If it feels to you like we’re currently living in a new world with a new version of the future than we envisioned three years ago, you’re not alone … and I think you’re right.
To put it mildly, many things have changed since January 2020 and those changes are propelling us toward new versions of the future. And that’s what makes the study of the future so interesting. The future is constantly evolving; we can’t have certainty about it until we get there.
First a Word on Risks
In the course of our two-year experience with Covid, one thing we’ve learned, or hopefully are in the process of learning, is that there are no risk-free paths to the future. Our journey is one of risk mitigation, not risk elimination.
According to Canadian psychologist and best-selling author Jordan Peteson, “There are no risk-free paths forward. There is only one risk, or another. Pick your poison: that’s the choice life often offers.”
Covid certainly reinforced the lesson of balancing risks – risks related to vaccines themselves, risks related to passing the virus to a susceptible person, risks of remaining unvaccinated, risks to mental health from isolation, and risks to educational development due to extended school-from-home arrangements. I could go on.
In addition to granting us this lesson about minimizing and balancing risks, Covid has triggered some unintended or at least unforeseen consequences, and the list is growing. You can attribute some to the pandemic itself, and in other cases our actions to minimize the impact of the pandemic unexpectedly produced other areas of risk or hardship.
With that said, here are some of the most significant unintended consequences from Covid that are defining our path to the future:
1. The Supply Chain Crisis
Many factors are contributing to the current supply chain crisis and product shortages. Covid-induced labor shortages and transportation bottlenecks are the two most critical.
When will supply catch up with demand? Not for several years. And rest assured, it will be a generation or more until business owners have the courage to revert to some of the pre-pandemic models like Lean Manufacturing and Just-In-Time inventory management.
In the meantime, the globalization of our economy will take a giant step backwards as business owners realize that foreign sourcing materials and goods makes them susceptible to geopolitical conflicts, port backups, weather events, and massive cargo ships blocking the Suez Canal. However, we won’t be able to locally source some critical inputs like semiconductors with a snap of the finger. These will happen over an extended period of time.
2. The Great Resignation
Late last year we explored root causes and implications of the so-called Great Resignation – the tens of millions of Americans leaving their jobs in the past two years and the troubling situation of simultaneous low unemployment and high job vacancies.
In hindsight, I would add more future implications of the Great Resignation to that list. Employees and labor unions have enhanced clout that may last for generations. To that end, some observers have recast the Great Resignation as the “Great Renegotiation.”
We’ve all seen organized labor’s recent successes with worker strikes at companies like Starbucks, John Deere, and Kroger. Beyond that, there are non-working people holding out – on strike as it were – for the better jobs and better wages they’re confident they’ll find very soon as labor continues to evolve through this transition.
3. K-12 Education Crisis
The Covid-induced situation that probably concerns many people the most is the K-12 education crisis, resulting in several lost years of education for our K-12 students. Yes, the super motivated students with vigilant parents might not be harmed in the long run. But few family situations afforded the resources, time, and fortitude to maintain a high level of self-learning for their kids who were more used to using computers and phones for games, not STEM classes.
Unfortunately, we’ll see an even more rapid decline in the STEM skills of young people in our country. Over the long run this will be to the detriment of these students – especially those from lower-income or recently immigrated families – and the economic strength of the nation.
In the long run, we’ll also see the impacts of stunted emotional development and interpersonal skills with this generation of children. For two years or more, they haven’t been able to have carefree interactions with their peers or benefitted from the institutional discipline of a controlled, in-person learning environment.