National and International Issues

Embracing the Pandemic's Grace

As humans, we are conditioned to trade in change. Everything relies on our ability to grasp it – both individually and communally – with long term success predicated on how well we can handle change. Yet too many of us and our institutions tend to act as if we were allergic to change – praying instead that it would all work out if we could just continue moving forward with pinpoint focus or with our blinders on. Instead of addressing the change that has historically occurred all around us in incremental levels, we barreled ahead and then any adaptation was incremental at best. The Pandemic proved to be the change we cannot ignore. The evolution it has forced is absolutely not incremental. And we are only hurting ourselves if we fight to return things to the normal that existed (or that we accepted) at the beginning of 2020 – as it no longer exists.



The world was brought to an effective standstill with the introduction of a billion unknowns and confusion by way of the Coronavirus Pandemic in the early part of 2020. Great economies were constricted, illness and death were all around us, and practically every life on this planet was affected financially and emotionally by the worldwide event. But what if, instead of focusing on the breakdown and disastrous effects, we are able to frame the experience as a springboard to prosperity?
Certainly, nobody is looking to disrespect or ignore those who were hit hardest by COVID-19 by sweeping any memory of the past 14 months' events under the rug. In fact, it’s through a clarified perspective of what we had the opportunity to experience that honours those who did not make it through and enables us to prepare for and deal with any of the prevalent and still-yet-unknown repercussions of the Pandemic’s fallout.
Before the Pandemic, how many of us were challenged professionally or personally in our conviction that maybe we needed to push the eject button? Perhaps we felt that a huge project had gone too far astray. Maybe the position we dreamed of and finally earned proved to be an absolute nightmare. Alternatively, it might have been a personal change that created discord in our professional life – or vice-versa. Either way, we wanted release but were uncomfortable with the options we recognized as being available to us through voluntary detachment. So, we resigned ourselves to continuing the path for as long as it was available to us. Well, the Pandemic just dropped a massive breach for all of us – whether we were looking for an out or not. To some extent, all of humanity was fired or furloughed.
What if we leveraged the Pandemic as a way to break from the previous norms that weren’t really working in order to build a better future? The global pause button we experienced is the perfect excuse to stop, reflect and engage differently in our personal and business ventures to bring true meaning, passion and grace to all aspects of society as a blueprint for many generations to come.
It is probably safe to say that every single being on this planet was affected by the Pandemic. Whether it was knowledge of (or closeness to) someone falling ill or succumbing to the Coronavirus, the strains caused by its economic repercussions, or the environmental “fresh breath” caused by the instantaneous pause in production and productivity, the universal impact’s humongous reach doesn’t seem to be an unreasonable belief. It was a catastrophic change amongst many small changes that forced the issue and beckoned us all to reflect and consider what truly matters.


What if we leveraged the Pandemic as a way to break from the previous norms that weren’t really working in order to build a better future? The global pause button we experienced is the perfect excuse to stop, reflect and engage differently in our personal and business ventures to bring true meaning, passion and grace to all aspects of society as a blueprint for many generations to come.


