In August 2020, this story about the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras went viral and made many a LinkedIn profile get their 15 seconds of fame. Funnily enough, the bridge was built in 1996, Hurricane Mitch forced the river to change course in 1998 to completely render the bridge useless from the point of its original purpose. But it took a year-long pandemic in 2020 for people to realize that we had all been building our own Bridges to Nowhere while the river of life dramatically changed course.
Clearly, 2020 is our Hurricane Mitch. And 2021 is the year where we figure out what to do with the Bridge to Nowhere.
Remember, Lewis Carroll’s iconic ‘Through the Looking Glass’. The cusp between 2020 and 2021 feels like we all need to step through a looking glass of our own, to see our world anew.
With the advent of work / live / play at home era, the impossibility to plan in advance has erased the concept of chronos (as the ancient Greeks called it) or linear time. And because of that, we looked for our identity in the past. As many experts say, yearning—especially in moments of uncertainty—can be really grounding.
And it is this fusion of past and future that gives us five hacks to norm the storms of 2020 as we step into 2021.
Narayan Devanathan: Welcome to a very special once a year episode of Storm the Norm. I'm Narayan,
Anisha Motwani: and I'm Anisha Motwani.
Narayan Devanathan: This episode is special in more than one way. Firstly, it's a retrospective plus prospective look at 2020 and 2021. Secondly, we've gone a little meta about the theme of this episode. For the last 18 episodes, if you've been following, we've taken on norms that come in the way of businesses succeeding in a disruptive world and storm them. This time, we flip the whole thing around storming the very notion of storming the norm.
Anisha Motwani: I have to say you sound so much like the year 2020 itself narayan a little confounding.
Narayan Devanathan: The idea is that 2021 is going to require not so much a storming of norms as norming of storms. we dive into that notion in depth shortly. But I was struck by the notion that norming the storm isn't itself a storming of norms in a way, don't you think?
Anisha Motwani: When you stated that way? It is for sure. But let's talk a bit more about why 2021 is the year of norming storms and not storming norms. Why does that make sense? How does one go about it? With what consequences and outcomes? Why are we even talking about norming the storms? And I want to go back to the very first episode of storm, the non podcast. Remember, we started out by talking about the very idea of norms, and how without norms, the world would probably descend into chaos when I think there is no shortage of chaos coming out of 2020 currently not that's one statement. No one dare contest.
Narayan Devanathan: Absolutely, Anisha. So I want to draw an analogy here. You may remember this one story about to take umbrage in Honduras that went viral in August 2020. Yes, and made many a LinkedIn profile get there 15 seconds of fame. Funny enough, the bridge was built in 1996. And hurricane Mitch forced the river to change course in 1998 to completely render the bridge useless from the point of its original purpose. It took a year long pandemic in 2020, like 22 years later, for people to realise that we had all been building our own bridges nowhere. While the river of life dramatically changed course.
Anisha Motwani: I like how you've turned an analogy into an analogy narayan. Now you've inspired me to think of another analogy here. And that's also got to do with force of nature. Imagine a landmass being hit by a tsunami. And now just picture the aftermath. You don't continue to live on the beach anymore, as if nothing has happened nor as if another tsunami will never occur. You clean up, you shore up. You move further inland. You build bulwarks, and physical and figurative ones at that against the next one treating it as inevitable.
Narayan Devanathan: In other words, you norm the storm.
Anisha Motwani: Absolutely before you move ahead, the pandemic and the year 2020 itself is that tsunami, it's a hurricane Mitch, it's the storm that has upended the world as we know it. So what we need to do now is to norm the storm. 2021 is the year where we figure out what to do with the bridge to nowhere
Narayan Devanathan: can it lead somewhere 2021 clearly is the landmass we have to clean up shore up bulwarks, tourism life against the odds of another 2020 and yet find ways to move forward. That makes eminent sense narayan, which brings us to the next question, what are the storms to normal 2021?
Anisha Motwani: And how do you find ways to move forward and norm these storms?
Narayan Devanathan: Well, actually, Alicia, I was going to pose that question to you first, the great pandemic of 2020 has disrupted life as you know it across multiple spheres. And in the midst of these great disruptions to the ways we live and work. One has also been seeing seismic shocks to questions around democracy, equality and social justice, which are the ones that probably have seen the most profound impact, which are the ones that have seen the greatest needs for norming. I have some thoughts but I'd love to hear from you.
