Transformative Times Demand We Adapt
Transformation is frequently forged in the crucible of a crisis. As a result, the speed and degree at which we respond is often masked, obscured by intense feelings of fear, loss and uncertainty. Media headlines highlight the extreme, the dramatic and the sensational, further exacerbating these emotions and heightening our sense of frustration and powerlessness. We are left with the impression that life and progress has been brought to a standstill. Nothing could be further from the truth; we have already begun to adapt.

The pandemic has been catastrophic. It has impacted or suspended virtually every aspect of daily life and massively disrupted the economy. But this head-on collision with a virus has had another effect. It has catapulted us into the future by accelerating our embrace of ideas and technical solutions that seemed provocative just a short time ago.

The most obvious and immediate adaptation has been the way we connect for work and with our family and our community. A shift in policies and methods, along with expanded use of collaborative technologies, facilitated the deployment of legions of remote workers seemingly overnight. The education sector experienced the same. Renowned for its glacial approach to change, education institutions from school districts to universities moved with both speed and urgency to implement remote learning solutions to meet the needs of their students in their newly assigned home classrooms.

These same digital tools, joined by a shift in individual attitudes, soon added a sense of normalcy to our disrupted personal lives. In short order, our willingness to adapt enabled everything from virtual hospital visits and religious services to virtual book clubs, happy hours and dance parties. Necessity fertilizes the imagination.

This increased familiarity and comfort with virtual interactions combined with shifting social norms will have an expanded and profound impact on customer service expectations. Not long ago, automated services such as grocery, fast-food and airline self-serve kiosks were resisted, perceived as a diminished customer experience and business serving its bottom line at the expense of the replaced employee. This is no longer the case. Virtual service offerings that have been waiting on the sidelines for the right combination of economic drivers and social acceptance are well-positioned to quickly seize the opportunity.

By thrusting us into a technical embrace we previously had been reluctant to accept, the pandemic has forced us to reimagine what we see as normal. For the foreseeable future, the combination of social distancing, risk management concerns and demanding economics will serve to accelerate the deployment of everything from autonomous ridesharing services to casinos with AI-enabled virtual dealers.

The technologies empowering these shifts and others are not new. They have long been in our peripheral vision, conveniently ignored by the myopia of habit. However, now in full view and relevant, they are centrally positioned on the path forward.

Technology will be a valuable resource on the journey ahead, but it is not a panacea. This is because technology, on its own, is simply a tool, powerless until ignited by individual initiative and imagination. It is these very human characteristics that fuel our ability to adapt. And it is our ability to adapt that allows us to defy the gravity of circumstance. The pandemic will eventually pass and become part of our history, but it is how we adapt that will define our future.

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Rick Thomas