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Back to the future

The Survivor Tree
Does a pear tree that survived 9/11 hold the key to the future of business?

By Graeme Gordon, Praxity Executive Director

With global recession looming, what we can learn from past events to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic? How will business evolve?

Many are casting back to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, or even further back to the Spanish Flu of 1919, for clues. I think a better analogy is the 9th of September 2001, aka 9/11. That was a day when the world certainly changed. And, whilst not as sudden, there is another just as dramatic change underway again now.

Just before 9/11, the NATO countries had been ‘fighting’ against Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and supporting the Taliban. The Western European countries had always expected the USA to come to their aid. Not the other way around. Much changed. It created a ‘new norm’.

Similarly, much has changed, and continues to change, as a result of Covid-19 and I’m not just talking about the length of my hair while barbers are closed in the UK.

We need to think about and prepare for the Covid-related new-norm which will inevitably occur.

Take business travel, for example. Virtually no one can travel on business at the moment, so they have found other ways of getting the work done. Many are finding these methods just as effective, if not more so, and significantly less expensive. So, I fully expect these forms of communications to be the new norm of business post-Covid.

Teams who are in lockdown no longer have the coffee machine or water cooler to gather round and chat, but suddenly everyone is a Zoom expert or uses Microsoft Teams or similar technology. The chats still happen, and yet productivity does not suffer, and sometimes even increases.


The Survivor Tree

Which brings me back to 9/11, and specifically to one aspect not many know about: the Survivor Tree.

This tree, known as a Caller Pear Tree, was discovered in the rubble of Ground Zero, still alive. Despite having so much of the twin towers fall on it, smooth limbs grew from the remaining tree to regenerate the tree and to blossom. It is now part of the 9/11 Memorial. Arguably stronger, certainly more visible, than before, in a totally restructured World Trade plaza.

And this remarkable transformation, I would argue, is what the new norm will look like as we emerge from the pandemic.

We will have many new ways of communicating and of working. I doubt many of us will want to, or be able to, work at the same desk in the same corporate office for 8 or 9 hours a day. Some may wish to return to the office environment, and even prefer it to working from home, but will other people want to come and visit if they can achieve the same results via Zoom?

I believe that those who just want to return to the pre-Covid ways of working, are in for a nasty surprise. The world of work, and the world in general, has changed and further significant changes are likely as we adjust to the impact of the pandemic. Those who do not accept and embrace these changes, will not survive in business.

However, there is one obvious exception to the rule: face-to-face networking. Meeting people in this way will not die, it will simply evolve. Personally, instead of ten or 12 international face-to-face meetings a year, I can envisage having three or four main meetings together with training and development to make each trip more worthwhile. 

As we look towards 2021 and beyond, the business model will change beyond recognition, but networking will be the Survival Tree of C-19. I look forward to the next blossom.