Anisha Motwani: I'm going to reach beyond the confines of the business world for this. You remember Louis Carroll's iconic through the looking glass on the cusp between 2020 and 2021 feels like we all need to step two we're looking glass or following to see our world a new is the year that is fast track and propelled us into the future on many counts, but at the same time walked us back memory lanes. Because time stopped and calendar became redundant in 2020. With this whole start of the stay at home era, the impossibility to plan in advance. It is the whole concept of linear time. There was no way we could plan for. And there was suddenly no clear idea of what the future would be. And precisely because of that, we looked for identity in the past, we go back to childhood friends, albums, family times, and we started finding those images and experiences comforting and reassuring. The new lifestyle of this isolation, give us a chance to pause. And you know, almost feel nostalgic about those times, when many experts say that yearning especially in moments of uncertainty, can be really grounding. And link to that is my first big way to norm the storm here is it, real will be virtual, and virtual will be real
Narayan Devanathan: sounds fascinating.
Anisha Motwani: COVID has amply demonstrated the importance of digital readiness. For many people, technology has been the most essential tool to get on with their lives during the period of confinement, the pandemic is going to be the ultimate catalyst for digital transformation, and in many ways will greatly accelerate major trends that were already well underway before the pandemic, but they will get fast track. But even as we will continue to push the boundaries of digital, we will also seek to work with our hands to get some real happiness. As we spend more and more time facing our screens. There will be moments when we start feeling empty and unfulfilled, will sit at our desk in front of our screens and wonder what uses our life or some such emotion. That's when we renew our respect for valuing the touch and feel aspect of doing things. Going back to handcrafted furniture, canvases, paint brushes, simply preparing meals at home, tending the backyard vegetable gardens and fresh meals from the raw ingredients of our backyards. And we'll go on to start doing something practical and tangible and not ephemeral and simulated, isn't it?
Narayan Devanathan: Absolutely. Makes me realise we're going back to the original definition of digital as in to do with digits and hands I mean, for years, people have been talking about taking breaks from the internet in general and social media and particular moon theme, the advent of digital detox family vacation packages, I guess the social distancing necessitated by the pandemic will put the urge to go analogue into overdrive. And we can expect far more people to get serious about social media distancing, and even go back to primary living, I have these friends who moved from the US after spending the prime of the careers there for about 15 years. And they move to Palampur in Himachal Pradesh and, and build their own home there, like literally with their own hands made of mud and local materials, and obviously helped that they were engineers.
Anisha Motwani: So like going back to primal living. And these are people who are building this bridge to somewhere, but it's somewhere of their choice,
Narayan Devanathan: absolutely so true Anisha.
Anisha Motwani: So what's the second way in which we can norm the storm?
Narayan Devanathan: So it's very apparent, but I stated for the record anyway, it's this inclusivity and exclusion will both flourish, pandemic for many has led to a state of uncertainty, not surprisingly, and that in turn has triggered fear like we've never seen before. what it's done is created a tendency for us to limit oneself to socialise with people who are similar to us, and in the process distance from others. And the people who are bearing the brunt of such an exclusionary mindset are not just the you know, the drivers and the mates but even our neighbours at times. And amidst all of this, this so called Godman and televangelists further muddling the sentiment, and divisive and commercial religiosity by putting faith on the front line. You know, the farmers protests currently is kind of the exception that proves the rule. But the pandemic throws protests on the streets and made public gatherings a no no. And because of that, the socio political discourse has turned online from the streets to the tweets. But here's the thing. Social media has also witnessed the emergence of several virtual kinship groups, and ruthlessly excluded those who do not comply with their belief systems. This delay, delete and deny mantra means that conformance bias has crept into the choice of who we include and who we exclude from our networks.
Anisha Motwani: But maybe there's a silver lining amidst all this with the emergence of inclusive and cross cultural communities that set examples with distribution of food, shelter, the necessary survival kits and insisted on humanity, peace and consideration for others above all else, we saw a lot of this with Sonu Sood, with the secret community, feeding a lot of people I saw youngsters wanting to go and distribute food?
Narayan Devanathan: Absolutely, I mean, reinforcing the point of both inclusion and exclusion, flourishing. Because as social distancing, restrictions have continued, we seem to have become even more desperate to be together, even as we rapidly adapt to life apart, and many of us are finding ourselves, revisiting our social circles, drawing in closer people we haven't seen for years, while drifting away from friends and acquaintances we used to see all the time. Clearly, it's less about proximity and convenience and more about intimacy and connection
Anisha Motwani: true and the change circumstances have made people connect with new groups bond with the existing ones differently, and move on from the toxic ones. People also engaged with new occupations, vocations, hobbies, they pulled out old buried talents, a lot of people found time to reflect and have the realisation that the uncrossed years never allowed. And if all this sounds a little too idealistic, let's not forget that the desire for community and solidarity is also expressing itself in less positive ways, such as public demonstrations against mosque mandates, and the network's going up around conspiracy theories. One of the big questions as to what extent the yearning for community will bring people together to collaborate across traditional boundaries, or drive them into mutually hostile tribes, we can expect both, but we all have the power to skew the result in the direc tion of our choosing. And we need to have three to norm the storm the slow movement is really picking up pace. For me, that's number three. It really took a virus to slow us down. And I'm, I'm conscious that it was the pandemic that has slowed life down for me, I was unable to make the difficult choice voluntarily. For so long. I've often reflected on my life pace, aware of its frenzied nature, I would meet a deadline only to find my email box flooded with a new list of to do's although many people desired a slower pace in their life, the lockdown, it was hard to achieve them as we felt there was no getting off the speedup, roller coaster. And pandemic actually gave us the gift of time.
