At the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance’s annual summit last December, we asked hundreds of entrepreneurs what the post-COVID world would look like. Their collective response? Things will never be the same again—less than one-third of entrepreneurs said they expect the world to return to the old normal.
This sentiment came across in a way that felt both positive and inevitable. We are already seeing signs that suggest longer-term behavioral changes at individual and systemic levels, from lifestyle choices to healthcare systems, government regulations and business norms. Take consumption patterns, for example. Accenture’s Consumer Pulse Survey found that 56% of consumers were shopping more locally since the onset of the pandemic—84% of whom plan to continue doing so in the long term. But the changes could be much greater, affecting everything from how we work to how we govern.
Together, such individual and systemic behavioral changes will shape the future. But how?
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We developed four post-COVID scenarios that pivot on the interplay between individual and systemic behavioral changes.
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In March 2020, we developed four scenarios to help our clients navigate decision-making at the height of the crisis. Underpinning these were critical uncertainties—interdependent factors that would necessarily shape the course of events. How would the virus spread? When might we have a vaccine? How strictly or for how long would people comply with containment rules?
Today, a year after alarm bells from China initially caught global attention, the answers to some of those critical uncertainties have evolved. We’ve updated the scenarios based on the latest developments.
Playing out the implications of post-COVID behaviors
At Accenture Research, we don’t claim to predict the future. Still, we see it as part of our job to anticipate different scenarios and help organizations prepare for them. Combining creative scenario-building methods with data-driven analytical tools offers a powerful approach to continuously re-imagine what is to come and what we can do to prepare.
With this in mind, we developed four post-COVID scenarios that pivot on the interplay between individual and systemic behavioral changes. Taking input from the entrepreneurs along the way, we walked through how the future might play out for their businesses.
Here are the scenarios in a nutshell:
Collective Change: The crisis is not resolved as quickly as expected, but society pulls together to manage the outbreak over the longer-term. Because the resolution takes longer to achieve, both individuals and systems see the opportunity for a step-change in behaviors. Individuals consume more consciously, organizations balance profit and purpose and governments fulfil their promise to build back better.
System Crash: Ineffective public health interventions lead to uncontrolled transmission of the virus well into 2021. Geopolitical fragmentation prevents finding a global solution, hampering effective global vaccine distribution. Individuals lose faith in systems, adopting new behaviors to drive change from the bottom-up, while systems stagnate—juggling austerity measures as inequalities pervade.
- Back to Business: The rapid distribution of effective vaccines results in a quick end to the pandemic. As a result, incentives to change are limited. Individuals and systems revert to past behavior patterns: companies pay lip service to stakeholder capitalism but favor short-termism; pandemic welfare programs are quickly ended; and the hubbub of city centers is restored.
- Big Society: As the pandemic reaches into 2021, national governments realize that unilateral responses fail, resulting in a more coordinated multinational effort to control ongoing break-outs. Governments commit to systemic change, driving a radical rethink of healthcare, housing and transit systems. However, the direction, depth and pace of that change are too much for some individuals, resulting in social tensions as some workers and citizens feel the pressure of increased surveillance and intrusive rules.
Taking responsibility to shape the new reality
These scenarios help us visualize how different actions by different actors can interact to generate different outcomes. They make us very aware of how much is not in our own control...yet simultaneously, they focus on the levers that we do have at our disposal.
For example, our interaction with the entrepreneurs brought home the importance of shared purpose and collaboration, inside and outside our organizations. We left the interactive session with a stronger sense of our behavioral changes and our ability to influence others’ behaviors, be they other business leaders and partners, policymakers, or community members.
Through our cumulative behaviors and interactions, we shape the scenarios that ultimately play out where we live. Once we acknowledge that power, we have a responsibility to act on it. And those entrepreneurs certainly seemed ready to act.
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Interaction with the entrepreneurs brought home the importance of shared purpose and collaboration, inside and outside our organizations.
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We left the event charged up and ready to make immediate changes — at home and work. Perhaps most importantly, we left with an appreciation of how we can influence broader change by shifting the focus to the bigger, long-term picture. For example, our performance assessments will not only look at a company’s financial performance. We will also include their approach to sustainability, talent, inclusion and diversity policies, and customer experience.
With uncertainty everywhere, scenarios are an important part of our toolkit, equipping us to move beyond short-term tactics to long-term strategy.
We would like to thank Omaro Maseli for contributing to this post.