The post-pandemic world is not going to be what people expect

Paolo Gallo
The "New Normal" has turned into the buzzword du jour. But is the world really going to settle into a new routine following the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Paolo Gallo
The post-pandemic world is not going to be what people expect

Paolo Gallo

Editor’s note:

The “New Normal” has turned into the buzzword du jour. But is the world really going to settle into a new routine following the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic? In the following interview, Paolo Gallo doesn’t think so. Gallo is an author, executive coach and adjunct professor at Bocconi University in Milan. The interview is conducted by Sara Küpfer, a staff writer for getAbstract in Lucerne, Switzerland. Visit journal.getabstract.com for the original interview.

Q: The term “New Normal” is being used ubiquitously to describe life beyond COVID-19. You have forcefully argued against using the term. Why?

A: It looks like we all take it for granted that there will be a “New Normal” once the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided — if it ever will. We desperately desire to return to some kind of normality after accepting months of total disruption in our personal and professional lives — not to mention the suffering endured by millions who got sick with COVID-19 or have lost loved ones to the disease. But let’s pause for a second and reflect on the definition of “normal.”

One might define it as “conforming to a type, standard or regular pattern” or use synonyms such as “average, predictable, ordinary.” But my favorite definition of normal is “what people expect.” With regard to the pandemic and its aftermath, can we really assume that a “New Normal” is up for grabs, just around the corner? Can we simply move to a place where we once again come to know what to expect?

Q: Could you elaborate on the paradigm of the “5Cs” you have developed?

A: I suggest renaming “New Normal” — which is simply delusional and unrealistic — to something very different. I believe that we now have five elements, or ingredients, which are constantly present in our lives. I call them the 5Cs.

The first C stands for chaos, which is the perfect storm combining speed and uncertainty. The peculiarity of this moment is that speed is not linear, but exponential, and it is mainly driven by technological changes. Do you remember the prophecy of Gordon Moore, founder of Intel Group? “The performance of computers doubles every 18 months.” If we add the geopolitical changes and the social unrest we’re seeing today, we can understand kaos, a Greek term.

Q: The second C?

A: It stands for crisis, a term also derived from ancient Greek. A crisis is a difficult or dangerous time in which a solution is needed — and fast. The term has originally been used in medicine, implying the need to move quickly with a clear decision. We know that a half decision means a squared mess, and that crisis does not build character but rather reveals it. If we leave inept and unfit leaders at the head of a company or a country during a crisis, their true colors will be revealed clearly. A crisis thus serves as a sort of acid test of leadership. The third C stands for complexity.

Q: Yet “complexity” is something different, right?

A: Yes, the magnitude of the problems we are facing today force us to decode complexity through constant learning, adapting, sense-making and leveraging interdisciplinarity as a norm. Complexity requires trust and cooperation to solve problems along with the authority to impose someone’s views upon others. That leads us to the fourth C, which stands for confusion or — if you prefer — ambiguity.

Nothing is going to be clear-cut or easily distinguishable from a distance in the future. Ambiguity means that concepts, ideas and situations have different meanings for different people, hence the need to reconcile these differences by including everyone in the conversation. Otherwise, there will be confusion!

Q: The last C stands for change …

A: Yes, but, actually, let me scale that up to “constant change.” Do you remember the book, “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson? It’s more than 20 years old but still very helpful to internalize the fact that change is not the exception but a constant in our lives.

We were all amazed to see our capacity to adapt so rapidly during COVID-19, for example, when we started working from home. Ironically, the only normal, stable component in our lives is going to be constant change.

Q: How shall we relate to or settle into “New Context?”

A: The faster the rate of change around us, the deeper the need to slow down. In my view, we need to start by pressing the “Pause” button. Think about an amazing car, for example the Ferrari 812 Superfast.

What enables it to go so fast? When I ask this question in my seminars, most people attribute the car’s speed to “the engine” or “the driver” or “the aerodynamics.”

But what actually enables a Ferrari or any other car to go fast are … the brakes. Without brakes, we couldn’t drive even five miles per hour because we will have an accident at the first traffic light.

The same is valid for us: What allows us to go fast is our capacity to slow down, to use our internal brakes.

Q: But what does that mean in concrete terms?

A: We need to stop and check in with ourselves regularly to see if we have enough gas in our tank. In fact, we have four different kinds of energy: physical — our general health and vitality; mental — our clarity and focus; emotional — our resilience and emotional self-control; and spiritual — our inner motivation and values that drive our decisions.

Given the moment we are living in, we need to “use the brakes” by asking ourselves a very simple question: Which source of energy has been the most depleted recently?

My guess is that our emotional and spiritual reserves have been drained and — like a car — we are currently driving by using our reserves.

Q: How can we make progress and move on in the midst of so much confusion?

A: Confusion is here to stay but we can do something about it. Confusion means that situations and issues are no longer clearly defined or cannot be categorized into black and white.

Q: Why do you believe the New Context opens up unique opportunities to “reset” the current system?

A: Well ... before we fall in love with the concept of “reset” or even “great reset,” we need to ask ourselves: Who is going to push the reset button? The current system has failed most of the world’s population: Think of the 1.3 billion people surviving on less than US$2 a day; the many people left behind, excluded from jobs and dignity; the cruel discrimination against African-Americans, women, minorities and religious groups.

We cannot allow the very same people who set up the current system to their political and economic advantage to reset it, as if they still had the credibility to do so.

They don’t. Many lost that credibility a long time ago, possibly because some “leaders” still confuse the terms credibility with visibility on social media.

It’s not the same thing.

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