It’s time to design tomorrow like today is at risk - Neil McKie

My original intention for this piece was to talk about how I’ve rebuilt my company, Stance, by integrating behavioural science, design and sustainability to help us tackle complex business and societal challenges, along with how we’re dealing with the new pressures of working remotely. But talking about wins, hires and partnerships doesn’t seem appropriate right now.
Could the outcome of Covid-19 be a world of increased opportunity, asks McKie.Could the outcome of Covid-19 be a world of increased opportunity, asks McKie.
Could the outcome of Covid-19 be a world of increased opportunity, asks McKie.

I’m sure you are becoming as tone-deaf as I am to the claims of steady ships and noise of the newly knighted experts of remote working and pandemic comms.

Instead, I thought I’d give you an honest overview of what we’re going through, and most importantly, share why I’m particularly positive about the world beyond the woods of Covid-19.

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The last four weeks have felt like four months. Like almost everyone else, I have been focused on minimising damage. I’ve gone from worrying about payroll, to anger, to laser-like focus. It’s been a rollercoaster.

At the time of writing, it’s clear that we haven’t seen the worst of this situation, but it’s also clear what we — me, you, our leaders, our society — can achieve when the threat is clear and present. This makes me optimistic for the future.

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Remembering our actions now will be a vital frame of reference when tackling even more significant challenges that lie ahead; for our society, our businesses, and in our personal lives.

My Four Stages of Pandemic AcceptancePassive: I saw it coming. Still, typically, the perceived proximity of the threat (another country) did not elicit a rational response. Psychologically, we’re not great at responding to risk that we consider being distant (just look at climate change), and thus, take insufficient action. Much like me and the UK Government.

Panic: That creeping feeling. A day of client calls ended with six figures of trouble. Projects pushed or cancelled altogether. I was about to offer jobs to four people! Cue, spending days coming up with ideas to help fill the void, along with near surgically implanting a phone in my head.

Pause: After spending a week talking to people, seeking advice, and trying to quiet the deafening shrill of panic pivots, I found some perspective. I work with brilliant people. I am surrounded by experienced advisors. Our clients are genuinely focused on a sustainable future. We’re building something for the long-term. Short-term profits are just that. The most valuable thing I could do was protect jobs, stay true to purpose, and help others where possible.

Positive: Even in this still, early stage of the crisis, it’s clear Stance, although probably less profitable this year, will be stronger because we went through this. Our team is secure and focused. Our client relationships closer. I’m positive because this globally shared experience allows us an opportunity to reframe our challenges using this new visceral context of what it is to be threatened by the world we live in.

Could the outcome of Covid-19 be a world of increased opportunity to design products, services and businesses that have broader value, incentivised by a society that will demand more from their money and leadership? I think so.

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It’s a little too soon to be asking “imagine if this was a global pandemic problem” in workshops, but we absolutely should, no, must, capitalise on this new context and the clear evidence of our actions.

Our challenge now is to capture this spirit of designing tomorrow like today is at risk, applying this focus and determination to push through future adversity.

My optimistic view is that we will come out of this with a new vision of what can be achieved by society in the face of a universal challenge. We’re going to need it.

- Neil McKie, chief executive and founder of Stance

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