Narayan Devanathan: Absolutely. The journalist, entrepreneur and radio host Neelesh Misra. He's actually just started a brand called slow and that's probably one of the most visible symbols in India right now. Globally also as an India, we are witnessing a reverse migration of thoughts or at least a yearning for it. From urban centres to smaller semi urban rural settings. This is obviously been enabled by digital connectivity improving everywhere, and a year of work from home attuning us mentally to dissociate but cities and office spaces is in some sense, we've moved closer thanks to digital technologies. And the same time they're yearning to move farther away physically, making time for longer nuanced conversations, to converse with neighbours from a distance we've not seen in months, and gathering with family around food is a thing again,
Anisha Motwani: we've been able to carve out a sliver of peace and gratitude in our homes as I suspect many of you have as well. Now, when we all have experienced the benefits of living a life, which emphasises the values of simplicity, Authenticity, less materialism, there is an incentive to hold on to this rather than rush back to our old accelerated life. And we are seeing societal changes which facilitate maintaining this new slowed down with them. New Zealand is already talking about moving to a four day week, companies are telling employees you can continue to work from home indefinitely. And the current moment actually offers a unique opportunity to push back against the cult of speed and to continue life in this slower, more meaningful form.
Narayan Devanathan: I loved that phrase 'the cult of speed'
Anisha Motwani: so over to you narayan for the next two hacks?
Narayan Devanathan: Okay! I want to share a few personal experiences from this year that to make the next two. So Hack number four to norm the storm is a paraphrasing of an age old proverb. Necessity is the mother of all discoveries, especially going into 2021. So I was flying back from Bangalore this past week, and I had a little free time at the airport before boarding my flight. In the past, I would have browsed some of the stores picked up some clothes, maybe a book, I'm a compulsive book hoarder. And as a South Indian living in Delhi, I even have started one of the restaurants to eat one last authentic South Indian meal before weeks of deprivation. But not only did I not do any of that have the slightest urge to do so nor any regret not having done so. I've lived in my shorts and lounge pants and T shirts for the most part of the year. So I had no desire to shop for clothes, and after resisting buying books online for years, I find We started doing that. So my book hoarding habit is still intact. As for the craving for south Indian in food, I've started cooking Indian
Anisha Motwani: Sounds to me, like you've redefined what necessity and essential means to you.
Narayan Devanathan: Exactly. It's not like I want less, it's that I seem to know more clearly what it is that I want and how I will get them. And this is by no means restricted to physical objects, it holds true for experiences as well. eating out was a means to experiencing diversity of tastes and cuisine. But now I'm adding a layer to that experience by experimenting with cooking at home.
Anisha Motwani: I'm sure each of us has a similar experience of redefining what necessity means to us. But the bigger point that strikes me is that this new definition is connected to something much, much larger
Narayan Devanathan: Spot on Anisha we touched upon it in one of our previous episodes. But if businesses have to norm the storm of 2020, and Hack number five is imperative, I think, as the spearhead of strategy. And it is this de-growth is not anti progress. Interesting. Globally, capitalism has expanded as a dominant paradigm by catering to desires beyond the essential. And that has meant the relentless pursuit of growth. But when you put this definition in the context of the growing debates around equality, equitable redistribution of wealth, and the idea of social justice, what it means is that growth without progress and feeling meaningless. You flip it around, the deliberate pursuit of the growth can actually be quite liberating, and enable a focus on progress and not a blind share the quarterly targets,
Anisha Motwani: when you see it in the context of people redefining what necessity means. You'll also see how de-growth can be the big strategy for businesses everywhere. And because people are not just hankering for more, businesses can focus on understanding what they actually want, and derive more value by delivering what's valuable to people to society to the world and not just to the shareholders. Sustainable capitalism is here to stay
Narayan Devanathan: Completely agree Anisha. I mean, every one of the normative hacks we have discussed only reinforces what we started with 2021 is going to be about taking one step back to take two steps forward, it will be about not forgetting the past while inventing the future.
