It's difficult for many of us to think about post-coronavirus life while we are in the midst of the pandemic, but that's exactly what a futurist does.
Steve Brown joined us on our series of SecureWorld Remote Sessions to share what he believes is the main takeaway from this moment in time: "Constraint and extreme circumstances fuel innovation."
Brown, also known as "The Bald Futurist," is the former Chief Evangelist and Futurist for Intel, an author, speaker, and strategist, and an advisor with more than 30 years of experience in high tech.
"A good futurist doesn't predict what's going to happen.... They look at trends and figure out how will those trends combine, and what will that make possible in a given time frame," Brown said.
"You cannot be a futurist and only think about technology…. Yes, you have to include it, because it transforms the world, but you also have to understand business trends… and fundamentally, you have to understand people. What do people want, what are they scared of, what are their aspirations in life, how does the environment effect their attitudes, their needs, their wants, and so on? You put all of those together, and that's what a futurist is."
Viewing the pandemic through the lens of a futurist
"Think about the pandemic as the great pause… the great accelerator, and finally, as a pressure cooker for innovation," Brown said.
"It's a time of great reflection, introspection, and realizing the world is not as resilient as we thought it was. That has profound implications for business. And for anybody involved in cybersecurity, this actually turns out to be a good thing, because I think more resources are coming your way," Brown said.
"The other way I think about the pandemic is as The Great Accelerator, because things that were going to happen anyway are being dramatically accelerated by pandemic. So, automation efforts, digitization efforts… this is happening through necessity. Kids are now learning online, people are going to their doctors using telemedicine, people are getting groceries delivered to their home. These were trends that were already happening, but now they are happening much more than in the past. And once this is all over… they will define a new normal," Brown shared.
"Innovation will come to all industries, but in particular the healthcare industry. We have to figure out how to build a pandemic ready world, and a big piece of that is… building a pandemic ready healthcare system that can scale…. You are going to have to partner with new technology, in particular AI, but other technologies as well, so that you can treat many patients in their own homes, and you can use these front line tools…. Technology is going to play an incredible role in the future of healthcare and keeping us safe into the future," Brown predicts.
How might consumers behave differently post pandemic?
"We have all realized our lives are much more fragile than we thought that they were, and so that is going to change our behavior," Brown shared.
Brown explains that the shelter in place orders have provided people an opportunity to reflect on spending habits. After all, staying home typically results in spending less money. Most of us miss eating at restaurants, for example, but we may now realize we can go without, and take on a more conservative financial mindset moving forward, at least for the short term. According to Brown, more people will put money into savings this year, and spend less on clothing, restaurants, vacationing, etc.
Additionally, "We have this feeling of lack of control. We are going to want to try and reassert that control in ways big and small, so buying more customized products, and asking more questions about where the products that we buy come from. We are likely to see… particularly in government institutions, reduced trust in brands. And it's not necessarily brands' fault that consumers are now not trusting them as much as they used to, but they are going to have to earn back that trust," Brown explained.
"Also, we have all learned to now use a whole new set of digital technology that many people were not familiar with. Whether it's Zoom for conferencing, or ordering groceries online, we are creating new habits that will become part of the new normal, and we aren't going back," Brown said.
What should businesses do? Five-step response to a black swan event
According to Brown, there are five steps all businesses should be considering when navigating through the pandemic. Most have already addressed step one and two (the tactical steps):
1. Put measures in place to keep everyone safe, including your employees, customers, suppliers, partners, etc.
2. Perform triage on the business. Determine what you must do to stay afloat and keep the business going, maintain cash flow, and maintain operations. This is the time to apply for government grants and consider downsizing staff and/or operations.
Once step one and two are in place, according to Brown, the strategic steps in three, four, and five below can begin to take shape.
"Which considers a longer term, strategic conversation because we aren't going back to December 2019…. What is the new normal for us as a brand and business, and what is the new normal for our customers?" Brown had us contemplate.
3. Define the New Normal. Questions to consider:
- How have consumer attitudes / behavior changed?
- How has the environment changed?
- How do we have to operate differently?
- How do we make our business more resilient in the future to other "black swan" events?
4. Determine how to build an innovation strategy that acknowledges the new normal and allows you to innovate your way through and out of recession.
5. Execute your strategy, and transform the business appropriately.
What should organizations do differently now?
"We need to make sure that every organization on the planet, no matter what industry they are in, is thinking about building resilience into their organization," Brown shared.
He suggests considering the following when creating a strategic plan moving forward.
1. Cloud-First / Operations:
For all your enterprise applications, ensure your talent can work from anywhere and is protected and flexible. Consider cross-training your employees and geographically distributing your organization to mitigate risk.
2. Digital Customer Journey:
Everything, from how you acquire a customer to how they purchase things, needs to be wrapped and presented digitally. Your follow-up, loyalty programs, and customer service will most likely all be an online experience now.
3. Collaboration Tools:
Most of us can probably relate to Brown's sentiment when he shared, "Six to eight hours of Zoom calls a day is brutal, it has to get better." He suggests harnessing the technologies behind augmented reality, virtual reality, and other communications tools to enable serendipitous moments. The equivalent of walking by someone's office or bumping into them at the cafeteria or at the water cooler in a digital platform.
4. Supply Chain Overhaul:
Make sure your supply chain is resilient with second source / triple source, distribution. Consider diversifying your supply, moving them into different countries, onshore/nearshore, and think about local suppliers. Ensure that you can guarantee supply if a regional black swan event comes up.
"If we're going to a more digital customer journey, to a more digital employee journey, that means more attack surfaces and more risk. How do you reduce that risk? You hire the best cybersecurity people on the planet, and that means probably a fight for talent, and your salaries are all going up. So, I'm here with some good news today, as well," Brown shared.
How should a company respond?
"I think in the short term, step up and offer free advice to your clients. Whether it's videos, whether it's written advice, whatever you can do to help them through this time…. They are all looking for support right now, whether that is technical support and guidance, business guidance, or just emotional support. Do what you can to reach out to your customers and support them through this as best you can…. People are going to remember how brands, how their suppliers, behave during this time. This is an opportunity to do service, and do the right thing, but also to build your brand," Brown advised.
Steve Brown's book: 'The Innovation Ultimatum'
In his latest book, Brown takes a deep dive look at how six technologies—AI, augmented reality, IoT, autonomous machines, 5G and satellite networks, and Blockchain technology—that, when put together and combined in interesting ways, will create major breakthroughs in innovation.
"I realized talking to people that the pace of innovation has outstripped leaders' ability to understand what those technologies are, and what they mean, and how those technologies will reshape their businesses," Brown shared.
"I wrote this book last year, and I didn't realize how relevant it would be during this time, but it turns out it's highly relevant. Innovate or die. If you don't innovate and drive innovation into every aspect of your business, your competitors will, and you are going to slowly wither away and become irrelevant and disappear into the history books."
"Then there is the other piece which is… to innovate to help people; to build a better future for people. The book is filled with stories on how technology is already being used to do pretty amazing things for people. To drive innovation, into very different sorts of businesses, from healthcare through manufacturing, retail, and so on."
Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
"It's a really tough time, but I am optimistic about the future…. We are a resilient species. Let's use our adaptability and our intelligence, our ingenuity, to be resilient, to power our way through this…. It's a tough time, but I think if we apply ourselves, what we're going to end up with out of this is a much more resilient world, a more resilient society, more convenient world, a more caring world, and a world that just works better for all of us, if we do it right…. I want to guide people to use technology to build a better world for people."
Web conference on resilience and innovation
We highly recommend you take the time to watch the SecureWorld Remote Sessions episode so you can hear Steve Brown's ideas and insights on how to best move beyond the pandemic.
Thank you, Steve, for helping with SecureWorld's mission of connecting, informing, and developing leaders in cybersecurity.