Scene: Narayana Health 2021 Annual Strategy Session: Getting Back to Business.
“What if this pandemic never goes away?” I ask a computer screen dotted with pixels somewhat resembling managers and doctors from across our network of hospitals. No response. Nine months into this pandemic and our videoconferencing skills were abortive at best.
“What if the world never goes back to normal, and this is what our future looks like?” I could sense the mood in the room shift a little, but still no response. I check the audio settings and curse the UX choices of the developers behind our videoconferencing app.
“How will our business thrive in a world permanently scarred by Covid-19?” I ask as loud as is possible in a professional setting.
A long silence and then someone helpfully chimes in, “Sir, we’re not able to follow you clearly.” Such a great example of failure to communicate strategic intent. Or maybe just audio issues.
The session did not go the way I had hoped it would. Everyone I spoke with maintained that the pandemic was almost over, and that business will get back to normal. I found this hard to believe. This rogue strand of RNA had already humbled the smartest people to ever face a television camera and brought the world economy to its knees. If there is a simple narrative, it would be that the coronavirus controls the world, and we need to do its bidding. The more nuanced narrative is that we will never wake up to a pre-Covid world, and we need to adapt our business to succeed in a new world order dominated by uncertainty. I was hoping we would come up with a better solution than copy-pasting the 2019 business plan for 2021 and hoping for the best.
Nobody knows for certain what this new world looks like, nor do they know how to succeed in that new world. But people like me are paid by their investors to predict the future and we need to have bold and confident strategies like ‘The Future is Digital’ or ‘We will SaaS our Blockchain on an Electric Cloud’. There is footage of me telling news channels quite confidently that masks are not necessary, the coronavirus will be contained to East Asia, and lockdowns will flatten the curve, so my credibility as a Covid expert is quite low. But I have a library full of books which use the words ‘disruptive innovation’ a lot, so I know exactly what companies that are nothing like mine did 30 years ago to survive in a country with a high ease-of-doing-business score. With the spirits of Harvard strategy professors whispering in my ear, my predictions for India’s future are: 1) Businesses will get disrupted; 2) People will still need health care; and 3) Magazine editors will still want Future of X articles from business leaders.
CUTTING-EDGE TECHNOLOGY HAS MADE IT POSSIBLE TO CURE DISEASES THAT WERE PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT INCURABLE
There are enough beneficiaries of today’s technology industry singing paeans to the benefits of technological innovation, but none from the past. I have sourced some of my favourite historical quotes on the topic:
“Why is that hairless ape carrying a stick twice his size?” Last thoughts of the first woolly mammoth to meet the pointy end of a spear.
“These printed Bibles sure seem to be getting popular. Should we ban them?” Pope Leo X, right before the Protestant Reformation.
“What do you mean the ghost people are carrying metal tubes that spit lightning and thunder?” Montezuma, last Emperor of the Aztecs.
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