Rising to the challenge
As we live through this difficult, uncertain period, it can be hard to imagine better times ahead. What may help to put some perspective on our immediate concerns is this reality: History has repeatedly shown how large-scale human challenges and the efforts to pull through them are often the necessary catalysts for widespread, ultimately positive change in both society and the economy.
Some of the most critical innovations in common use today rose out of chaotic instances in the past. The ability to mass produce antibiotics resulted from the staggering battlefield losses due to infection during World War I and previous altercations. Air travel went from a novel concept prior to World War I to the use of jet propulsion systems on every aircraft after World War II. The launch of the computer age started with codebreaking mathematics machines in the 1940s that morphed into the phones we use every day. The origins of the internet began as a way for Defense Department officials to pass along information in a fast, effective and secure way during the Cold War.
Time and again, when inertia gets a shock, the resulting and necessary changes that follow accelerate use and development of already available technologies. We are seeing this today: In a matter of weeks, the entire world has adjusted and stepped into “the economy of the future.” Consider:
- Digital learning Online education has been available for some time, but teachers and students alike must now put it to use every day. Universities had been particularly resistant to this trend. The Covid-19 crisis has demanded they not only provide remote learning, but inevitably refine these capabilities as students seek more convenient and cost-effective educational opportunities.
- Telemedicine Except for emergencies, medical providers are now encouraging their patients to interact with them through phone, text or video chat. This will become much more widespread after this immediate crisis as both patients and providers experience the benefits.
- Digital health Development and use of wearable health trackers, such as those available on the Apple watch, will accelerate and we can expect these devices to offer more capabilities and their use to increase exponentially.
- Genomic mapping Thanks to discoveries made possible years earlier by the Human Genome Project, medical researchers are using genome sequencing technology to battle Covid-19 and ultimately will do so seeking cures and treatments for myriad diseases in the future.
- Remote work Virtual meetings and chats have been available for years, but bulky corporate-only systems were costly and lacked practicality. Today, Zoom video, Skype and Facetime technologies that many took for granted or only used to connect with friends and family are now employed by companies around the world—with their benefits of cost savings and efficiency being noted.
- Grocery & food delivery DoorDash, Grubhub, Instacart and others will see growing demand well past this crisis.
- E-commerce Currently at just 11% of all U.S. retail, new habits formed during social distancing will likely speed its further adoption across the U.S. and around the world.
- Streaming content Although digital content already was in widespread use, the entertainment industry is finding new ways to migrate its offerings to livestreaming platforms. Streaming hangouts, chats and even charity events are on the increase as more people seek out ways to connect at this time.
- Global supply chain shifts As a result of the extreme disruptions to global supply chains, Western economies may finally realize the hidden costs of “cheap labor” and the risks of tying a supply chain to a single geographical area and especially those with authoritarian governments. Today, many economies around the world have the technology, labor, infrastructure and, especially in the U.S., the natural resources to regionalize supply chains, spread out risks and effectively compete.
As is the case with all large-scale human tragedies, our experience with the coronavirus is one we never want to repeat. But as we always have in the past, we will come through it stronger and empowered by lessons learned, experiences mastered and with amazing innovations rising out of this trying time.