We are all in this mass experiment together


We are all in this mass experiment together!

Together we can restart our businesses

In our last perspective we addressed how COVID-19 has effectively shut down the core business of numerous companies around the world. At the same time, barriers for change have been removed, while shaping trends that were surfacing slowly are now accelerating. All and all, we share the common view that these are unprecedented times. We need to prepare ourselves for the 'new normal' and navigate increasing uncertainties.

Faced with the global pandemic, scenario planning has seen a rapid comeback in the business community. But where scenario planning is traditionally shaped by uncertainty, we like to focus on the opposite. What certainties remain? What hasn’t changed in the long term? We can’t avoid the unexpected of course, but companies need a narrative that will activate and mobilize their employees, clients, and partners – something far more powerful than committing to an uncertain future scenario.

We are all in this mass experiment together!

Although uncertainties are undeniably on the rise, this is nothing new. Increased global competition, shrinking product life cycles, and 'black swan' phenomena were persuading executives to shorten their time horizons. Many were already focused on restructuring, cost-reduction, and efficiency to put themselves in a stronger position to respond to whatever happens next.

But is this the correct approach? Does it make an organization more adaptable? Provide employees with a clear understanding of the long-term direction, the steps, and the governance required to get there? Or offer an understanding of how to act when life gets turned upside down? With so much attention given to the digital and virtual revolutions we have seen across organizations, are we ready to adapt as easily to the next big disruption? Imagine a situation in which our digital infrastructures shut down, we can only work in the office, and email and internet become a no-go zone. Would we be able to cope?

One major impact of the current pandemic has been to accelerate shaping trends that were already happening. Together with a sudden change in company architectures and systems, public policy, and society, it is fast-forwarding us to where we might have been in 10 years - not only in terms of working and employment practices, but also energy transition and even the way we market our products and services. Many companies have developed creative new ways to collaborate and redefine their businesses, whether to respond to crucial health needs, compensate for shrinking demand, or gain and maintain access to clients. Driven by a severe global impact on daily life, we are all in this mass experiment together - both personally and professionally. This is our all-too-real episode of ‘Black Mirror’.

Our assessment

For most industries the 10+ years ‘zoom-out’ vision is not fundamentally changing, only becoming more apparent.
The current pandemic is changing the ‘now’, further challenging current beliefs and assumptions.
Specific shaping trends are accelerating our movement towards ‘zoom-out’.
New drivers are being created that impact our strategic choices and critical beliefs.
We need to connect to define direction, create perspective for growth, and take the lead in a world that defies prediction.

Riding the waves of acceleration

We see three main waves of change and opportunity.

  1. The acceleration or deceleration of existing shaping trends.
  2. Evolving organizational architectures, changing work systems, and eroding barriers to transformation.
  3. A rebalancing of forces in your business environment or marketplace.

1. Accelerating shaping trends
Our conversations with executives across Europe have borne this out, most often in the uptake of virtual meetings and a change in behavioral work patterns. Our assessment of 35 global drivers highlighted four domains that are accelerating quickly and at least another 11 showing moderate acceleration across areas ranging from social media, climate change, augmented reality and the Internet of Things to the concentration of wealth and the next-gen workforce. Even so, change is not always seen as opportunity. How do you create the mindset and the mind space to embrace the potential on offer?

The acceleration and deceleration of trends presents two challenges.

  • The competition is catching up much faster than before.
  • Miss the wave of acceleration and you run the risk of falling behind - and never being able to catch up again.

Simple examples of rapid change include adapting to flexible work arrangements in a matter of weeks, with frontrunners continuing business as usual with a twist. Companies that relied on field engineers for service and maintenance now deploy augmented reality-based devices. This enables them to do more with less and engage with clients more dynamically than ever. What other examples do we see? Which of those are changing the status quo? And which will fade away again?

As a consequence, companies now need to assess the relevant shaping trends that are gaining traction – and those that are beginning to tail off. This had already become an imperative even before the crisis, but it also represents an opportunity. These trends are shaping the future of your industry or market. Now really is the time to define your company’s role in that future. Adopting that zoom-out view and understanding how the pandemic is accelerating change can be very powerful drivers for seizing the opportunities on offer.

We also need to re-assess our strategic choices in the short-term. Where do we focus our efforts? How do we approach the sensitive issue of costs and business continuity?

2. Leveraging the changing of the ‘Now’
The second question that needs addressing from a strategic perspective is: what has changed in the ‘Now’? For example, we have already asked if the corporate immune system has beaten the virus. On the one hand we can say yes, as we develop new ways of reacting to the situation with unprecedented speed. Yet the immune system might be more active than ever. In discussions with executives, John Hagel saw the increased use of the word resilience.

“When I press executives on what they mean by resilience, the answer I most often get back is the ability to 'bounce back'. Success is bouncing back to where they were before this started. In my view, it is all about emotions – where fear prevails, and there is a lot of fear today, the immune system is strengthened”.

Change has arisen in the ways we are exploring new approaches to solve the impact of the crisis. Due to the lack of a relatively stable and predictable short-term future, we need to make decisions now. In other words, we need to be responsive. Resilience and responsiveness are great strengths for any organization, especially when they connect to a clear, long-term direction based on what we expect to happen. And this is what we see as the great opportunity for organizations. This is the chance to reimagine our systems and architectures in combination with a strong purpose and a commitment to thrive. Otherwise, this resilience will be a response to fear and uncertainty. That might get you through the crisis, but not in a positive way.

3. A rebalancing of forces
These two primary waves lead to a third: a fundamental reshuffling of the business environment and the interplay of forces. For most businesses, the highest uncertainty (besides survival) is the nature of the business landscape beyond the crisis. Exploring and navigating accelerating waves of change is, in our view, the only option. You need to learn fast and concentrate on acquiring new knowledge – but forget about doing it efficiently. Because if you win, efficiency will not matter. And if you lose, well, it most certainly won’t.

John Hagel and John Seely Brown’s current research1 emphasizes this rebalancing of forces.

“To learn and grow from this challenging time, we need to fundamentally redesign the architectures that support our businesses – the underlying systems that connect all the resources and activities required to do business. Here, we focus on both technology architectures and business architectures.”

Connections and a deep understanding of customer needs play a crucial role here. Re-engineering architectures can create significant value both for customers and for companies. Flexible business and technology infrastructures can support the development of large-scale learning ecosystems. Ultimately, these can become the operating systems of our industries.

The bottom line

We believe that this crisis, like any other, is also an opportunity. Without downplaying the severe global impact on individuals and companies alike, we call out to those in a position to adopt a new perspective and ride the waves of acceleration to do it now. Not just for yourself or for your organization, but also for those able to connect to that perspective and to the opportunity outside. But adopt a sensible approach, first taking a step back to assess:

  • Which shaping trends are accelerating?
  • Where are barriers being broken down to create a launchpad for change?
  • What is your compelling narrative for the future that will activate and mobilize?

So yes, we are in this mass experiment together. Together, we need to restart our businesses and create the light at the end of the tunnel. The future is in our hands. Let’s make sure it will be a bright one.


1. John Hagel and John Seely Brown, ‘Architectures Matter: Redesigning Connections to Unleash Greater Value’, Deloitte Insights, May 2020

                                      © Deloitte Center for the Edge

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