Globalization, new technologies, social media, migrations, racial tensions, and now the Covid-19 pandemic, have completely changed the face of society and are revolutionizing the business world for large and small firms alike. The pandemic, in particular, has sorely tested our systems’ capacity for resilience and foregrounded many fragilities, not only from a financial standpoint, but also in a more sweeping sense that encompasses public health, the environment, employment security and social equilibrium.
Reactions have varied from country to country around the world for reasons having to do with culture, history, social structure and politics. Certainly interesting has been the case of some Asian countries, such as Taiwan, which managed to stem the spread of contagion without ever closing its factories. Nevertheless, it is still early to assess the efficacy of the various measures applied or to draw conclusions that could be shared with other countries. On the other hand, it is true that some intrinsic features of various national systems – the discipline and organization of Asian nations, for instance – have proven to be key.
It emerges very clearly that businesses are going to have to get used to co-existing with uncertainty and must necessarily invest in long-term resilience plans, which in turn is going to impact on the very logic underlying competition. Indeed, while short-term efficiency was once the benchmark, medium- to long-term vision is fast gaining traction with the emergence of a new development direction based on investments in resilience plans that, if properly pursued, will be capable of generating employment, profits and growth. At the same time, the practice of assessing companies in relation to financial markets must also change, with a view to rewarding the ability to deliver results over the longer range.
If management has thus far been evaluated based on the ability to design accurate and effective risk management plans, foregrounded now will be agility and the capacity to respond rapidly to unexpected shocks. This undoubtedly calls for a serious focus on corporate social responsibility and a new style of leadership. Called upon to choose between protecting employee health and profits, business owners and managers are going to have to be able to consider the interests of all stakeholders without losing sight of the overall picture.
The center of gravity of this hyper-competitive, hyper-digitalized, hyper-accelerated global scenario remains the human being; technology, marketing and finance are amplifiers and facilitators, but can no longer be the endgame or priority – everything must revolve around the needs and hopes of people. Thus the leaders we seek must have multiple features and abilities; they must be visionaries as well as meticulous executors; they must be able to amalgamate data and intuition and to show empathy and respect for others, optimism and agility in decision-making and, naturally, resilience.
It is clear that the fields of education and scientific research are going to require global collaboration and the sharing of resources and instruments that significantly improve system resilience. The university and local research systems that currently succeed in responding to the threats of the crisis are those more receptive to global exchanges. This is true at a more general level for all systems when confronting a crisis: the necessary resources are always to be found outside and seldom internally.
All these factors lead to closer examination of the two main approaches to the present crisis: on the one hand, orders to shut down – ranging from control over the supply chain to diffidence toward distant cultures and nations – and on the other, the impulse to confront problems globally, for example by sharing scientific knowledge and data. It is obvious that the solution to the pandemic will come from science, but it is equally clear that success in applying that solution will be driven by international collaboration. More than anything, therefore, policy must succeed in designing adequate rules for managing the delicate balance between the defense of national interests and encouragement of global exchange and solidarity.