Strategic Risk Post-Covid-19: Lost In The Eye Of The Storm?

by Christian Fjader

In the previous blog of this series I explored the ways we could improve our understanding of the impacts of Covid-19 and “deep uncertainty” by utilising the “3S” approach of situational awareness, scenario planning and sensemaking. This time I will focus on what might await us beyond this ongoing crisis and argue that we may have gotten “lost in the eye of the storm” and hence, see beyond the Covid-19 crisis.

There is still much to be understood and said about strategic risk in the course of Covid-19, but how about after the pandemic is either over or at least under control? Quite understandably we are increasingly concerned about new pandemics. There are already those who are concerned that Covid-19 could be the first of many in a new era of pandemics and that this one probably was not the “big one”. Future pandemics could be much more deadly and resilient against the mitigation measures we have taken during this one. Unfortunately, this could well be the case. Plenty of scientific reports have along the years warned that the unsustainable exploitation of the environment by humans (amongst other unsustainable practices), combined with climate change and the subsequent loss of biodiversity create an increasing propensity to pandemics. As a consequence, zoonotic diseases (those that circulate among animals before transferring to humans) are plenty about – it has been estimated that there are up to 850 000 viruses that have the potential to spread from animals to humans. Even if only a minuscule number of these would evolve into major epidemics or a pandemic (basically anything beyond one), it is absolutely safe to argue that health security and preparedness to pandemics remain priorities for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, however, we humans have a bad tendency to become hostages to linear thinking that leads us to imagine future crises as replications or extensions of past crises. Currently we are fixed with pandemic preparedness and in that hostage to thinking future pandemics will be like this one. Moreover, we are fixed with the idea of recovering to the “normalcy” that preceded Covid-19.

Such linear thinking essentially equals to following the ball, whilst the playing field is changing. In other words, by focusing on the ongoing situation and trying to figure a way out of it, we may well be risking a failure to notice the long-term implications and take these into account in our response to the ongoing crisis. What we should be asking ourselves is whether the pandemic will create long-lasting or permanent-like changes that will bring about new strategic risks. Hence, we should be interested in how the pandemic could impact for instance security (in all of its forms, including national and international), technology, science and the economy (micro- and macro-economics). The economy for instance is bound to be transformed as the logic of value creation changes – in turn changing business models and national and international economics in its wake.

In more fundamental level, the pandemic is likely to leave its mark also in ideology and politics and hence, the values and norms that guide human activity and interaction. At least past pandemics and plagues in the history have brought along significant societal change and altered the worldviews of humans in fundamental ways. Why wouldn’t this one? Some of these changes have been positive in long-term – for instance the period of enlightenment in Europe following the “Black Death” plague- but in many cases led to wars and destitute in the short term. In sum, we know that change will come and that change always comes with a price tag, but how can we increase our capability to determine how strategic risk will change post-Covid? The brief answer is – give up linear thinking and re-imagine the frame of thinking! The next instalment of this blog will focus on how we can utilise scenario planning and sensemaking to set us on this path.