The ‘way forward’ is not a spectator sport
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but we are not bouncing back to anything.
I know it was a default thing we all said at the beginning of the pandemic – ‘When things go back to normal…’ – but as we have now entered the third year of this thing, are we seriously still talking about a return?
I am not suggesting this is our life forever.
Far from it.
But a new normal is inevitable.
We have been operating under different conditions for way too long. We have added strain to our bodies, psyches, economies, societies and organisations that will need to be processed. It will all come out in the wash eventually, but it is bound to be different. Some good, some bad, some just different.
The virus has not been egalitarian.
Some communities have been hit harder.
The poor got poorer.
The lonely got lonelier.
Younger folks are left spinning, wondering what ‘opportunity’ means now.
Folks finishing school as WWII erupted never quite ‘caught up’. I wish I had better news. The reality is we don’t know what comes next or when, and time moves differently depending where you are on your life arc. Life’s lottery is cruel that way. There is so much we don’t know.
But we do know that two years and counting is a bit too long for a ‘bounce’. And probably too long for a return.
So OK. Onwards then.
And yes, onwards into the unknown.
The future is always unknown, really. It’s just usually a little more predictable than this. I get it. But rage as we might, and some do, it’s not like someone is doing this to us, and therefore asking them to stop is not exactly rational. But by all means, get it off your chest.
I will wait.
But then we will need to think about what next.
Because we can’t hold our breath anymore. We can’t wait and see.
We can hope for a return or be relieved that the return is unlikely. We can hope for an acceleration of digital-first tooling or be worried that experimentation is reducing. We can have contradictory emotions about the big issues at stake which, as an industry, we need to face into. We can have conflicting views. We will have conflicting views. What we can’t do is what we are currently doing which is becoming entrenched in a position and calling the other side names.
When did we get to have sides on issues that aren’t even done playing themselves out anyway? That was fast work, there.
And I am sure that a life of endless days of 30 back-to-back Zoom calls doesn’t help with our attention span, but I am going to go out on a limb now and suggest that starting from the viewpoint that there is a right and wrong in questions that are not even fully gestated yet is a tad premature and smacks of unhelpful extremism.
So, fellow FS folk.
I don’t know when the pandemic will end.
I know the economy is hit. I know people are tired. I know families have suffered loss and long-term disability and faced into bottomless poverty. Not everyone. But there’s more of them than households baking sourdough and having enough space for every family member to have a home office.
I know our industry was not coherently digital-first when this started, and the lack of colleague tooling, the absence of consistent core infrastructure and the fragmented budgets hurt every bank and FI around the world as the pandemic hit.
Investment, cohesive strategies and a clear vision of what is needed is now essential not visionary leadership. And it’s hard because you don’t know what world you are equipping yourself for. Yes, you need to work out what your organisation needs when you don’t fully know what will be needed. Scary right? That’s leadership, you are welcome.
And we will need to work out our ways of working, office or no office.
We will need to think about the constraints we imposed on people historically and whether we need to go back to them. We will need to think about the lateral benefits of getting folks together – serendipitous creativity, collaboration, friendship – and the economics and mechanics of alternatives. We will need to apply ourselves to understanding what it is we are solving for. And yes, we will need to do all this with incomplete and contradictory information. That, also, is leadership.
And it’s not another 30 Zoom calls sandwiched between many others.
And it’s not a topic to Tweet about, dismissing the idiots who disagree.
And it’s not a topic to be triumphant about, celebrating your organisation’s existing set-up as awesomely fit for purpose like we used to do in the Times Before, irrespective of the complicated truth under the hood. That was part of the rules back then. We all knew what it meant. But the world has changed. The rules need to change too.
The open questions are something that need work.
All of it hard stuff. All of it a little bit harder when you are tired, attention fragmented, future uncertain.
Harder and all the more essential for it.
Nobody said this would be easy. And yes, it’s even harder than we originally thought. But we don’t get to choose the circumstances. We just get to choose whether we will play or not within the circumstances as they are.
And here we are, standing on the pitch.
Walk off or get stuck in.
If all you want to do is point fingers and make clever commentary, there are some very comfy spectator stands nearby.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!