As much of the world is settling into a more stripped-back lifestyle of home isolation, China is already back to work. For those of us that didn’t leave the country, we are now living in a new paradigm, the post-COVID world. Signs of this ‘new normal’ are all around us, some are obvious, some more subliminal, but all were deliberately constructed.
For the rest of the world still struggling to contain the spread of the virus, China provides a peek at the future; a future in which people genuinely appreciate small things like family, good health and the freedom to take a walk outside. It also provides a peek into a new world where the ‘powers that be’ are given even more control over the narrative, something we unwittingly allowed them to have.
‘Mindset’ in the Post-COVID New-Now
Like every major world-changing event in human history, there is no going back. As a species, we move forward with a relentless determination that has earned us the top spot on the food chain and allowed us to more or less bend mother nature to our will. This is what has so unnerved us with this pandemic, for the first time in our lifetime, our species has been revealed to be vulnerable. In the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ‘health’ takes a spot near the bottom. With fear of health on the minds of all (sensible) humans around the world, we enter into a new mindset that challenges our position in the world. No longer do we believe wholeheartedly that we control nature; we now see her for what she is, the giver and taker of life.
As a digital native just beginning life’s spiritual journey, this event does more to shift my mindset than any book, film or conversation ever could. For those of us that have lived our whole lives in a cognitive-bubble that separates man from nature, we don’t realise that one does not exist without the other. Existing in a constant and inescapable balance, man and nature, like light and dark are two sides of the same coin. We come out of this world so that we can experience it, which perpetuates its existence. Light is no better than dark just as man is no better than nature.
We don’t notice the dark until we turn the lights off; we don’t appreciate life until we notice death.
So it comes that his experiment in the fragility of mankind, the reality check about our place in this world, is the exact spiritual awakening we need – who’d have thunk it.
The Forced Clean Slate
With a forced change of reality, we’re all back to square one. The phenomenon known as the “blank slate” mindset is something people experience when they quit jobs, move countries, have children, end relationships etc. and normally follows a major life event, an event that signals the beginning of a new chapter. The significance of the blank state is known to psychologists and behaviourologists who accredit major lifestyle changes with a “heightened sensitivity for the forming of new habits”. Blank slates give us an opportunity to turn the page, start a new chapter and decide for ourselves the life we want to live.
Everyone who has tried will understand that breaking an old habit can be almost as challenging as taking up a new one. But the blank slate acts life a hard refresh button. With all the energy we could put into breaking an old unhealthy habit, the blank slate does it effortlessly.
The blank slate is the hard reset back to factory settings.
So with the world in a state of reset, what new habits do we want to take up? Remember how just a few months ago everything seemed to be moving past at lightning speed, everyone was burnt out, the world looking like it was about to plow into WW3 and no one had the energy or patience to actually challenge it? Well here’s the golden opportunity, a worldwide blank slate just sitting and waiting for us to take up the reins.
I was speaking with a friend of mine last week about how this new-now has influenced his work. As a B2B sales manager, I would have expected him to reply that everything is down, no one is willing to consider his products and he was going to have to layoff staff. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although February was a rough month, he said, March and April are shaping up to be phenomenal. He reports that clients who flat-out weren’t interested in his product (innovation management software) are now more than happy to have a Zoom call for an hour to chat about new and exciting ideas.
It’s as if the post-COVID new-now has reset how we respond to people. Everyone has time, everyone is willing to experiment and everyone is willing to look to those around them as human beings again.
Let’s hope it lasts..
The Risks of ‘New’
The reason the blank slate is such a powerful kill switch for old habits is actually found in our biology. As adaptation machines, we love habits and routine. New experiences and tasks present great challenges for our brains as we are forced to concentrate on every aspect of the challenge, forming new neural pathways as we do. This is extremely taxing on the brain which prefers to do things it’s used to, tasks that don’t require a lot of conscious attention or effort.Source Like the first time you reversed a car: you were looking all over the place, aware of every small bump and fearful you might hit something. Now? Music blaring, chatting to a friend, one hand on the wheel and barely looking (safety first, kids). After a few tries, we are ‘getting the hang of it’ and by the 10th time, we’ve ‘got it’.
