by Chuck Tanzola, CPMR
Hindsight, people say, is 20/20. Two aspects of that statement stick out to me – hindsight (looking back) and 2020 – a year defined of course by the once in a lifetime pandemic that seemingly wouldn’t go away (sort of like my to-do and action item lists…they also never seem to go away, but I digress).
“If I knew then what I know now…” Perhaps you’ve also heard people say this. I know that I have. The statement is usually completed with some wistful expression of actions that maybe would have been taken if only our hindsight had been foresight instead.
As I have been thinking about our industry lately and talking to people, I hear them asking, “If we knew in early 2020 what we know now, what would we have changed?” Some of the most common answers I’ve heard are: We would have adopted video communications technology earlier. U.S.-based semiconductor fabs would be turning out more fine geometry chips in Austin, Columbus, Albany and Phoenix in 2022 instead of 2024, 2025 and 2026. We would have hired more people, sooner. We would have found time to see family and friends more.
Of course, we cannot change the past, so maybe some other questions are more important. For example, what do we know now that we didn’t know then? What have we learned? Here are some of my thoughts for your consideration:
We need people/family/social interaction. Now that we’ve largely spent the last two years in isolation, a day doesn’t go by where the importance of seeing people in-person isn’t extolled in the results of some survey or study.
Personal customer relationships are supremely important. Almost universally, my industry colleagues confirmed a significant increase to the normal difference in their ability to contact customers based on the depth of their personal relationships.
Necessity is truly the mother of invention (and innovation). During the pandemic, this was particularly (but not exclusively) evident in the healthcare industry. Consider how many new and different designs for ventilators were developed in a relatively short time, for example.
If necessity is the mother of invention, disruption is the accelerator of adoption. Video communication technologies existed prior to travel shutting down but are now fairly ubiquitous; the rise in electronic banking is widely reported; and home delivery apps have doubled their earnings in the last year.
Habits once formed, are hard to change. Consider that working from home was disruptive at first, and now is more comfortable and increasingly desired by employees. During the pandemic, restaurants accelerated their take-out offerings and services, and today reports are that more than 1/3 of people use more take-out dining than they did a year ago.
Our industry is simultaneously resilient and vulnerable. The growth of sales and corresponding supply chain challenges have been widely reported, so I won’t dwell on them here, but I will note that it at least seems that every distinct event has had a more dramatic effect on the supply chain than ever before.
Keep the first things first. Engineering activity shifted to get existing product out the door as customers focused on economic survival as opposed to future development. Correspondingly, the “golden screw” has been getting as much or more attention than the “next big thing.”
Flexibility and the ability to pivot is key. In Ithaca, we routinely (and rightly) talk about the frequency and suddenness of change in the weather. Frankly, it pales in comparison in both frequency and abruptness to what we’ve seen in changing situations on our industry.
I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list and I welcome any input you have that would add to it. However, as I developed this list, another question occurred to me. Is there anything on this list that we really didn’t know before? Are the lessons from the pandemic new, or have the last few years simply served as a not so gentle reminder of things we already knew? My sense is that while there is widespread emphasis on finding the holy grail – the industry and life-altering breakthrough that came out of the pandemic – the latter is more applicable.
If that is the case, then the real question of the pandemic is not, “What do we know now that we didn’t know then?” but rather, “Given what we already know, what will we do about it?”
A final confession. As I put this column together, I struggled with it a bit. I never quite know exactly where I’m going when I start writing but have a general idea or direction. In this case the final product took a number of twists and turns as I gathered a variety of input on the subject. I believe this is the result of uniquely personal experiences over the last few years. I suspect that the answer to my final questions are similarly unique to each of our circumstances and situation, but as always, I can be reached at email@example.com and welcome your comments.
This is my viewpoint – what’s yours?