For many, that time for reflection created a space for discomfort. Beyond the closely associated byproducts of the Pandemic, society was provided the opportunity to dive into inequities, ingrained systemic challenges, economic disparity, political disfunction and a lack of accountability within all sectors. The deeper we all went down the rabbit hole, the more uncomfortable we became with how things were going. One of the most uneasy rallying calls of the Pandemic was that “we are all in the same boat.” Actually, a truer reflective statement is that we are all in the same storm within vastly different vessels – ranging from yachts to floating fragments of wood. There are still many who are yet to grasp the disparities because they are far too uncomfortable.
Discomfort often provides an excuse to do things differently or create alternative solutions. Unfortunately, the phrase “making excuses” has carried a negative connotation. Perhaps we can place a positive spin on it by considering this corner we were forced into as an opportunity to cut ourselves some slack and provide ourselves some grace. With that release of expectations, or the ability to “be excused” due to environments or situations that were not working, doesn’t that create an opportunity to spark positive change?
As humans, we are conditioned to trade in change. Everything relies on our ability to grasp it – both individually and communally – with long term success predicated on how well we can handle change. Yet too many of us and our institutions tend to act as if we were allergic to change – praying instead that it would all work out if we could just continue moving forward with pinpoint focus or with our blinders on. Instead of addressing the change that has historically occurred all around us in incremental levels, we barreled ahead and then any adaptation was incremental at best. The Pandemic proved to be the change we cannot ignore. The evolution it has forced is absolutely not incremental. And we are only hurting ourselves if we fight to return things to the normal that existed (or that we accepted) at the beginning of 2020 – as it no longer exists. Maybe we can attribute our collective unwillingness to change on ego….
A personal example of this – and a key learning – presented itself early on. My company was lining up a number of activations for our clients in numerous countries when everything came to a standstill. With concern about revenue sources plus keeping staff engaged and above water, we embraced an excuse to create something entirely new. Having been engaged to help a number of clients reach fan communities through numerous comic book conventions that were subsequently cancelled, we recognized that a large swath of participants was affected – from fans to publishers to vendors stuck with huge amounts of unmovable inventory – and decided to mobilize quickly and cost effectively to build a virtual convention providing a digital representation of all the pieces participants would have expected if the conventions had not fallen prey to the Pandemic. 
While enlisting the amazing support that bubbled up from everywhere, a key partner became paralyzed by fear that we wouldn’t be able to deliver what was expected. I posed the question, “what is everyone expecting?”, as nobody had ever gone through this and had no clue what to expect. Tragically, many of our partners succumbed to pitfalls of ego and stiff reputation concerns. In framing the suffering of Pandemic symptoms in business terms, if companies were physically ill would we be so concerned about ego or others’ perceptions? Wouldn’t we be doing the best we can to get through while recognizing illness is a major pain that requires a bit of messiness to get through?
In the end, we created and delivered a product that reached tens of thousands of people around the world, was responsible for tens of thousands of dollars in product sales and went from nothing to something special within four weeks. The Pandemic provided the excuse to attempt it and, while things didn’t go absolutely as planned, people recognized everything had changed and we stepped up to fill a void. Ego had been a hinderance we overcame to deliver upon a newfound opportunity caused by change.
The adage that, “when things change, things change,” can prove to be empowering as we navigate our uncertain future. In any path we set upon, regardless of preparation, there is always a blockage opportunity forcing us to jump off the rails because we have no choice. Instead of grasping for bits of “normalcy” that don’t fit the new norm, we are freed to explore holistic change that allows for cohesive and optimal pathways forward. We all have the excuse that things are different, simply because they are. 
Society was either unable or unwilling to predict a global event like COVID-19 Pandemic turned out to be. We had seen previous Coronavirus pandemics inflict major damage, but they remained relatively controlled while we and our governments seemed to relax any belief in the possibility that a global pandemic could mirror the outcomes of the grandest doomsday film or novel. We are all now feeling the personal and economic fallout of this global event’s wrath. But that doesn’t mean we have to succumb totally to it.
Perhaps the last big economic disaster event to touch a large part of the world was the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. The fallout from that could provide a guide for us as we work our way out of this much larger event. Despite the recession’s resulting housing crisis and credit crunch, a study published by the Journal of Economics & Management Strategy (Fairlie, 2013) found that an increase in diversified formation of new jobs and careers was driven by those who were looking to survive. A number of factors were at play – including the introduction of next-level smartphones and forced changes related to monetization possibilities – that made way for what is now known as the Gig Economy. That downturn set the stage for some of today’s unicorns, including Airbnb, Uber and Slack. They leveraged a rising need for people to utilize existing or dwindling resources and there are an incredible number of parallels to today’s environment. 
Any big change – whether economic or environmental – drives ‘needs.’ Luckily, these are the foundation for any new venture and the Pandemic has unleashed a storm of new needs. As we’ve seen with existing companies and the maintenance of status quo, new opportunities are harder to come by. When needs are clear, large companies can pop in and capitalize on them. But what if there are so many disruptions to business and too many needs to be filled? It effectively levels the playing field. 
The Pandemic has caused a dizzying amount of opportunity for virtual service providers leading to accelerated adoption and growth of remote engagement offerings or the creation of wholly new economies around healthcare, grocery shopping, work and social connections. Beyond the growth of furloughed or laid off employees quickly becoming entrepreneurs through digital marketplace ventures delivering facemasks and remote teaching, might this pandemic act as a progenitor of a boom for new businesses in a way that matches the Baby Boom that occurred directly after WWII?    
Even in the midst of the confusion and uncertainty directly after the start of COVID-19, researchers at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (Djankov/Zhang, 2021) report that 2020 was a record-breaking year. They found that Americans filed 4.4 million new businesses applications with the Internal Revenue Service during 2020 – representing a 24 percent increase over 2019. While these results are not symbolic of every country’s growth (the report highlighted that: countries like Chile, the United Kingdom and Turkey saw growth; Russia and Portugal declined; and China remained relatively flat) and those formal businesses do not include the side jobs that proliferated on local marketplace sites. With so many repercussions of the Pandemic still to be discovered and explored, 2021 and 2022 could end up seeing even greater year-on-year increases.