Anisha Motwani: Indeed, narayan the river has shifted course, the qu estion is what use can we put the Charlotte tech garbage to? And how do we adapt our life around it? The answers, as we have seen, are to be found around the five ways to norm the storm, the juxtaposition of real and virtual, inclusive and exclusive necessary and discretionary, slow and fast, growth and progress.
Narayan Devanathan: Spot on Anisha, I'm not going to waste any words to add on top of that. Oh, and one more thing. To round off this special episode, we have an exclusive GT insight and to share that we have with us Amit Jaiswal, COO of Grant Thornton Bharat. Amit is an engineer and an MBA by qualification and specialised as a management consultant, before taking up the current leadership role at the firm. His passion, not surprisingly, lies in making GT bharat the most recommended by their clients and their people. Anisha what specific question do we want to seek insight from Amit on.
Anisha Motwani: You know every new year starts with this notion of Out with the old and in with the new. But in this year, when norming the storm is going to be the key, and we've done an entire episode on that? What according to you, Amit is a fresh insight that will emerge at the cusp of the old and the new that businesses can apply and benefit from.
Amit Jaiswal: Thanks, Anisha, and Narayan, for the opportunity, very happy to be on this platform sharing our insights with you. Oh, you know, it's a great question. And the timing couldn't have been better, you know, the origin of the readiness of the vaccines, the turn of the decade, the start of a new year. Many organisations use this time also for the planning for the subsequent years that's coming through. And it really provides an opportunity to all of us as managers of businesses to think through all over again. What's next? How do we face the future? When we talk a future, what I've heard many people talk about is three different stages. Some people would say the world will go back to the pre COVID-19 levels, some people feel what we're experiencing right now will become the new normal. And there is always that element of conjecture in terms of what the new normal is going to be. I think that's really the big question that we as an organisation had to answer first, what we've figured is that the world will change for us for sure. And the change will be largely around three very different levers. The first one would be how are we going to engage with our stakeholders, stakeholders - big regulators, our customers, our suppliers, our partners, so many people. The second lever would be how do we manage our people, with most of them, probably going to choose some fraction of their work being work remotely. And lastly, as again, business managers, how do we provide and create the infrastructure that would be suitable for our people, our clients, and all of their stakeholders as well, the way we would like to approach and others could also consider approaching this question of how do we norm the storm is really four, five steps as we like to think ourselves, the first step is really re-evaluate whether the purpose or the reason we actually have the business still remains the same, or is it going to be a fundamental change in the way you did your business itself? Once that is clear to you, as business managers, make sure it's clearly articulated, communicated. So there is no ambiguity in people's mind, whether the direction of your business itself is changing as we go forward. Once that piece is clear, the rest becomes quite simple, really evaluate what it means for all your different stakeholders, stakeholders being external stakeholders as well as internal think through the way you would engage with them the way you will manage them. And to marry the two is really identifying the infrastructure support you need to provide to these people, either through digitalization through providing support at home, by providing various working models, so on so forth, to really create an ecosystem that will increase the resilience of the business to face the new world
Anisha Motwani: Do you really expect business models for many, many companies to undergo a fundamental change, or is it going to be a shift in the business model,
Amit Jaiswal: I can at least speak for our business is going to see a fundamental change in how we run our business. For example, you sell a very simple instance that earlier pre COVID-19 times our expectation from our people was to see them in the office everyday, for example, and the office being either our office or a client's office right. Now, clearly, these nine months have shown us what is possible in terms of people being more productive than ever, even though they are not in either of the two offices, right. So that clearly creates a great opportunity to rethink how we deliver our model. But it also poses a lot of challenges, and how do we support the people that remain engaged with our people in these new types. So things we have to really look at all together is, let's say the infrastructure that we need. When I say infrastructure, even real office space, we have already cut down our office requirements by 25% in the last three months, and expect it to change even more in the subsequent quarter. The idea is not to tell people not to come to office, but redefine the purpose of the office itself as a collaboration centre, and not as a working office. What I mean by that is that, you know, let's say, think of a small office, let's say an office, which has like 100 people only. The need for that office could be multiple fold. On some days, you may be required to host your clients on some day and you will be required to host a training. On some days, your engagement teams your client facing teams may need to just brainstorm on something. And maybe there are some individuals who do not have the infra at home to work comfortably from a corner of a group right so they need solo work best as well.
Narayan Devanathan: Thank you so much Amit. I think that's a great place to wrap up Episode 19 of storm the norm. We'd like to wish all of our listeners a very Happy New Year. Happy norming. As always, there are multiple places you can catch us on Spotify, Apple podcasts, SoundCloud and jiosaavn by just searching for storm the norm, and we're also on saregama karwan 2.0 devices on channel 453. This is narayan
Anisha Motwani: And I am Anisha,
Narayan Devanathan: signing off for now. We'll be back with a new episode in the new year. Thank you and talk to you soon.