• The World after Covid-19 (Part 2)

by | Apr 6, 2020 | 0 comments

What should we expect? From intuition to long-term scenario building

This is the second of four articles on long-term scenarios. My purpose is to help entrepreneurs, investors and interested citizens to answer the question “how the world will look like after Covid-19?”.  In order to do so, I will neither offer my vision in a “take it or leave it” form (a license granted to few thinkers) nor promise the advice of a large team of sectoral experts (too costly). Instead, I will present a very simple tool to organize relevant knowledge and ideas, normally used to develop creative thinking[1] but adapted here to give shape to one’s vision of the future[2].

It is a mind map of Covid-19 impact on socio-economic activities, that is on the activities involving interactions among individuals. Giving shape to my thoughts on this topic, with the help of directional arrows, I identified 6 activities: culture, leisure, travel, shopping, sport and a residual category of “other social activities”. For each one I showed the main components and in the case of travel also the sub-components. With this level of detail, imagining the economic consequences of the Covid-19 event for whole sectors (museums, cinemas, hotels etc.) becomes easier and more intuitive. I left aside on purpose the area of health care, because not homogeneous with the other activities and making the general picture unnecessarily complex. Our diagram at this stage is made only by connections, but it is possible to add (subjective) impact assessments by adding colors.

In order to make this type of evaluations, we need first to formulate some basic hypotheses. Mines were:

  1. Covid-19 is not an isolated event. In fact, it has been preceded in 1980 by the spread of HIV, in 2003 by SARS, in 2005 by avian flu, in 2009 by swine flu, in 2016 by Zika, all zoonoses (diseases transmitted by animals) connected to the shortening of the distance between humans and wild animals, in a context of environmental degradation (contamination and destruction of natural habitats), climate change and population growth in underdevelopment conditions. Without a change of direction, these underlying trends will increase the probability that similar events will occur again. In conclusion if Covid-19 was an unexpected event for most of us (but not for Bill Gates who foresaw it in 2015 or for the John Hopkins Center for Health Security and the World Economic Forum which simulated it in late 2019), its future occurrence in similar forms and with other names could not be considered again a “black swan”.
  2. National (if not Regional) Authorities will adopt permanently measures of containment (of current threats) and prevention (of potential ones), based on the principle of social distancing (from lockdown to quarantine to simple distance keeping). To make an example, in five years in order to travel beyond the border, a tourist could be requested to produce a “health passport” and to enroll in special traceability program, while logistically the distance between two passengers in a plain or train could double. The justification of these measures will be dual: protecting public health and defending national economic interest (the fall of GDP deriving from a Covid-like event overtakes the economic slowdown provoked by a restricted circulation of people).
  3. Consumers’ behaviors inspired by bigger caution in social relationships, if not by fear (of contagion). Even in this case, the phenomenon is not new: it happened already after terroristic attacks (avoiding crowded places, demonstrations, etc.). After Covid-19, the push for consumption recovery will be strong (we liked the Good Old World), but the memory of what happened will act as a brake for some years.

Having said this, I used a scale of colors (4 intervals for the negative impact and 2 intervals for the positive one) to visualize the possible consequences for the mentioned activities. The final scenario is only the result of my personal judgement and might differ from yours. I will shortly describe it, however, to stress its importance in terms of strategic planning. For leisure, travel, shopping and “other social activities” I estimated a quite negative impact. For culture and sport the result could be moderately negative. Almost all activities have components receiving a positive push. The “pandemic threat” will boost e-commerce and home delivery, the use of social media and distance learning. It is possible to imagine even a recovery of personal or family means of transport (cars). I will give two examples of economic sectors which will be slowed down, the first one booming before the crisis and the second already declining: I am referring to air travel (and especially to low cost) which could reach again its 2019 number of transported passengers only after years; and to cinemas (already weakened by videos on demand – VOD) which will lose another share of audience.

Sectoral or sub-sectoral scenarios can be drawn using mind mapping techniques. I will dedicate the next two posts to food and travel.

I would like to conclude by stressing that the impact assessment refers to the activities as structured before Covid-19. As in other times of radical change, the process of creative destruction is at work. On the one side for many of these new problems, human and artificial intelligence will offer a solution soon. On the other side, for many companies working in the sectors which have been negatively impacted the only possible mantra is “innovate or perish”. As far as Governments are concerned, the challenge will consist in correcting market mechanisms to reduce environmental as well as health risks. For the rest, being in the domain of intuition, feel free to be more optimistic than I was.

[1] Buzan, T., Buzan, B., (1993). The Mind Map Book. BBC Books: London.

[2] On the use of mind and cognitive maps for the structuring of strategic issues see: Fiol, C. M., Huff, A. S., (1992). Maps for managers: Where are we? Where do we go from here? Journal of Management Studies, n. 29 (3), pp. 267–285; Eden C. (2004), Analyzing cognitive maps to help structure issues or problems. European Journal of Operational Research, n. 159, pp. 673–686.

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