The COVID-19 Paradigm Shift—From Values To Careers To Whole Economies

The 1918 pandemic. The Great Depression. World War II. September 11, 2001. COVID-19. Paradigm shifts come along maybe once in a generation. They create a profound realignment across the globe, across industries, across economies and across populations.

As the famed physicist Thomas Kuhn defined it in his seminal 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, “Paradigm shifts arise when the dominant paradigm under which normal science operates is rendered incompatible with new phenomena, facilitating the adoption of a new theory or paradigm.” As a physicist, Thomas Kuhn applied the term to science, but his definition now applies to any established system, whether scientific, governmental, socio-economic or way of thinking. 

COVID-19 is creating a paradigm shift that is realigning every system in every industry across the global at once – in an instant.

This 21st century pandemic is forcing us to redefine what and who we value, how we govern, whose opinions we listen to, how we view facts and science, and even our relationships. Much of society used to focus on status, power, wealth and celebrity. Then came COVID-19.

Our 21st century tools and technologies that seem to work miracles and make us feel invincible and powerful, are practically defenseless in the face of COVID-19. We are left with only the primitive weapons of cloth masks and keeping our distance.

We are accustomed to seeing our foes, hearing approaching danger, sensing something wrong, running to safety in the arms of a beloved. Then came COVID-19 – invisible, undetectable by any human senses. And, we may not be safe running into the arms of that beloved – or they may not be safe with us because we may be an unwitting carrier – for the moment.

Here are specific ways I see COVID-19 creating a major paradigm shift:

1. Competition?: Competitors were in their corners, battling out for marketshare or geopolitical power and dominance. Then came COVID-19. Strongmen turn out to be the frail figure of Oz behind the curtain unable to govern or inspire greatness.  Competitors, from countries to companies, are coming together to literally save our lives as never before.  Borders and boundaries that were previously impermeable are suddenly fungible and processes that were etched in stone are suddenly made of clay. 

We feel how dependent we are on each other.  People across the planet have shown we can come together to solve the world’s most intractable problems when we want to – even when our governments seem way out gunned by COVID-19. 

Will climate change be the next challenge we embrace together, now that we can see the clear skies and waters again with greater appreciation?

2. Resource constraints?: “There is enough.” As Buckminster Fuller, futurist, famed architect, and creator of the geodesic dome said, there is enough of every resource for everyone on the planet; it’s just a matter of distribution. We are experiencing that now, watching sharing be taken to an entirely new level to manage COVID-19. 

As countries share ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) to save lives today, we see Fuller’s vision in real time. 

3.“Essential”: Where we once dismissed people who bag our groceries, or drive our kids’ school buses, for example, now we realize they are “essential workers.” Where once we “needed” to go out to dinner, to meet with a client or prospect, now we realize we can accomplish what we need to virtually.  We miss seeing people in person, and we will again soon enough, but we are learning to create connection in other meaningful ways.

4. Authenticity: With literally everyone working from home and only “seeing” each other on Zoom or Skype, how we look, what we wear, and the usual vanity concerns are out the window. Everyone is more authentic. Everyone is struggling in their own way through this pandemic and it’s humanizing, equalizing.

5. Leadership and management: The way women lead was (still) being undervalued and dismissed as “too soft” or second-rate in many powerful circles. Women’s rights were being chipped away at one-by-one by legislation and oppressive cultural mores were returning. Then came COVID-19.

The leadership and management that are proving most effective in this crisis – collaboration, resourcefulness, communication, listening, building coalitions of diverse points of view and expertise, transparency – has historically been associated with how women lead.   The world leaders who have been most effective have either been women, such as the Prime Minister of New Zealand, or are men taking a page from this leadership model, such as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The creator of the COVID-19 tracker that keeps the world abreast of its impact is a woman, Lauren Gardner, co-director of Hopkins’s Center for Civil and Systems Engineering, and all their divisions involved in this vital resource are led by women: epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo, senior data scientist Tamara Goyea, and Beth Bauer, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Centers for Civic Impact.

Women are the majority force in the healthcare battalions keeping us and our loved ones alive and giving comfort to those who lose their battles in our absence. Women are homeschooling their kids even while they work from home, or try to replace a job lost to the economic shutdown.   

There are many more shifts occurring from COVID-19 – from a greater appreciation for nature, to more kindness and compassion, a clearer sense of how we spend our time, to careers and businesses.

With so many thought processes, systems, habits and ways of thinking about and valuing things upended, we are indeed in the midst of a profound paradigm shift. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. Everything seems in flux. That’s what paradigm shifts do. My good friend Doria Cordova, CEO of Excellerated Business Schools for Entrepreneurs, says this triggers fear, “that fear can be handled in different ways,” and offers valuable counsel on how to cope with this combination of internal and external disruption in this video.

Hold on and we’ll see where this magic carpet lands.

Let’s hope we emerge from COVID-19 closer to Fuller’s vision to: “Make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”

Forbes