With strength of character, leaders can harness these as powers to accelerate progress within their own organizations and solve some of society’s biggest problems, all of which will be with us long after we’ve conquered this disease.
First, the power of innovation and technology to break down barriers to equity
This period didn’t recast the role that technology and innovation will play in the future, but it highlighted and accelerated how they can solve our most difficult challenges and improve business, economies, and our lives. Our dependency on technology became singular and extreme in our personal and work lives almost overnight. Everything flipped online, from school to work to shopping to socialicing. I could never have imagined leading BCG for nine months while sitting at my dining room table.
We found ourselves intently waiting for technology and innovations to bring us diagnostics, vaccines, and new treatments in record time—and to get our lives and the economy back to some semblance of normal. And the progress has been incredible, including most obviously highly efficacious vaccines created, tested, and in market in less than a year, when in the past it would have taken five-plus years.
But none of these achievements will ultimately be successful if only a narrow slice of the world’s population benefits. Access is everything—access right now to testing and PPE, to vaccines as they are rolled out internationally, to high-speed internet for education, information, and opportunity.
This year has drawn much-needed attention to the world’s deep inequities, and technology has the power to act as an equaliser. It’s our responsibility as leaders—whether in the public or private sector—to help broaden that access and level the playing field.
Second, the power of integrative thinking to tackle climate change
We’ve seen this year that focusing solely on single dimensions, attempting either to save lives or preserve livelihoods, has kept us from winning the fight against the pandemic in the US and other parts of the world. Instead, we’ve needed to recognise the linkages and interdependencies of the problems at hand, balancing epidemiological and socioeconomic risks, or “epinomics” to keep people safe and preserve jobs and the economy, while we prepare for broad distribution of vaccines.
Entering 2020, before COVID rightfully grabbed attention and resources, there was increasing awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis. Entering 2021, we need to apply the same kind of integrative, cross-boundary thinking to fight climate change as has been required to defeat the pandemic.
This includes public and private sectors working together; concrete plans to curtail all types of emissions and to neutralise what we can’t curtail; a sensitivity to the economic implications of our choices, particularly those affecting jobs and communities; the application of nature-based, engineered, and market-oriented solutions; and, underneath all of this, the goal of a just transition, ensuring that those most vulnerable to the changes to come are taken care of.
The good news is that we begin 2021 with bold ambitions from China, a committed incoming US president, and an action-oriented Europe. It’s the best starting point entering any year since the Paris Accords were signed. Now it’s up to us to leave 2021 with big progress toward implementing integrated approaches to tackle this existential challenge.
Finally, the power of human connection to transform our organisations, support our people, and renew our sense of purpose
The dichotomy this year has been striking: we’ve been forced to stay physically apart, but in many ways we have never felt closer to each other. We feel we’ve walked into one another’s homes, met families and pets, and talked about art on the walls or the view outside. We connect in more authentic ways about the stresses we are feeling and the pressures we face.
I know that because I miss the physical connection—handshakes and hugs, celebratory meals with clients and colleagues, visits to BCG’s offices in every corner of the world—I’ve been more deliberate in reaching out and finding new ways to connect. Not being able to be together physically has reinforced just how important human connections and aligning on purpose are to us—and how powerful they can be in motivating us to do our best work no matter where we are sitting.
We need to continue to value the power of these deeper connections and their ability to unlock human and organisational potential long after the pandemic is over.