Why Brands Fail to Plan for Pandemics and Other “Black Elephants” Under the New Normal

By Jordan French Jordan French has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on September 21, 2020

Society’s new normal caught most businesses flat-footed six months ago as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated years (perhaps even decades) of change into just a few short months. While some were better positioned to adapt based on the industry they were in and other unique variables, all were still impacted by the unplanned implications of remote work, interrupted supply chains and vast changes in how to serve consumers (contactless delivery, for example). In fact, the tumult of the pandemic exposed many vulnerabilities in global commerce that brands are now scrambling to shore up not just in addressing the 2020 pandemic but also to prepare for future crises.

The New Normal Has Left No Aspect of Society Untouched

One of the unique characteristics of the COVID-19 pandemic that differs from previous crises has been the broad scope of its impact. Everything from education to healthcare and fitness to commerce and geopolitics has been altered and many of these changes will likely never reverse. MJV Technology, a top global consulting firm specializing in digital transformation for companies like Coca-Cola, BNP Paribas, Delta and others, recently released a research report that examines fully every aspect of society and what it now looks like in the new normal. Each of these changes across all sectors of the globe were plotted visually on what MJV named the “Futures Wheel” to illustrate the vastness of the new normal’s impact on daily life. The report then looks at how businesses need to respond.

MJV Technology & Innovation’s Futures Wheel

“The so-called ‘new normal’ has accelerated change in economic and social thinking by putting extra pressure on outdated structures that were already in need of change. We can look at this moment in history as an opportunity to learn and adjust to new ways of working and doing business. We can no longer move forward without understanding some key aspects of this change: embracing digital transformation and understanding businesses and the economy as part of a system that embraces social, environmental, and governance responsibilities.” says MJV Technology’s CEO Mauricio Vianna. The firm’s report focuses on what they call “weak signals” areas of vulnerability identified across all sectors of society and how they are changing.

What’s interesting is that many of the changes brought about by the pandemic were long term predicted trends. But the rapid rate at which the pandemic brought them about was a variable that no major brand was prepared for. What many people still also don’t fully grasp is how many of those changes are here to stay permanently. On this Vianna says, “Different geographies are being affected in different ways so recovery will not happen all at the same time. We will see longer-lasting or shorter-lasting impact, depending on their anti-fragile skills. However, it’s safe to say that some ‘new normal’ macro trends are here to stay such as ‘Everything Digital’ and the shift of business models and strategies to include the environmental, social and governance (ESG) responsibilities as key business aspects, as well as the change in political structures to address the sustainable development goals (SDG) needed for us to prosper as a collective.” So with much of the new normal here to stay, how do we as a society and economy adapt?

Events Like Pandemics Are ‘Black Elephants’ 

While many businesses undertake crisis planning and establish contingency plans for events like cyber attacks, product recalls, data breaches and the like, pandemics and other 100-year events are an all together different breed of crisis that are rarely prioritized in the corporate decision-making process. But communication has never been more important.

The size and scope of addressing an event such as a pandemic is also enormous and intimidating. For this reason events like these have been coined ‘black elephants’. The term was created by investor and environmentalist Adam Sweidan and it describes a cross between what corporate strategists call black swans (unpredicted crises with major repercussions) and the proverbial “elephant in the room” (events and ideas that are uncomfortable to discuss or plan for). The basic idea is that pandemics (and other wide-scale crises– like climate change) are far more difficult to plan for and uncomfortable to make tough decisions on than your typical corporate crisis and therefore, action doesn’t usually happen until one of these events actually occurs. And then it changes everything– and often destructively.

MJV’s Vianna says that planning for and responding to such events is something businesses have been historically vulnerable to. “The overall lack of business agility both as a mindset and as an execution approach [is attributed to the lack of planning displayed by brands]. Traditional business planning uses a more linear approach to strategy and execution that makes it harder to adapt and pivot in response to market disruption.” MJV Technology argues that developing antifragility and implementing digital transformation is the only way for brands to survive in the New Normal.

Becoming Anti-Fragile

Antifragility was an idea first pioneered by business scholar Nissim Nicholas Taleb. The premise is that organizations can implement strategies and systems that position it to adapt quickly and continue to prosper in times of uncertainty, crisis and chaos. “Anti-fragile businesses are affected by crisis just like everyone else but instead of breaking or failing they are able to quickly respond, adapt and pivot, often emerging stronger than before. For these institutions, times of uncertainty and change can actually be beneficial in the long run. Some examples are Netflix and Fuji.” says Vianna.

MJV Technology is hired by many of the world’s largest brands and their team of more than eight hundred consultants worldwide help them implement innovation and new methodologies that build antifragility either before a crisis happens or in the midst of one. A brand’s journey to antifragility involves identifying what MJV calls “weak signals” and redesigning your customer experience and sometimes even your workplace culture to adapt to the future. This process looks at enabling digital transformation in every aspect of a brand’s operations to allow for the future of commerce: remote work, contactless products and services, innovation that happens outside of the traditional corporate environment and providing customer experiences across emerging technologies.

As business and society as a whole continue to undergo radical transformation out of the necessity of our “new normal” it’s clear that for businesses to weather the economic uncertainty, “antifragility” will be key to survival.

By Jordan French Jordan French has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Jordan French is the Founder and Executive Editor of Grit Daily Group, encompassing Financial Tech Times, Smartech Daily, Transit Tomorrow, BlockTelegraph, Meditech Today, High Net Worth magazine, Luxury Miami magazine, CEO Official magazine, Luxury LA magazine, and flagship outlet, Grit Daily. The champion of live journalism, Grit Daily's team hails from ABC, CBS, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Forbes, Fox, PopSugar, SF Chronicle, VentureBeat, Verge, Vice, and Vox. An award-winning journalist, he was on the editorial staff at TheStreet.com and a Fast 50 and Inc. 500-ranked entrepreneur with one sale. Formerly an engineer and intellectual-property attorney, his third company, BeeHex, rose to fame for its "3D printed pizza for astronauts" and is now a military contractor. A prolific investor, he's invested in 50+ early stage startups with 10+ exits through 2023.

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