10 lessons for the future that you will learn during Covid-19

By LISELOTTE LYNGSØ, Futurist, CEO and Founder of Future Navigator.

Never in recent history have so many people changed their behavior to such a great extent and in such a short time as we are witnessing right now. As a futurist, with more than 20 years of experience, I’ve never witnessed a situation as radical and profound as this one. The Corona-crisis has thrown us into pitch black water. Trends that were already emerging are suddenly coming under a huge magnifying glass. Families have to adapt to spending time together in a whole new way. Workplaces have to learn to work together – apart. New rules apply. The world has involuntarily been turned into a future laboratory. Corona gives us an amazing opportunity to kickstart our training for the world of tomorrow. Here are at least 10 areas that will influence society beyond the war against COVID-19. 

1. Our belief in experts will be reinvented

We have been through a long period of living with terms like “fake news”, “alternative truths” and “post-factual society”, where integrity did not matter as long as the story was good. However, we are now in the midst of a situation where knowledge is everything. I mean, real knowledge. The admission to have an opinion and contribute is based on professional proficiency and not the number of likes, followers on Instagram or the ability to shout the loudest. Severity and knowledge are a perfect match and this will apply in the years after COVID-19. 

Experts are people with a specific and profound insight that we can all benefit from. We already knew this. We just forgot it in the middle of social media’s overload of influencers and opinions. The fact that we have now discovered the difference between true and false will be crucial for our opportunity to solve other important questions. For example, our climate crisis.

2. We will learn to react to invisible danger

For a long time, Corona was only in Wuhan. Only a few people had imagined that it would spread from China to the world. We couldn’t see the disease, we couldn’t understand it, we couldn’t feel the destiny of the Chinese population in our own life and that is exactly the point. Many of the challenges that we will meet in the future won’t be visible to us before they knock on our door and it’s too late. 

For many years, we have spoken about exponentiality without really sensing what we were talking about, other than a mathematical formula that could lead to disruption. Now, we all get to experience the exponential curve the hard way. This understanding will be an advantage when the technological revolution really kicks in or when ice begins to melt with accelerating speed, and we’re forced to adapt quickly. We’ve been given a collective lesson in why it’s so important to act straight away and not to wait for the tipping point – once it’s too late. 

3. The feedback crisis will force us to be inter-personal

Our homes have been transformed into small, digital hubs. Meetings are being held online. Every advantage is being taken and many people will discover the efficiency of the 15-minute meeting. Why did we waste so much time on meetings and unnecessary chatting before? The trend of distance working has been here for a while.

In February 2020, Forbes Magazine pointed to a survey indicating that businesses offering people to work where, when and how it suits them as the most crucial parameter for attracting and retaining young talent. Now working together apart will go crazy in most areas. However, it will only work if we also become better at giving and receiving feedback. It’s not that we don’t give any kind of feedback. We’re constantly asked to rank and rate on TripAdvisor and TrustPilot. From public bathroom to butcher, we can’t walk into a facility without being asked to consider whether the service was good or bad. Our relationships are being transformed into algorithms in our online society and teleworking is amplifying that development. But it’s also amplifying the feedback crisis that we’re moving into.

Because when we exchange feedback into anonymous numbers, we risk overseeing the responses that answer the questions that are not posed and those are often the most important. How are we supposed to interpret the fact that we scored a 5 instead of a 6 on a scale from 1 to 10? And what will happen to the taboos that require trust and person to person presence to interprete. There is a real risk that constantly communicating with chatbots and algorithms that answer our questions and are designed to always support our existing viewpoints – will make us blunt and ego centered. If we’re going to exploit the great potential that teleworking has, it’s extremely important that we address our skin hunger, train our ability to listen louder (to stuff that is not on the agenda) and are curious and empathetic to diversity when we finally meet again. 

4. By pushing the “exit button”, we’ll practice being the main characters of our own lives

Netflix, HBO and all the other streaming services are really making the big bucks these days. Perform your civic duty: Stay at home on your couch. Do it for your country. It’s a sneak peek into a future where more and more people risk becoming passive bystanders. It might be with a high level of entertainment and constantly improving content. But it’s still binging. Infotainment bulimia. The winners of the world of tomorrow will be those that manage to keep focus on whatever helps them to thrive and develop. Are we learning to speak a new language? Are we redecorating? Are we signing up to help out in our community – if we’re allowed? We have to enhance our strength to not get overwhelmed by the constant breaking news, and instead take control over our lives. The Corona-crisis is our chance to train the ability to focus at a time when the world is extremely luring, uncertain and noisy.

5. From hospitals to health at home

We’ve been put in a situation where we’re forced to take responsibility for our own health. Am I sick? Do I have a fever? No one dares to cough anymore – only when they’re alone. We stay home as much and as long as we can, avoiding admission at any cost. Hospitals are only for very, very sick people! Not us!

