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(P)Review 2020/2021: The Year of the Pandemic Featured Signal of Change: SoC1203 January 2021

Author: Martin Schwirn (Send us feedback.)

Every January, Scan™ highlights developments that saw significant movement and change during the preceding year and have the potential to create a wide range of opportunities and pose substantial threats in the marketplace in the coming year. Scan highlights one area that has experienced expansive developments and likely will see even more far-reaching changes: In 2020, no other development even came close to having the impact on the commercial and societal landscapes that the coronavirus-disease-2019 (covid-19) pandemic had. The pandemic had a ubiquitous and pervasive effect on virtually all industries and businesses. Although the pandemic introduced new elements to commercial operations, it also highlighted challenges and problems that existed before the coronavirus commenced its devastating journey around the world. The pandemic put spotlights on dealing with the acceleration of existing trends, the need for uncertainty management, and scenario planning as an important strategic tool. Scan also addresses additional commercial areas that saw substantial developments in 2020: SoC1204 — (P)Review 2020/2021: Areas of Change discusses changing urban environments, accelerating automation of operations and processes, adjustments of business models, and emerging new energy worlds that will mark commercial markets for decades to come. Although the Scan team considered the amount and level of change that occurred in 2020 when choosing the topic areas to highlight, the choices represent a subjective selection with a perspective on commercial impact for 2021. The Scan team welcomes feedback from sponsors of the program and is looking forward to discussions about potential changes in the marketplace in 2021.

The pandemic put spotlights on dealing with the acceleration of existing trends, the need for uncertainty management, and scenario planning as an important strategic tool.

The covid-19 pandemic had such a tremendous impact on societies and economies that in 2020, Scan released three sets that provide special coverage of developments relating to the spread of covid-19 and its commercial impacts: June 2020's Scan™ in the Time of Covid-19, July 2020's A Further Look at Covid-19's Impact, and August 2020's Exploring Managerial Responses to Uncertainty.

The acceleration of existing trends was a more common feature of 2020 than was the introduction of genuinely novel developments. SoC1180 — Life in the Pandemic and SoC1164 — The Pandemic's Impacts across Industries provide an overview of pandemic-related developments. Unsurprisingly, many market participants looked to technology in general and large technology companies in particular to address and solve many of the challenges that the pandemic has created. SoC1170 — Tech Messiahs? SoC1163 — Technologies' Roles and the Pandemic, P1510 — The Ascent of Robots during the Pandemic, and P1504 — The Tech Giants and the Pandemic not only attest to such expectations but also note problems that relate to a sole focus on technological solutions. The retail industry has seen gradually but steadily increasing competition from online vendors; however, this development exploded suddenly in 2020 as social-distancing measures reduced consumers' willingness to leave their homes, thereby decreasing foot traffic in brick-and-mortar stores. SoC1181 — Retail Interruption, SoC1169 — Urban Features for Future Pandemics, and P1505 — No-Contact Services illustrate the issues at play in this area. Similarly, human-resources (HR) departments in companies across industries had to reconsider various policies in response to pandemic-related regulations. SoC1162 — Pandemic Rise of the New HR, P1506 — The New Homebodies, and P1503 — The Great Working-from-Home Experiment provide an overview of issues endemic to the sudden shift from employees' working in office environments to employees' working in home environments. The pandemic also affected other areas of business operations, as SoC1167 — The Pandemic and Marketing Ploys, P1512 — Supply-Chain Resilience? and P1509 — The Pandemic's Effects on Business Models indicate. Some matters have become contentious. For example, SoC1171 — Covid-19 and Civil Liberties, SoC1168 — Pandemic Emergency Measures, SoC1165 — Reshuffling Societal and Budgetary Priorities? and SoC1157 — Coronavirus: New Considerations about Tracking discuss the need to track covid-19 and infected individuals versus the need to protect people's privacy to some degree.

The need for uncertainty management has become a major consideration in 2020. Many economists and industry observers saw the covid-19 pandemic as an unpredictable event that companies and governments cannot plan for. But April 2020's SoC1154 — Life after the Time of Coronavirus dispels the myth that the emergence and spread of the coronavirus is a black swan—a term that Nassim Taleb uses in his 2007 book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable to refer to an unpredictable large-magnitude event that has major consequences. Business scholars Max Bazerman and Michael Watkins provide a term that is much more suitable for use in describing the rise and spread of the coronavirus: predictable surprise. P1530 — Tackling Tomorrow, P1514 — Communications under Uncertainty, P1494 — Managing Uncertainty, and P1470 — Tackling Uncertainty present challenges relating to understanding and managing uncertainty. Managing uncertainty is an ongoing challenge that decision makers must keep in mind, but the pandemic created a wide set of uncertainties that affect business operations simultaneously. SoC1174 — Effects of and Responses to Uncertainty, SoC1161 — Scanning: The Pandemic and Its Implications, and P1568 — Awareness as a First Step to Preparedness discuss ways to address uncertainty and guide decision making under uncertainty (in fact, Scan is a tool for identifying signals of change that introduce uncertainty to the marketplace). Many areas of uncertainty remain, which SoC1201 — The Pandemic's Uncertain Impacts highlights.

Interest in the use of scenario planning as an important strategic-planning tool has seen a resurgence. Interest in this strategic tool waxes and wanes with how decision makers perceive the external speed of change and associated uncertainties. In truth, uncertainty is a constant companion, and SoC1173 — Scenario Planning Is En Vogue—Again, SoC1172 — Contemplating Scenarios: Dynamics Count, SoC1166 — Scenario Planning for the Pandemic's Aftermath, and SoC1154 — Life after the Time of Coronavirus look at the benefits that scenario planning can have for strategy development. As 2020 came to a close, some areas of the economy changed for good; others might return to the structures and dynamics that existed before the pandemic hit (or adopt structures and dynamics that resemble those that existed before the pandemic hit). SoC1202 — Long-Term Considerations about the Pandemic, SoC1201 — The Pandemic's Uncertain Impacts, and SoC1200 — Pandemic-Induced Changes that Stick attempt to provide a sense of the effects that the pandemic had on a wide range of markets.