What might actually change in society because of COVID?

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Are we entering into what some might call “The Never Normal” as opposed to “The New Normal?” There is a case to be made for that, absolutely. Here’s a little bit more on “The Never Normal.”

My broader idea as I think through it is that … lots of stuff will change, but it won’t be Earth-shattering at first. We probably will not know the full economic and societal impact of COVID-19 for a half-decade or longer. Here are just a couple of theories I have, tied in to some previous stuff I’ve written and seen around da web and in conversations. I am avoiding bigger macro issues like debt, inflation, etc. honestly because I am not well-enough-informed on those topics to say anything truly meaningful.

I do not think we’re headed for an “Empathy Renaissance”

Businesses are predominantly run off of execution and expertise, or at least perceived expertise. Empathy usually does not factor in, even though we’ve had research in recent years that more empathetic companies (which admittedly is hard to quantify) increase their revenue. At a professional level (i.e. work level), once we hit the “New Normal” or “Never Normal,” I think most businesses will want to return to “the way things were,” because in the eyes of the leaders/bosses, that will feel comforting. So while I think people will have internalized news footage of six-hour food bank lines and generally understood that the playing field is not even in the world (definitely not in America), I think the idea of “We’re blowing and going again! We’re back! We’re making money and meeting payroll!” is more powerful. As that notion rises up, I think empathy will fade.

At the personal level? I think it’s possible, and a case-by-case (person-by-person) basis. But in reality, once you see bars and restaurants open up more, I think people will flood out to meet their friends — and, for better or worse, those friends are probably very similar to them in color, age range, background, occupations, etc. We need to pursue opposite ideas and perspectives, yes, but we don’t often do this at happy hour. Once happy hour is back, I worry some of the “empathy lessons” may fall by the wayside.

Salaries will probably go down, at least short- to intermediate-term

Automation is a big discussion, for sure, but I think we can gloss that for the short-term because the tech is not ready — and the organizational mindsets are not ready either. For an example: Facebook has been a company since 2004, and I believe offering ads since 2008. Most companies can still barely do anything with Facebook that functionally. You think some super-advanced set of technologies like machine learning and AI — where most of the experts reside in Asia, actually — is going to suddenly be adopted properly by organizations that can barely understand Twitter? Please.

Instead, the short-term concern is more about “The Desperation Economy.” 22M+ people in the USA, and more globally, were put on their ass because of The Rona. They will be looking for jobs. Now, some will flood back to retail and service industry, sure, but there was a “Second Wave” of layoffs that was predominantly white-collar (and there may well be a “Third Wave”). the hiring process is notably broken for white-collar roles, and most executives only really understand cost-cutting measures, hence their natural incentive is to keep salaries down. With a bunch of people flooding the market desperate for a check every two weeks, I think the advantage is with those salary-setters. Now, at the same time I think consumers of goods/services probably come out of this with more power, but job-seekers? No.

Hopefully the higher education model changes

I respect higher education and I myself went to a “good school” and have an “advanced degree” — which, if you’re not a true expert or good at schmoozing, is actually bad on the open market because it triggers an assumption of higher salary demand, which kills your prospects — but I hate where higher ed got to. I’ve written about this a couple of times. I guess my biggest problem is that typically, when the cost of a product rises 2.5x, the corresponding quality of the product rises 2.5x or higher. I am not sure that has happened with higher education.

If the model needs to shift to video delivery + project-based learning (my friend Jordan and I discussed that in a podcast) + some in-person delivery + access to top professors + a better cost model, cool. I think that would benefit a lot of people. I don’t necessarily see it happening, and universities spend a lot of money hiring admin roles, but hopefully there is some shift in this model.

What’s broken to me, besides the cost structure, is that if you send your kid to a fancy university because of the professors, well, your kid probably can get more access to those professors by searching Apple Podcasts for their name than by being on a campus with them. Ya know? And if you send them to a school for the name value, which many parents/students do, that is the first brick in class-ism and inequality.

We will respect Big Tech more, but hopefully we remain a bit wary of them

I don’t really think the Silicon Valley model has been that successful, although many would disagree with me on that. I will spare you all the stuff about digital marketing, targeting, tele-health, etc. Things will rise, but those things are obvious.

The soft skills revolution

Now, this might be true. Wrote something about a year ago on the rise of resilience — and simultaneously the need to listen to people who say things you don’t agree with — and I think that’s going to be a big deal. Getting kicked in the mouth is a good life lesson. I am not rooting for people to pass away or lose their jobs or anything of that nature, no. But … Instagram be damned, the “journey of life” often sucks. Once you lean into some of the suck and embrace some of the uncertainty — because, let’s be honest, you waking up this morning was in some ways uncertain — you get a better perspective. Everybody’s got a plan until they get popped in the mouth.

For example, here is a snapshot of my 30s:

  • 30-ish: NYC, decent friends, relationship, OK job
  • 31-ish: Shittier job, NYC, relationship, friends
  • 32-ish: Shittier job, NYC, got engaged, moved to Minneapolis
  • 33-ish: Cold, no job, graduate school that I incurred too much debt from, etc.
  • 34-ish: Cold, then moved to Texas, job/no job, relationship OK to below average
  • 35-ish: Texas, job/laid off, built own thing, relationship average
  • 36-ish: Divorced, OK job (work for self), too much drinking
  • 37-ish: Divorced/new relationship, work below average, too much drinking
  • 38-ish: Job/no job/self, relationship, drinking in spots, improving
  • 39-ish: Surving and semi-thriving, despite a global pandemic

Nowhere in here do you see “Beautiful baby boy!” or anything like other-worldly. It’s just kinda been a grind with a lot of ups and downs, probably more of the latter. In that same span, I’ve seen a lot of my friends excel at work, have kids, whatever whatever. All this said, comparison is the thief of joy — but the point is, if you asked me at 23 to define myself at 39, I would have been totally wrong. And I struggle with things, sure. But is my life broadly bad? No. So you jut need to understand that resilience, uncertainty, confusion, volatility, etc. will be more consistent themes on the back-end of COVID-19 than they were for some beforehand.

Life is not Instagram. Hell, LinkedIn is barely real a huge percentage of the time. Ever go on there and see a bunch of posts about people crushing it when the reality is that the layoff lines have 25 million human beings, with life stories and families and needs and wants, on them?


So some of what might change here is our perception around certain things. That doesn’t necessarily mean our actions will correspondingly change, but over time they will if we started to embrace some of the modern confusion — because look, within 10–12 years if not sooner, we will see another recession and another health crisis. The economy is too interconnected right now to think it won’t happen again.

And if you were left flat-footed this time, very likely through no fault of your own, how do you thrive in the next one?

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/work-with-me/

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