Any big change – whether economic or environmental – drives ‘needs.’ Luckily, these are the foundation for any new venture and the Pandemic has unleashed a storm of new needs. As we’ve seen with existing companies and the maintenance of status quo, new opportunities are harder to come by. When needs are clear, large companies can pop in and capitalize on them. But what if there are so many disruptions to business and too many needs to be filled? It effectively levels the playing field. 


We’re also beginning to see the quick evolution of company offerings as they adapt to the changing environment. One example of a company pivoting is the American firm, Clear. Originally launched as a way to pre-qualify travelers so that they could transition more quickly through security at airports, they were forced into an essential standstill along with the rest of the travel industry. With the downtime allotted them due the stoppage, they evaluated their resources and offerings and popped up months later as the clearinghouse for sports teams to allow fans into their building. Due to their newfound partnerships with numerous stadiums and arenas, Clear has established themselves as the partners to facilitate stringent privacy, reporting and access guidelines for vaccinations and COVID testing results to enable seats to be sold and filled by fans again.


The disparate effects of the Pandemic on communities dependent on location, economic status and hierarchy was laid bare for all to see. Hopefully, upon reflection, we will use the pandemic as our excuse to fix some of these universal issues. Not to place too much importance on a video game’s teachings but imagine how they can help us come out of this breakdown with policies that directly provide assistance to those poorest developing regions as a catalyst for reducing poverty overall while increasing sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.


