to enable a better working world across five dimensions: better health, better connectivity, better relationships, better ingenuity and better accountability. This article presents a high-level view of this potential world beyond the pandemic. It identifies what’s unthinkable — the low-probability, high-impact scenarios for the world beyond COVID-19 that should be on your radar — and raises key questions that connect to the five aspects of a better world. Finally, we offer guiding principles for leaders steering their organizations through a time of unprecedented uncertainty.