By Lutz Dietzold.
This is a surreal moment – life feels like we are in a science fiction novel where the last chapter has not yet been written. Everything is a first – we can’t draw on valuable experience and even the best forward planning realistically only goes as far as tomorrow. Events, travel and sales targets for the coming months have melted away. Much-lauded agility has become an enduring theme, while discovering a slower pace has become highly popular. Balconies are becoming idealised places of freedom.
Amidst all the uncertainty, there are two things of which we can be sure: the changes are affecting everybody and every area of life. And they will continue to influence how we move forward for a long time to come. As the Zukunftsinstitut (Future Institute) writes in its new trend study entitled “Die Welt nach Corona” (The world after coronavirus): “The coronavirus crisis is dismantling culture, society and the economy – and putting everything back together in new ways. At the same time, the pandemic is thus accelerating processes of civilisation that have long been in motion.”
Shaping the future
The current dynamics of this transformation certainly keep delivering new surprises. Changes that would otherwise demand years are now taking place in a matter of weeks. Times have changed for us all right now, and I mean this quite literally, as time seems to speed up when we experience many new things. Yet people are responding differently to this stress test for society. Go-getters and proactive creators are dashing forth, while others who prefer stability are falling behind. Those who were previously derided for being too experimental may now gain admiration as pioneers. Trial and error is now permitted, even encouraged. Lateral thinkers are making a virtue out of necessity, whilst perfectionism and self-optimisation have gone into hibernation. It is clear that the crisis is creating areas of need, but it is also creating opportunities. The willingness to break new ground and think disruptively is certainly something we will take with us going forward, along with the courage to fail.
Trial and error is now permitted, even encouraged. Lateral thinkers are making a virtue out of necessity, whilst perfectionism and self-optimisation have gone into hibernation.
Agility for all
The knack of adapting quickly to a new situation has become essential as we are seeing survival of the most agile. New Work – in all its varied facets – is being accelerated to the extreme. We are finding that flexibility and reaction speed require a definite improvement in how we deal with unexpected changes, which means that we will be seeing long-term shifts in processes and ways of working within companies. No one will get away with returning to a huge, inflexible company battleship.
New business models will be needed in its place. The good old “Made in Germany” label – previously respected but considered unsexy – has proven its worth here. German companies such as Trigema and Van Laack are suddenly producing face masks, while soap manufacturers are switching to disinfectant production. Companies that manufacture in Germany and work with regional or national suppliers have a clear advantage. The furniture manufacturer Kettnaker in the town of Dürmentingen, for instance, did not have a single day of halted production. I see the coronavirus as a catalyst for a development that was set in motion by the Fridays for Future generation with their calls for sustainable supply chains and carbon-neutral products. In future, production will be brought closer to consumers again in some areas, and the crisis will be a long-term driver of sustainability here.
Automation will also gather momentum in small and medium-sized enterprises. This has so far faltered due to worries that jobs will be lost and that there is insufficient flexibility in machines that were primarily designed for mass production rather than individual custom manufacturing. We are now seeing that companies with a high degree of automation can weather the crisis better and retain jobs. Increasing numbers of automation and robotics systems that can meet flexible requirements are also coming onto the market. The barriers that were holding back this change are falling.
No one will get away with returning to a huge, inflexible company battleship.
Coronavirus in the cloud
The crisis had a particularly disruptive impact on sales from the very start. The lockdown hit companies that had so far survived solely off bricks-and-mortar trade with its full force. Many companies have now expanded their analogue business model with digital services to keep turnover from completely collapsing. It is worth taking a look at how China has dealt with the crisis here. The most popular marketing approach turned out to be sales via live streaming. Companies that had needed to close their shops even managed to achieve growth online with this method. There have so far been no opportunities for live-streaming sales on platforms in the West. But necessity is the mother of invention and many retailers are dabbling in teleshopping formats and using Instagram as a sales channel. Digital business models are sure to be expanded in future. A sensible symbiosis of online and offline trade mirrors consumer behaviour and, in a best-case scenario, can even increase turnover by broadening the target group.
Is there creative strength to be found in this crisis? Matthias Horx from the Zukunftsinstitut says: “In a certain sense, societies work like large organisms. When they encounter crises, they develop immune systems that they need to survive in more complex environments and processes, and thus to create a future.” One thing is sure in any case: we are now setting the strategic and operational course for the future. We are learning to live with the disruption – a strength that is certain to serve us well.
Lutz Dietzold, Managing Director German Design Council
Lutz Dietzold (*1966) has been managing director of the German Design Council since 2002. He studied art history, classical archaeology and German language and literature in Frankfurt. After working as a freelancer in the area of design communication for national and international clients, he was appointed as the managing director of the Deutscher Werkbund Hessen (German Association of Craftsmen in the federal state of Hesse) as well as the managing director of Design Zentrum Hessen (Hesse Design Centre), where he was responsible for the strategic reorientation of design promotion.
In 2011 he was appointed deputy chairman of the Stiftung Deutsches Design Museum (German Design Museum Foundation) and member of the advisory council of the Mia-Seeger-Stiftung (Mia Seeger Foundation). Mr. Dietzold publishes articles on a regular basis and gives national and international lectures on a variety of topics relating to design. He is also a member of numerous juries as well as of the project advisory board of the German Federal Ecodesign Award of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety.