That’s what Billy Joel should have said.
At the tail end of 2019 when coronavirus was a twinkle in the eye of some unfortunate creature in a Wuhan wet market, our thought-piece led on change. It was about why change is both rewarding but also all too easy to resist. It was written when change was an idea not a reality. Now look at us: working at home, paperless systems, client pitches and presentations on Zoom, appraisals and internal catch-ups on Slack. All the things, back in the day, we might have said ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ to. The naysayers who chanted ‘it can’t be done’, ‘it will take too long’ and ‘we’ve always done it this way’ have been swept aside. And it took not weeks or months but days to slip into a new groove, with ‘why didn’t we do this earlier?’ echoing on group chats and down empty corridors.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new. ” – Socrates
It’s not been easy, simply because we are such suckers for the status quo, that big cuddly blanket we sleepwalk into every morning. But after ten weeks of new routines and new ways of working, most of us have had an epiphany. We applaud ourselves, our brilliant ability to adapt, our resilience and indomitable spirit. And so we should. But in most cases we didn’t choose to change, we had to. We live in a time of enforced progression, if you will. So what does that reveal about the human condition, about behaviour, and how brands and governments should shape their messaging to overcome our congenital obduracy? I’m likely to wander into unpalatable territory for some but asking and telling are quite different things. We can ask people to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day but do they? We can ask employers to ensure there are no gender pay gaps but will they listen? We can suggest that boardrooms have as many women as men but will a gentle nudge influence policy? The lesson appears to be that if you’re looking for change, don’t expect people, institutions or governments to offer it voluntarily. We are serial resistors. So can we be trusted to do the right thing if we’re not made to do it? Most of us, with one notable exception, are following physical distancing and lockdown guidelines at the moment but fly-tipping is up and the streets of the world are littered with discarded protective masks and gloves. In solving one problem we can’t help but create new ones.
“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” – Steve Jobs
We’ve all had a taste of change. And the truth is we like it. 91% of the UK population don’t want to return to the old normal but how difficult will it be to resist familiar habits? What will the new normal look like and how can we make the most of it? We need to tap in to our inner Curie, Bowie and Dyson – the pioneers, trend-setters and innovators – those who view the ever-changing as the new permanence, to whom change is a healthy addiction.
Coronavirus represents a watershed in so many ways. It has proved that achieving equilibrium between home and office, work and family, and real and virtual is not as elusive as we thought. It has demonstrated unequivocally that change is both easy and essential. That’s something we all need to remember, so that next time we can embrace and implement it before we have to.
I want to leave you with one thought about change. Early on, we saw how the pandemic was indirectly affecting the environment. With the gargantuan cruise ships banned from Venice, the fish returned. Industry slowed and the skies cleared above China. The change was rapid, visible and tangible. It was like we were Scrooge witnessing a rosy future – a promised land – we can still shape, if we are willing to. Once big industry grinds into gear and those faraway factories start making our t-shirts and onesies those improvements will disappear. The change the world needs will quietly vanish and we will return to a status quo we have to resist with every fibre of our being.
COVID-19 isn’t the only virus in town.
To find out more about what the future holds for brands in our ever-changing reality, or if you’d like to chat about how The Union could help you map out what to do next, get in touch – Michael.Hart@union.co.uk