Rethink, Not Replicate

COVID-19 caused many things to change, but only those that were rethought will survive.


We should start to call COVID the Great Disrupter. It caused many things to change, ranging from how the industry has been tackling education, to supply chains, the ability to find products in stores, and the pricing and availability of materials, workers, and office space. I can’t see anyone fully trusting just-in-time supply chains anymore, even though they sometimes provided financial advantages. Anyone back to just-in-time buying of TP?

With change comes opportunity, and now the big question for companies that significantly benefited from the changes is whether they can maintain the advantage. Have they made their advancements sticky? Will we care about them anymore?

One of the obvious places to look are things like conference calls. Zoom has had the best 18 months in its existence, and it managed to get out beyond the pack even though it was not the first there.

Of course, there are lesson to be learned by the companies that were already there and failed to capitalize on it, but I am sure some of them have their business plans in place now. In another 18 months to 2 years, they should be ready to roll out the perfect product.

But the bigger question is, will we continue to use conference calls, or are people champing at the bit to go back to the way things were? How much value do we place on in-person conversations? If we revert, it means that the new technology failed to advance the basic concept by more than the perceived value of face-to-face contact. All they did was to provide an alternative enabling technology.

With conferences, an argument can be made that there was at least the potential for going beyond what could happen in person. It made them more flexible in that people could attend most sessions whenever they wanted, it was cheaper because there were no travel costs, and it was more efficient in terms of only being occupied for the total number of hours that were pertinent to you. It also made them more persistent, and they could implement new and different kinds of interactions.

While there is certainly a lot of value in networking and catching up with people you only see a couple of times a year at that type of event, most conference activities do not have the same reliance on face-to-face contact. Moreover, being able to pre-record stuff can mean that shy presenters can do a much better job.

Most conferences failed to capitalize on many of the possible advances because it was as much as they could handle to get the new technology to work.

I expect that for the next year or so, conference organizers will try and do both in parallel, but the online portion will gradually fade away for many of them because of the extra work. Having said that, this will create a new opportunity for some newcomers to now take the existing technology and develop new products from it. I hope we will see online conferences that fully exploit what is enabled by the technology rather than just try and emulate what existed before.

One of my articles this month looked at training and education. A lot of schools and universities were forced to do all of their work remotely rather than just the interaction pieces of it. Engineers can work from home in the same way they worked in their offices and closed the doors. Education has invested more time and effort into making it work. In addition, there are a lot of people who love to find a video to show them how to do something. On-demand learning may be a generational change, but again, it requires things to be rethought and not just replicated.

Out of disruption comes opportunity, and I’m excited to see what will happen next. How important do you think face-to-face contact is? What capabilities do you see missing in the platforms as they exist today? What would you like to see Conference 2.0 look like?

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