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We’re going to be living in a liquid world

IMAGE: Pxfuel (CC0)

Enrique Dans

If one thing is clear from observing the highly disruptive impact COVID-19, it’s that we are heading toward a liquid world, one characterized by the virtues of flexibility, versatility and resilience.

The recent report by the Cross Innovation Strategy Group, organized by NASA, which I have had the opportunity to work on over the last few weeks and which will continue as an open platform, predicts that whatever we may hear about the development of a vaccine in the near future, it is extremely unlikely that it will be available for at least 12 months to two years, and to achieve that might mean dispensing with or relaxing testing: inoculating healthy people is a complex business. It is essential to understand that fighting a virus is extremely difficult, because due to their extreme simplicity, viruses use very generic mechanisms to replicate themselves that are specific to the activity of the host organism itself. Look at HIV: we can now control the effects of the disease, but we still do not have a vaccine after more than 40 years.

For a long time, we will experience recurrent episodes of reinfection that will lead us to rethink our confidence in the continuity of the economy. In other words, we’re going to be living with pandemics, either this one, others, or with the many other repercussions of the imbalance of the earth’s ecosystems, and that will first mean bringing the present situation under control and learning to live with a new normality that should be widely different from the previous one. It doesn’t matter what activity or industry you are thinking about: those three attributes, flexibility, versatility and resilience are going to be fundamental in the coming years.

In my particular sector, education, some of us have already seen where we are heading: the future will demand solutions that allow us to move teaching from the classroom to online seamlessly, as in fact we were able to do at the beginning of March. The big difference for the future is that then we did it with the resources we had, which fortunately were abundant due to the advanced nature of my institution’s digital transformation strategy, and under emergency conditions. In the future we will do it by design: all the parameters of the activity will be designed so we can shift between one format or another, affecting the whole group or just one person or a group, and referring not only to the academic activity as such, but to all the activities it can encompass. Students’ location, I don’t care whether at home or on the other side of the world, should not influence the quality of the education they receive: they will need to acquire knowledge, to interact with teachers, students or guests about that process, to participate in discussions, presentations or evaluation activities, etc., under conditions of normality, as one more characteristic of the environment.

Looking beyond higher education, which is supposed to help students hone their skills to contribute to companies, we are talking about a transformation that will affect all industries. How does a liquid philosophy apply to other activities? Everything will have to be liquid: value chains will adapt so as to be able to depend on multiple sources and be modified in an agile and dynamic way. Political and global management will also have to become liquid: sharing data and conceptual frameworks for action, with absolute transparency, and using stronger supranational institutions to generate common learning, rather than through many chains of errors. Health care will evolve and be digitized to allow for continuous monitoring, without physical interaction losing its indispensable role: if you have a cough, it is quite possible that your first diagnosis will be carried out by your home assistant or your smartphone, before deciding on whether to go to a hospital. We will work from home, but that will not prevent us from having an office where we can do so too, either because we occasionally prefer to do so, because it suits us or for other reasons.

Think about how you can turn your activity into something liquid. Liquids flow, they fill all available spaces, they adapt to the shapes of the environment. Liquid education, liquid supply chains, liquid services, liquid management systems, liquid leadership: how will you understand and incorporate this new variable into your business?