The point being that our brains are lazy, they prefer to leave us on autopilot. This is great because it allows us to listen to music, walk, chew gum and watch the footpath at the same time. It’s not so good when we look at how our brains respond to other stimulus around us, namely: corporate and government “nudges“. This has been evidenced through how beauty magazines and Instagram have contributed to an increase in impulse purchases of non-essentials. Also on how these mediums have altered our perception of beauty and subsequently lead to generations of women(and men) with lower self-esteem than the women(and men) before them.
For the past few decades, Management Studies have been promoting Winston Churchill’s creed that a good leader should “never let a crisis go to waste”. The thinking that people are extra receptive to instruction during times of crisis was epitomised in the world’s response to 9/11. Overnight, the world entered a new paradigm known as the ‘War on Terror’. Around the world, legislation was rushed through that enabled anti-terrorist government organisations virtually unrestricted powers of surveillance. Overnight, billions of people lost their rights to privacy under the premise of ‘safety’. And all those that opposed? Unpatriotic, terrorist sympathisers and traitors with ‘something to hide’.
So what happens when corporations and governments realise everyone across the world is in a “heightened state of susceptibility to new habits”? Habits around what we do, what we say, how we feel and what we think? Well that’s the Post-COVID new normal we’re about to enter whether we’re ready for it or not.
It’s a (hopefully) once in a lifetime opportunity for all sides.
He Who Control the Narrative..
A more contemporary look at the roles of governments and big brands is through understanding their roles and abilities in creating and shaping the “narrative”. Narratives are absolutely integral to our society, they provide us with the principles with which to life our daily lives. Principles are like large mental frameworks for us operate in and unlike laws, the edges of these principle boundaries are fluid and ambiguous. We, as a society, set the arbitrary boundaries in our mind and then adhere to them. For example: last year and the years before there has been a growing anti-plastics movement; for the most part, it was never illegal to provide single-use plastics but in many areas of the West, organisations started to phase out plastics as part of an environmentally conscious approach to consumerism. (Bit strange to see those same brands now advocating the use of single-use face masks, gloves and protective clothing.)
Governments, media organisations and large brands leverage their own social capital (ie. reputation) to influence the narrative in their favour. Through these actions, the boundaries of the guiding principles become slightly clearer or can even change completely. Things that were once considered ‘Okay’ are now ‘not Okay’, not because a law was passed, but because “everyone knows this is not socially acceptable”. Think about it, in the age of COVID-19, people are actively being ostracised and criticised on social media for leaving their houses and attending social events – that would have been such a weird thing to think about 6 months ago.
Making Positive Change
Things will never return to how they were before COVID-19. Regardless of how many people contract the disease, whether a cure is found (side note: why do we say ‘find a cure’ rather than ‘create a cure’?) or whatever happens with the global economy; the genie is out of the bottle and we can’t put it back. Humanity entering the new paradigm of post-COVID is as inevitable as the sun rising, it’s just going to happen. Also inevitable is the desire for those with power to seek to control the narrative for their own gain.
So as we enter this new world, the question remains: what will it look like?
Answer: Completely different
Any more than that and I’d be stabbing in the dark.
We will be exposed to a whole host of new changes that may not feel out of the ordinary at the time but when you contrast it with a couple of years ago, everything will have changed. The important note to make is that during times of great change, there is tremendous opportunity to make those changes positive. As a society, we have to ensure we are playing an active role in the re-creation of the narrative. If not, we will lose more authority over our own lives and the world around us.
So what changes would we like to see in a post-COVID 19 world?
– Cleaner skies, less traffic and pollution
– Higher expectations from our politicians and governments
– More experimentation with innovative technologies
– Higher standards for healthcare industry and workers compensation
– More family and relaxation time
– Less money wasted on non-essentials
– More optimism and feel good stories in the news
– A genuine focus on employee health and wellbeing
– Literally anything else
These things are completely doable, they require considered and consistent effort by society but they are 100% achievable.
This is the reality of the post-COVID new normal; its humanity like before but a bit more fragile, more flexible and more susceptible to change. The only thing we can expect is change.