DIY health requires that our knowledge about our own well-being dramatically increases. We will all have to monitor our temperature, our breathing, our general condition. It will raise a number of ethical questions. Will the data that we collect be private or public? Should we let our employer know if our smart watch predicts that we’re coming down with a cold. Or should we tell our grandmother that our phone has told us that our Tinder date on Friday night turned out to be contagious? Can future employers demand that their employees use technology to monitor their health? In any case, we will see an explosion of voluntary self-monitoring- and diagnosing so that we – and our surroundings – can handle anxiety, breakdowns and colds before they occur. Expect new home hospitals entering our households. 

6. The discovery of new paths of learning for both children and adults

Tele-education has been a hot discussion topic for a while. However, mostly it has been a means to integrate the periphery and many people have perceived any initiative regarding distance learning, as an attempt to cut down on expenses. Now there is no other way. All education has been moved to an online platform. My son has been asked to monitor his pulse and track his runs as a part of his gym lessons. He enjoys the fact that the usual hierarchy, where the overachievers, those who always sit at the front row and are always heard, no longer exists. Now, everyone contributes their answer in the commenting field online. Artificial intelligence detects your weaknesses and finds adaptive exercises that match your level perfectly. There is no one calling you stupid anymore.

All teachers are being tested on their digital skills across differing ideologies. We’re freed from shallow discussions about whether school time should involve screen time. Educators and students are forced to take advantage of different online learning methods, so that one size is replaced by my size. Furthermore, it seems that teachers as well as students are very enthusiastic. Everyone feels a great obligation to perform as well as possible, in this time of distress. People step out of the ordinary and dare to experiment. What will be crucial is the systematic evaluation of the digital classroom across the globe. How do the students react? How do the teachers react? How could it be used to democratize learning? And how could it help us with lifelong training and development? We will never see a better opportunity to get experience, than this. 

7. We stop overspending and become conscious consumers 

These days we focus a lot on our consumption – especially our over-consumption. I’m hardly the only one who’s had to cancel Easter holidays. Many people have had a party cancelled or had to postpone a trip to the movie theater. The Covid-19 crisis has reminded us about what really matters. A good health for ourselves and our loved ones and the means to support our family. We already knew this. We just forgot it. 

Over-spending is being reversed to underspending – and well, at least in the rich part of the world – we will discover that it’s actually not that bad. We’ve already talked about the term “staycation” in order to cut our carbon footprint. The Coronavirus will force us to do so. Many people will find that working smarter and consuming less is actually not such a crazy idea. That a trip to New York or Paris isn’t so important after all.

8. We redecorate our lives

37 types of families have been forced to fit into a highly inflexible real estate market, created for the traditional nuclear family with two adults and two children. The Corona-crisis will leave its marks on our homes. Never in recent times have so many families spent so much time together, in such a small space and for such a long period of time. Our homes are where the kids go to school, the parents work, and all the life in between is being unfolded. We’ll find out exactly what works and what doesn’t. Corona is the ultimate test of our everyday life.

We will create multifunctional rooms, build tailored indoor caves, throw out like mad men, clean, cook and redecorate like never before. The living room will suddenly become a conference room. Then it will be transformed into a gym. Then into a creative painting workshop for the kids. Our home needs to rise to the occasion: it will be designed for its inhabitants rather than vice versa. We will no longer wish to fit into designated rooms – we want to design them to our specific and changing needs.

9. We take a break to think

Where will it all end? Will I or my loved ones get infected in this or the next COVID-19 wave? Am I going to lose my job? What am I going to live off of? Who will need me? The leisure and live entertainment industries, which have traditionally been safe havens, are suddenly with zero earnings and all activities cancelled. No wonder that we’re totally stressed out about having to come up with new forms of value creation. We don’t know the rules of the game, nor do we even understand it. When we last spoke about disruption, automation and robots taking over our jobs, the insecurity seemed blurred and abstract.

Now, it’s clear to everyone (except for our indispensable heroes within healthcare) what it means to be hit right back to square one. We’ve gotten an existential wake-up-call. Everyday life as we know it can actually end from one press conference in the Prime Minister’s Office to the next. We will replace our retirement with breaks where we re-orientate to a changing labor market. Corona has given us a timeout to reflect about what value we can contribute to society – also in the long run. 

10. Our curiosity about other cultures increases

For years and years, we’ve talked about the global village. The moon landing and events like the Olympics have made the world seem smaller. Now, we have jointly had the experience of being at war against Corona as allies. This stands in sharp contrast to our role as victims of a political and ideological trade war between the United States and China, with destructive accusations being thrown back and forth. We might not be able to travel physically but Corona has made us interested in getting to know each other at a much deeper level. How are other nations and cultures coping with isolation? How are they doing in Spain? What are the rules in South Korea? Have they stopped kissing each other on the cheek in France? How are the Italians burying their dear ones? Is it really true that the Chinese have been able to contain the infection? 

Perhaps we will, after all, become global citizens, who get inspired by other countries’ ways of doing things. The great international institutions have, with their silence, left us to make our own conclusions. Everything is on its head right now. But there’s one thing that I’m certain of. The Corona-crisis will improve our ability to sense and navigate the future! 

Read the article, written by Liselotte Lyngsø, in Danish here.

Copyright: Future Navigator