It’s difficult to communicate in the midst of a crisis, but this time in history is giving us plenty of time to practice.
As professional communicators — marketers, business leaders, and community organizers — the temptation is to lurch from crisis to crisis, continually rooting for the underdog. But during times of crisis, the changes will keep coming.
If you believe, as we do, that we’re still in the second inning of this ballgame (note to international readers: there are nine innings in baseball, which is probably about three innings too many), then we’ve got a lot of potential crises to face.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that by setting up some simple communication principles now, we can get ahead of the ballgame. By figuring out where the ball is likely going — how the times are a-changin’ — we can figure out where to position ourselves to make a real connection when we get the perfect pitch.
In this game of crazy Coronavirus curveballs, here’s how to hit a home run.
“The Great Reset”
The World Economic Forum (think of them like the United Nations of money) recently launched a new campaign called The Great Reset. In their global launch event, heavy hitters like Prince Charles and the CEO of Microsoft spoke around using this time in history to fundamentally change the world.
The Great Reset has three primary ideas, which IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva called “Greener, Smarter, Fairer.”
FAIRER: Investing in a market with more equitable outcomes. The richest 1% holds half the world’s wealth — and during the pandemic, the rich have only gotten richer. The CoronaCrisis has widened the gulf between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and the have-nots are feeling the pain.
If/when the economy sinks into further crisis, we will have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to better distribute the world’s wealth. In the coming months, it is likely we will see both evolution and revolution, driven by those who have traditionally been forgotten or neglected.
Suggested Communication Strategy: Focus on a message of fairness. “The Great Reset” means rewriting the rules of the game so that it benefits everyone, not just a privileged few.
GREENER: Investing in sustainable infrastructure. With governments creating massive stimulus packages, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to direct these packages toward green initiatives.
For example, why should we bail out fossil fuel companies, when we could put that money into green energy instead? Why not pay unemployed workers to plant trees? Why not subsidize re-insulation of old buildings? Why not pay for solar production and invest heavily in new battery technology?
Suggested Communication Strategy: Instead of just throwing good money after bad (fossil fuels and legacy industries), we can throw good money at the good: investing in initiatives that will build the next generation of jobs and wealth — and make a meaningful impact on climate change.
SMARTER: Investing in our digital infrastructure. We already see that technology companies are doing pretty well during the CoronaCrisis. The high-tech hubs (Silicon Valley, New York, Seattle) will likely emerge the big winners, while the older legacy cities will increasingly feel the pain.
We must recognize that the old economy is not coming back. The new economy is about well-educated, tech-savvy workers — what we call “knowledge workers” or “creative workers” — who rapidly produce new ideas and use them to produce new goods and services.
We must, therefore, completely rethink our education system. We must focus on bringing our kids up to speed with creative tools and digital software, to invest heavily in next-generation technology tools. This is a generational change, planting trees for our children’s children.
We must also develop “tech hubs” in every city that wants to survive — no matter where they’re located. This means developing a rich ecosystem of the “Three Es” — education, entrepreneurship, and environment — to help new and innovative ideas grow and flourish. (See for example Charlotte, North Carolina.)
Suggested Communication Strategy: Support efforts to rethink everything in a digital-first world, especially our education system, our legacy institutions, and our once-mighty manufacturing cities.
A “Zeitgeist Shift”
A great word for this time is “zeitgeist,” meaning “the defining spirit or mood of a period of history.” To date, the zeitgeist of the CoronaCrisis has been confusion and bewilderment. But to quote Bob Dylan — who recently released his first new album in eight years — “The Times, They Are a-Changin’.”
It’s easy to be skeptical about The Great Reset, to say, “That’ll never happen.” But until recently, it was easy to dismiss the warnings of a global pandemic from people like Bill Gates. “That’ll never happen.” It was easy to dismiss the warnings of an economic breakdown from people like Ray Dalio and Richard Florida (who wrote the book on The Great Reset). “That’ll never happen.”
As communicators in the midst of these happenings, we have a choice. We can jump from crisis to crisis, always addressing the symptoms but never the problems. Or we can get at the “root causes,” using this time to truly affect global change.
If you’re waiting for your boss, or your CEO, or your parents to tell you what to think and how to communicate, understand that they are just as befuddled as you. The times, they are a-changin’, and no one really knows what will come next.
In the midst of all this uncertainty, let’s lead the way to a world that’s greener, smarter, and fairer. Get in line with these initiatives, and you’re likely to end up in the zeitgeist. Best case, you’ll catch the wave of the zeitgeist just as it’s cresting, and then you’ll look like a rock star (or at least a folk hero like Dylan).
The times, they are a-changin’. Let’s change with them.
5 Business Best Practices During This Time:
> Look for ways to communicate that align with “The Great Reset” (greener, smarter, fairer).
> Stick to your knitting. Be sure what you’re communicating is aligned with your area of expertise.
> Don’t wait for permission. Communicate the right thing.
> Avoid “paralysis by analysis,” avoiding doing anything until you’re sure of everything. Move forward, even though things are uncertain.
> Spend 10% of your time helping others.