Examples like this are worldwide. Quite quickly after the global lockdown, Pakistan’s Nutshell Conferences was able to reach exponentially more international viewers after transitioning to virtual offerings. And, while Pakistani grocery shopping apps like GrocerApp was experiencing 20% month-on-month growth prior to the Pandemic, they were immediately faced with a challenge to deliver upon much higher demand that coincided with the lockdowns. In their case, it led to a pivot in their business model and delivery infrastructure. The multi-year adoption plans many similar companies might have had were immediately thrown out the window, but nobody is sure how this uptick in mobile usage will evolve. Whether Pakistani consumers return to local karyana and major stores entirely, continue with digital delivery or a mix of the two, the pendulum will continue to move and the point it lands on will illuminate great learnings and guidance for existing and future businesses alike.
One thing to keep an eye on goes back to “when things change, things change” since even though companies may evolve or come to be, the needs that they look to fill may form even more needs or opportunities. The deeper questions they bring up will also serve as great insights that might have never appeared without the Pandemic happening. Put another way, there are many more dominoes to fall.
But we have to be mindful about more than just business. Both business and lifestyle ecosystems have been disrupted. Hopefully, our forced pause will allow us to tap into learnings and evaluate all of our resources. Individually, WE are those resources. Everything had been moving so quickly prior to the Pandemic. It seemed we were always in the state of “Run! Run! Run!”, but what happens when we slow down to assess our own resources? What are our newly focused needs and what are the needs of those who live with us, work with us or work for us? Recognizing what’s important goes beyond any movement toward permanent remote working or reduced hours – if that’s even an option, which in many cases is not. 
Can we create the space that bestows flexibility in this increasingly changing world? Are we able to leverage the excuse to live life to the fullest – or living out loud – with challenges to what was the status quo? 
Personally, my family has embraced the Pandemic as an excuse to create many new opportunities relating to education for our kids (traditional education wasn’t working so we are doing alternative education for them both), travel (as soon as we can travel freely again, since both my wife and I can work from anywhere, we will be spending three months in each country then moving on), and what we are looking to achieve on a wider scale into the future. We recognize we are more fortunate than others to have this flexibility, but also know that an abundance of resources is not required to provide changes in thinking, perspectives and outlooks. 
Perhaps the biggest change we embraced was the opportunity to act upon something that had been in place for decades... I grew up with the surname, Tavss, which has an intriguing origin related to my family’s immigratiom to the United States from Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th Century. When I got married (many years after the turn of the 20th Century), my wife retained her surname, Bamesberger, emanating from its German lineage. We mashed them together and presented ourselves as the Tavssbergers over the years. People would playfully address us in this way yet when given the opportunity to legally change it prior, I always found a way to decline. Months into the Pandemic while assessing what was important in our embrace of the Pandemic’s grace, we decided to make the name change real. We recognized it as a perfect way to celebrate the family we created by the coming together of two amazing families. While not sure that my parents will ever get over the decision, it is a fantastic byproduct of the Pandemic. 
Through this opportunity for contemplation, not only might we find possibly better pathways forward, but we find resilience in addressing such devastating change when it comes again in the future.  Perhaps, we’ll even find ways to rise by helping others to rise.  While it’s not clear how this could work on a social scale, there might be something compelling to learn from an extremely popular video game….
Nintendo’s Mario Kart games have an interesting mechanism built into their gameplay. While the basics are simply that the players need to maneuver a kart through the course and come out on top, there are power-up cubes that players may collect along the way. Interestingly, those power-ups are dynamically different depending on the player’s position in that particular race. Players falling behind in the race unlock more powerful boosts that bump them towards the front and keep them in the race while race leaders typically unlock weaker boosts. In the long run, this boosting principle, called "rubber banding," always provides a more equitable opportunity to get ahead.
The disparate effects of the Pandemic on communities dependent on location, economic status and hierarchy was laid bare for all to see. Hopefully, upon reflection, we will use the pandemic as our excuse to fix some of these universal issues. Not to place too much importance on a video game’s teachings but imagine how they can help us come out of this breakdown with policies that directly provide assistance to those poorest developing regions as a catalyst for reducing poverty overall while increasing sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.


Through grace, we can allow time to pass and be in the moment. Our individual attempts at survival mirror the image of the many types of vessels in the same storm. We are all trying to survive. May the time to address change provide the chance to connect and build bridges. 


Ultimately, we are forced to reflect upon ourselves and ask the hard questions. We collectively have to determine what is most important – and actually follow through with it. Simply going through the motions – whether as a region, government, industry, company, community or individual – isn’t going to do the trick. In order to achieve this, a little humility is advisable. Actually, a little humility is always advisable. This crisis is still nowhere close to coming across as anything less than a sticky wicket. There’s no immediately forthcoming exit from this match. While news provides many hopeful predictions about recovery, we are all anxious for the ultimate reveal of an end that will most likely feel as drawn out as a Test match rather than a Twenty20 International.
Regardless, retaining ‘normalcy’ is not going to feel like flipping a switch. This past year has challenged everyone in unforeseen ways, and a lot of us are just coming to terms with it. Some issues are unforeseen and will bring a bit of trauma with their revelations. Which leads to the most important powers we can exercise from this experience – Patience and Understanding. Collectively, we need to appreciate the pause for what it is. A break. A chance to comprehend change in ways we’ve not had any practice with. An opportunity to recognize that we can be truly kind and compassionate to others in the knowledge that we are all doing the best that we can. And the key item… a pathway to give ourselves grace. To know that we are all going through something different, with different stressors and many hidden outcomes. If there’s any time that’s given us the excuse to say that “we don’t yet know,” that time is now.
Through grace, we can allow time to pass and be in the moment. Our individual attempts at survival mirror the image of the many types of vessels in the same storm. We are all trying to survive. May the time to address change provide the chance to connect and build bridges. 
Can you imagine the amazing story left to future generations recounting how we came out of a devastating event and, rather than struggling to get back to the way things were, we stopped to take stock of the opportunity and set off on a path to something that is truly special and full of grace? The road there may be long, but it is certainly worth it.


The writer is the Co-Founder and Director of Kaleidoko Ltd., a futurist and a catalyst for change.
E-mail: [email protected]

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