FCAT RESEARCH
Adaptation and Resilience: Signals from COVID-19 that Matter
By: MEGAN KELLEY | MARCH 24, 2021
Over the past twelve months, we have collectively experienced a massive disruption triggered by a tiny pathogen. And in the face of virus-prompted changes, we’ve each had to adapt—as parents of new
online-learners to leaders of teams, businesses, and nations. As the pandemic plays out, we see three areas where meaningful adaptations have taken hold.
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Space - New conditions or environments: Most of the knowledge workers in this country shifted from their daily commute to logging on from home overnight. School districts purchased, planned for, and transitioned to online learning platforms in a matter of weeks. Instead of lunch meetings and handshakes, business teams pivoted to video and experimented with audio chatrooms and video avatars. Instead of playing sports, we saw people of all ages playing Fortnite or Animal Crossing together. While physical spaces felt constrained, the digital and synthetic world was abuzz: we’ve seen digital currency exploration moving forward; progress in synthetic organ generation to test vaccines; and pilots of electronic market simulations running on quantum architecture.

Acceleration - New pace and traction: While some of the emerging themes we track seem to have been suspended in time – others have taken off in this new environment. In healthcare, ten years to develop a vaccine has been compressed to ten months. A decades-long discussion about going paperless and the requirements for wet signature and in-person notarization changed tone immediately – progress toward efficiencies there will not backtrack.

Awareness - Newly exposed frailty points: Anyone who has debated the safety of going to the grocery store or attending a family gathering this year has gone through the process of risk assessment. Heightened awareness of risk in the atmosphere exercises an investor mindset: analyzing and weighing pros and cons of the long-term, potentially societal, implications of an individual choice. How does one decision to travel or not affect the general public health? How does one hiring decision add to a social narrative of inclusion? Our collective experience has also broadened awareness of who is not thriving or even included in our system: the precarious state of millions of small businesses and individual Americans’ finances came to life in vivid relief this year.

It is too early to make calls on which of these pandemic-prompted adaptations will persist, but we know that some COVID-prompted adaptations will be shedding in society for years beyond the virus itself. How will physical settings newly enhance or restrict our ability to innovate: from corporate real estate to the Earth’s environment? Could our freshly exercised risk-assessment muscles change perspectives on long-term planning? The work of exploring these questions and identifying the seismic shifts in technology, society, and emerging businesses is now more important than ever.

Megan Kelley is FCAT’s Head of Research

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