We are now more than six months into the COVID-19 pandemic and into the last quarter of 2020. It has been a year of dramatic and sustained disruption, with multiplying uncertainties and rising anxiety. As we head into the last three months of the year, organizations are having to turn more of their attention to the question of 2021.
As a foresight and strategic analysis firm, we are often called upon to assist clients with developing foresight in order to improve their strategies and strategic plans. Today, when we are considering the events of this year and forecasting possibilities for 2021, we see the need for organizations to account for a number of issues that are likely to play out over the next fifteen months. As you and your organization work on your plans for next year, the following are five things that your team needs to consider.
One: Dealing with COVID-19 for at least another 12 months
As much as we all are desperate for this pandemic to come to an end, for a variety of reasons, it looks like it will continue to overshadow our lies for at least another twelve months. It seems unlikely that we will soon develop an effective and widely available vaccine to inoculate the entire country, and unlikely that we will soon develop a tightly coordinated set of effective testing, tracing, and quarantining practices across the country. As outlined in a recent article, a number of top experts in fact expect things to take years to fully end. Given this, organizations should be having frank conversations about what it will mean to continue to operate in the midst of a prolonged pandemic.
Two: Our States and communities oscillating between opening up and closing back down
Based in part on very pronounced patterns we have all witnessed over the past six months, and given some of the preceding discussion about our collective response to COVID-19, organizations should prepare for States and cities continuing to swing back and forth between opening up in order to restart an economy and then closing back down to regain a handle on rising infections. Recent experiences have been so widespread and fluid that the status of states is now tracked, like they do here and here. Organizations should focus some of their discussions on what such swings mean for their customers and operations, and the ways in which they can adapt to ride out these repeated swings in 2021.
Three: Widening and deepening challenges experienced by individuals and households
Following from #2 and #3, above, organizations should anticipate that the economic and emotional pressures on people will likely be increasing over the next year. Continued employment challenges and financial insecurities, repeated cycles of lockdowns and reopenings, and persistent stress over things like children needing hybrid remote learning/on-campus learning arrangements will all contribute to prolonged and evolving stresses on employees and on customers. A growing number of articles have been addressing this growing concern. Organizations that anticipate these prolonged and evolving impacts of the pandemic will have an advantage in preparing ways to support individuals and families, as well as for innovating to meet emergent needs.
Four: Greater social and political turbulence across the US in 2021
The ongoing pandemic, the rapidly evolving movements for social justice, and the deeply divisive and potentially crisis-inducing presidential election are all contributing to an outlook of increased social and political upheaval in the year ahead. With the economic recovery in the US already showing signs of slowing, and with the many ways that these disruptions can interact over the next few months to further destabilize American society, it is important for organizations to seriously consider the types of threats this represents for their business. What contingencies need to be developed? What shifts need to be considered? What roles could the organization play in stabilizing communities or industries?
Five: An additional major disruption to your organization
If this year has taught us anything, it is absolutely that anything can happen. With this in mind, and with an eye towards further increasing resilience for the year ahead, organizations should consider what additional type of business disruption could possibly occur next year. This is very much along the lines of, “what else could possibly go wrong?” Now is the time to put those possibilities on the table and start gaming out what it would mean and how the organization would need to respond. These need not be crazy wild card events like asteroid strikes; every industry and organization has a number of latent disruptive possibilities that are uncomfortable to consider. It is time to start considering these additional disruptions, and even to think about the new black swans that may be lurking out there in the emerging landscape.
Looking Ahead and Planning for Tomorrow
As we head into the final quarter of 2020, we all need to begin planning for the new year. Unfortunate as it is, the pandemic and a number of related disruptions are likely to remain with us throughout 2021. Now is the time for organizations to start forecasting the many possibilities for next year and to plan their responses to those threats and opportunities. A little bit of foresight now could mean the difference between barely surviving the coming year and actually thriving in it.
Additional Resources: for organizations turning now to their strategic plans, you can follow our American Futures 2021 project, which is currently conducting forecasts of the coming year and helping different sectors and industries anticipate the possibilities and implications of the year ahead.
For those interested in a more longer-term view for their planning, the recent article, Shredding Our Maps, offers a more expansive take on this moment in history and the opportunity to presents for pursuing long-term resilience.