The New Normal

Right now, the world is fucked.

Compared to its normal operating manual, we’re in a world where someone came in, poured petrol on the mainframe, set fire to it and did a jig as it burned.

This highlights the massive need for a relative normal for everything else to matter.

Our hopes, dreams, goals and ambitions are all predicated on a guaranteed level of normality.

The same people worried about their next toilet roll were probably worried about their next Saturday night outfit.

The same people worried about their gran not catching this were probably worried about how they could get that promotion.

The same people worried about this are all of us, who were worried about a totally different set of objectives just weeks ago.

Massive deviation from normal massively changes our outlook and perspective on what’s important.

For a time...

Please get back to normal

What’s interesting is that these periods of deviation from the norm are beset with attempts to restore the norm.

Governments worldwide, on the most part are trying to restore ‘normal’.

The financial crisis of 2008 (whilst not exactly the same as we weren’t stuck at home) was marked by a Herculean effort to restore the normal. Doing this changes nothing. And we see this; Wells Fargo, a bank who survived the crash relatively unscathed, only then continued and even accelerated bad practices in banking.

We see every 10 or so years at the moment how fragile ‘normal’ is. We also see that the threats to normal are growing. Daily.

So if normal is so fragile to disruption, and if that disruption is ever more likely to occur, then resetting the standard operating model is a fools game.

Changing normal

The crises we’re facing in the future are arguably more damaging than this. There’s no malaria tablet, nor vaccine, that will save us from threats like climate change.

So whilst we do need to get back to some sense of normal, we have to make the line of normal one that wakes up to the reality of the choices we’ve made.

For most, this is not the objective. The objective is to get back to life. Get back to doing whatever we were doing before this event. And being totally honest, that is the most appealing option.

We all feel powerless in the face of globalised issues. A hopelessness that’s compounded when we have world leaders (specifically in the UK and US) who’s only intention is protecting themselves, rather than their people.

But by ignoring the likely disruptions to our normal in the future, we are no better able to protect ourselves from its volatile outcomes.

What can startups do?

At a dinner, weeks before this thing really took hold, I was telling my friend some plans for the future. My plans, as do most, rely on the line of normal. The relative stability of the world and an exploitation of an inefficiency within that model. Her reaction was incredulous, like I was asleep and hadn’t woken up. I needed to think bigger, she told me. Needed to see that these things won’t matter the way we’re going now. “This Covid thing, it’s just the start”. These words have echoed in my ears ever since. On repeat.

Startups are, by definition, groups of people who look at massive uncertainty and the unknown and still jump. But most jumps are made into the uncertainty based on the current normal.

This is a function of many things, not least the current funding ecosystem. VC’s were supposed to fund the dreamers, the idealists, ‘the crazy ones’. Increasingly, they are funding the next lookalike app, WeWork or robotic pizza delivery services.

Just as we can’t manage what we don’t measure, the converse is true. We’ll manage what we measure. Our definition of success will inform the actions we take, the things we do and critically, what we fund. The answer to every problem isn’t SaaS. And as long as the funding ecosystem promotes that, we won’t be able to access innovation that drives us toward a new normal.

Perhaps this will be the ‘correction’ needed to be braver with innovation. There have already been big steps with focused funds to support more nuanced startups like biotech, requiring more research before product. Musk is now the new poster boy of entrepreneurship and whilst I’m not sure he’s a fantastic example in many ways, he is nothing if not ambitious in being part of creating a new normal.

But despite these steps, the normal for most bright entrepreneurs is another app, another dev ops tool, another SaaS.

We should retain our optimism. Humanity is one resilient bastard. However, there’s a difference between optimism and blind faith. Maybe we all need to make bigger jumps so that we can be part of finding a new normal.

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