Moonkwan Kim from Economy Chosun, a business and economy centered magazine published by the largest Korean newspaper media group Chosunilbo interviewed futurist Mike Walsh on his views on the global impact of COVID-19, and what the future holds for reinvention and rebirth after the crisis.
1. Could you explain the world after the coronavirus(COVID-19) in one word? and Why did you say that?
I believe we are experiencing a civilization scale event that will not only transform the way we live our lives, but will radically change everything from business to education, government to healthcare. Over a hundred years ago, the Spanish Flu of 1918 not only strengthened support for the funding of public health and the wider use of data in studying disease, but with so many men sick during that crisis, women were forced to take on positions of greater responsibility - which ultimately also led to the universal right to vote.
The pandemic of 2020 will similarly transform society. We will see 10 years worth of change in the next 12 months. COVID-19 is a catalyst for digital transformation, with many companies now embracing automation, algorithms and AI to simply stay in business. After the crisis ends, those changes will be permanent and provide a foundation for even more radical transformations.
2 After the coronavirus(COVID-19), What industries will improve, and what will get worse? and Why did you say that?
It may be better to ask which companies will thrive, rather than which industries. In every industry, there will be winners and losers - depending on the speed, resilience and agility of certain companies to reimagine and reinvent themselves. The companies that survive this crisis will be those that not only learn how to virtualize their products and services, and create strong digital channels for their customers, employees and suppliers - they will also learn how to use data and AI to transform their operations and decision-making.
3 What do you think the coronavirus(COVID-19) will affect corporate management in the future?
COVID-19 will also be a force for change in management. Many organizations are now experiencing the new challenge of remote work and managing teams that are working from home. In the old world, leaders could manage by presence. You could see your team, know what they were doing and lead by just walking around. Working remotely forces a new discipline on organizations, that will lead to better management practices. Now, rather than checking what time people get to work and leave in the evening, you have to measure a team’s performance by output and the work they do.
Another positive change as a result of the crisis, is the rise of a data-driven culture. In the past, decisions were often made by people in the hierarchy of a company who believed that they had the experience and skill to know what to do. In the current crisis, there is no time for people to check up and down the leadership chain for opinions and approvals. In order to respond more quickly to changing market conditions, more authority is being delegated to small teams who have to rely on data, rather than experience or anecdotes, to make the right decisions. This will increase decision-making velocity, and also create more opportunities for the next generation of leaders to fast track their careers in more traditional organizations.
4 What leadership will the CEO need in a global crisis triggered by the coronavirus(COVID-19)?
There are three qualities that CEOs will need in this current time of transformation - communication, creativity and courage. Communication is essential - not just to the market and customers, but to employees who may be working from home, disconnected from their colleagues or on in roles that put their health at risk. Secondly creativity is the ability to think beyond pure survival, and use this crisis as an opportunity to reimagine, reinvent and redesign the organization. Finally, courage. It is likely that the economic shock from COVID-19 will be worse than the health crisis itself. While there will be pressure to cut costs in the next 12 months, this is exactly the time for leaders to invest in training for new capabilities, accelerating R&D for new AI-powered products and services, and accelerating plans for digital transformation.
5 South Korea's quarantine system came into the spotlight after the coronavirus(COVID-19) outbreak. What do you think Korea's status will change in the global situation?
South Korea’s response to the crisis has been a shining example of what can be achieved with discipline, transparency and technology. Your experience is also a preview for other industrialized societies may need to do in order to keep economies open, while still managing health risks before a vaccine becomes widely available. Beyond this, there is an opportunity for Korea’s expertise in automation, robotics and AI to be part of a service offering to other places in the world, who need to rapidly embrace digital operations in this new pandemic world of reduced staff, broken supply chains and rapidly shifting demand.
6. How does the coronavirus(COVID-19) change the way consumers behave?
Consumers have discovered that in times of crisis - if things can’t be done online, they can’t be done at all. Around the world, from Shanghai to San Francisco, there has been an incredible acceleration of new patterns of digital behavior reflecting the fact that many traditional channels are no longer viable when people cannot leave their homes. Online groceries are the obvious example, but there are many other activities as well that have had to be reinvented from telehealth to applying for a mortgage, visiting the cinema to ordering food delivery. In some ways, there has never been a better time to be a consumer - in that it is becoming easier than ever to interact digitally, and many barriers to convenient home delivery are being removed.
7 Can Pandemic serve as an opportunity to raise attention to environmental issues around the world?
It is a paradox. People are not driving, factories are running at reduced capacity, people are eating less meat due to supply chain issues, planes are sitting idle and there are tankers of oil floating int the ocean that no one wants. And yet, many environmental experts say that the long term impact of this great shutdown is likely to be marginal on reducing the world’s climate change issues. It is not obvious now, but that will be a big issue later when we try and get people to adopt more environmentally sustainable practices, and they realize how futile that was. In my view, what we learn in this crisis points to the importance of science and technology driven solutions to our global challenges, rather than simply trying to naively stop people traveling, driving, eating or making things.
8 What kind of changes will telecommuting experiments make?
We are currently in the world’s largest remote work experiment. While this is a novelty for many workers in big corporations, there are many software and technology companies that have always worked in this way. They don’t call it remote work, they just call it work. They have adopted a ‘distributed’ model of working, where not only are their teams dispersed globally, they have delegated authority to autonomous teams to make their own decisions without a central hierarchy. In my view, this is the great opportunity with the current telecommuting experience - it gives us a chance to reimagine the way our organizations work.
9 How does a non-face-to-face experiment change? I think there will be various changes in terms of culture.
Culture is very important in virtual organizations, or even in organizations where some people work in an office and others work remotely. It is not just the social interactions that matter, it is the way teams are integrated as well. Ask yourself - does a remote worker in another city or country have the same authority and influence as someone sitting in the head office in Seoul? Technology is not the issue. For a virtual organization, culture is your operating system.
10 Some people predict that the coronavirus(COVID-19) will affect the polarization of wealth. What do you think of that?
I think COVID-19 is accelerating a trend that has been happening for some time. In my most recent book, ‘The Algorithmic Leader: How to be smart when machines are smarter than you’ (which is coming out in Korean soon!), I discussed the risk of AI leading to greater social inequality. In my view, without more education and retraining, there is a risk that society divides between people smart enough to design and work on the algorithms that run the world, and those that have to simply work for them. If the COVID-19 crisis leads to a global recession, we will see an acceleration of those trends and greater use of algorithms and automation in the workplace, and ultimately greater inequality as a result.
11. The whole world is worried about job insecurity because of the coronavirus(COVID-19). How should we deal with it?
This is the moment when we have to invest in better education and training. I believe that leaders and employees of all levels need to embrace new ways of thinking as well as developing new capabilities and skills to thrive in a world where data and AI are essential to making decisions, solving problems and delivering value to customers.
12 If there's anything else you want to say, please feel free to say it.
I believe that we need to change the narrative around COVID-19. Survival is not enough, companies and leaders need a pathway to reinvention, and new hope for a better world after the pandemic. This is a time of crisis and change. We have to reinvent how we serve our customers, clients and communities. We have to rethink how and where we work. And most importantly, we have to reimagine our role as leaders. Now, more than ever, is a time for transformation.
This article appeared originally in Korean here.