Our world is facing an unexpected ordeal. As we all grapple with how we can collectively beat COVID-19, I reflect on what has changed in our world, how our perceptions and interactions are being shaped in this new reality. This unique time in history reminds us of the true fundamentals of human life.
Trust is everything
Today’s crisis is challenging our core notion of trust. We are pushed to view each other as threat, our response to implement distance. But at the same time we have widespread trust in our society. Trust that each of us will enact the same social behavior to contain the spread of disease. Trust that we can rely on specialists for care and healing, for food, without the time nor capacity to check on their safety procedures. Trust that we can rely on organizations to fulfill the basics of life: water and energy. Trust that we will all adapt to the ever-changing orders from authorities. Trust that everybody is playing their part in society, with honesty and rigor.
In our new daily life, we are required to trust more because we can no longer check and control. We share information more transparently as we are facing the same urgent challenge. We tolerate mistakes more than before and focus on solutions rather than finger pointing. We realize that this makes everybody’s task more efficient, fulfilling and satisfactory. We will probably discover that many things we were doing could be done differently or perhaps, stopped altogether. The crisis breaks the walls and builds stronger bridges; public and private engaging together, competing companies collaborating to step up manufacturing or sourcing of medical equipment.
Defiance is defeated by the immensity of the challenge we must face together. The only way out is with trust, in times which undermine it.
Everybody needs somebody
Everybody has a role
We rediscover how interconnected our society is. We assume our mission in the new conditions with the flexibility to support our community with what we have. Medical professionals on the front line, teachers educating the next generation remotely, operators of critical energy and water networks, garbage collectors and supermarket workers. We all need to try our best to keep the world running, and, except for the most vulnerable of us, everybody is needed on deck. At Schneider we have the responsibility to ensure the 24×7 service continuity of the critical industries, in all the countries and communities we operate in. In hospitals, data centers, grids, water plants, and cold chains of food and pharmaceutical. Our mission is to make sure that life is on, everywhere, for everyone, at every moment. And that is possible because our people keep manufacturing, our office teams keep answering, and our service teams keep responding.
Beyond our own neighborhood, we all become more conscious of inter-dependency. Suppliers, manufacturers, and customers open books and communicate to ensure continuity of service together. Tense relationships become much more collaborative when we all realize we need each other to keep operating.
The time of people
People reveal themselves in the crisis. I am heartened and amazed to witness the energy, creativity, commitment and determination of so many people. They propose ideas and solutions to face unexpected challenges. We see solidarity and altruism developing in many places. At Schneider, the teams worked with partners to develop ventilators, secured new workstations to ensure continuity of service, rapidly contributed to new hospitals builds and financed community relief projects. All of this being spontaneously initiated and ingeniously executed in no time locally.
The time of local
The crisis acknowledges the importance of local. Every country has local circumstances, context, culture which affect what occurs. There is no global-one-size-fits-all impact or response. And this response needs a strong coordination with local authorities and eco systems, sometimes by country, by city or even by site. We realize local empowerment and maturity of our country organizations is key to fast adaptation in a moving situation. And in the time of people and local, it is essential to trust and empower local people on decisions.
The time for doing
The urgency of the threat focuses us on solutions: pragmatic people make the difference. Leaders emerge. We collectively realize that we were not prepared enough. As NY Governor Cuomo recalled, “You go to war with what you have, not with what you need.” We use the time to assess options and find solutions with what we have in hand, and to find short cuts to what is urgently needed. There is no time to spend on rest, no time to waste criticizing. It is time for action.
We are experiencing a gigantic fast forward in digitization
It was complicated to have some digital lessons at school? Within a week, the whole program is digital. Difficult to work from home? At Schneider, the whole workforce dispersed and was operational in two days. In our domain, customers were at times reluctant to realize remote factory acceptance testing. Within a week, it became the new normal for all systems. Pilots and experiments are becoming mainstream as deep transformation gets underway. Customers who decided to be fully connected and monitor remotely their energy and process systems now have a significant edge. They can predict potential breakdowns, remotely guide their local staff to resolve issues, and ensure safer conditions for their operators. Connectivity, big data, and analytics are showing even more their value. We fast forward to a world where it is possible to achieve much more with a much higher level of security, while deploying less operators when needed. Where interventions are much better targeted or can even be avoided thanks to digital. Audio, video, software, analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR) allow us to do so many things remotely, providing safer conditions of operations, better resilience, and understanding of risks.
We realize in a massive proof of concept, that the powerful transformation catalyzed by digital is in everything we do. What is true for a company is also true for us individually. Work, educate, order food, consult safely, train and keep contact with our loved ones. At Schneider, within a week, almost all our customer care center service was performed from home. We live in a world of remote meetings, but where team spirit lives on. For the first time in 20 years, I have been living in the same time zone for more than 2 weeks, utilizing digital alone to connect in to the 100+ countries where we operate. Digital provides us the opportunity to stay both confined and connected.
It is not to say digital connectivity does not come with its own challenges. Of course, digital need to be monitored especially in terms of respect of privacy and life balance. But we shall not go back to where we were before.
We need to rethink our resilience
We realize that our life is vulnerable. Successive crises, health, disasters, political, economic or social, have unfortunately become the new norm. Learning resilience can be our only response.
It is first about understanding our multiple interdependencies and strategizing the conditions of a fast reaction. I do not believe in simple answers. Locally, we cannot produce everything and globalization is here to stay. But in the same light globalization cannot lead to bottleneck dependencies. Growing resilience will mean shorter supply chains, more robust and more local. This search for regional resilience will redefine industrial policies, as well as regional competition and collaboration rules.
Resilience is a matter of inclusion. We are all in this crisis together and we need a uniting effort to exit it. This can be only if everybody feels included and part of the general interest. Societies are all the more resilient if they are truly inclusive and less individualistic. This crisis asks us to take care for the most vulnerable though the ordeal, but more so, to make sure we take care for them post. Thankfully, we see many initiatives developing to do so.
Resilience is also a question of focusing on what matters. This crisis puts fundamentals in perspective. There are primary threats, and secondary subjects. Both the pandemic and climate change belong to the first category. We need to put them at the top of our agenda to seriously address them. We tend to procrastinate in normal times on these topics, and then we scramble for a response when all hell is unleashing. Let’s get back to common sense and prepare for those fundamental threats and for our real priorities: getting enough beds in hospitals, enough food, enough medicine, enough energy and electricity, enough water, enough bandwidth on our networks to keep communicating, enough basics for all to make sure that life is on.
The sad reality is that we were paying lip service to these priorities, and this is a harsh call back on what needs to come first.
We shall be what we choose to be
There is one confirmation in this crisis, in every decision we make, we shape our destiny. The toughness of times forces us to make clearer choices and tougher decisions.
We are learning that we can make choices which had never been made before, that we can bend historical rules to adapt to reality, that we can accelerate drastically. For the first time on a global scale, governments had to arbitrate between protecting their citizens or the economy. Decisions and choices have varied enormously from country to country, from state to state. There will be a time to assess which choices were the most efficient. Let’s hope those assessments are based on facts and not on emotions or political reasons. Let’s hope we learn from the period and keep with us the positive transformation we had to learn in a hurry.
Now we have realized the potential, we can think more freely, and more responsively, of the world we want to design for our children. We understand that things are not set for ever and that the status quo is not a blue print for the future. We must redefine our priorities, and where we focus our thinking and investments. We can design a world which is more aware of nature and prepares better for natural disasters. A world that cares more for the essentials than the accessory. A world that includes everybody with more resilience.
The only way to come out stronger is together.