The Mother of Invention: Where Will 2020 Take Us Next?
Albert Einstein once said that “Necessity is the mother of all invention.” I wonder what Albert Einstein would have said about COVID-19? Whatever his thoughts, this virus certainly has created plenty of necessity. From basic PPE for our frontline workers to relief aid for a national unemployment crisis, there is an unavoidable urgency in almost all areas of day-to-day life. In this vacuum, we’ve found a variety of ways to adapt. We’ve come to terms with the fact that “imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery,” but it’s not always a worthy substitute. (Yes, I miss my hairdresser too!) We’ve become expert telecommuters, homeschoolers, and toilet paper aficionados. We’ve organized our houses, brushed up on our cooking skills, navigated the finer points of cabin fever, and mobilized to meet community needs in creative and awe-inspiring ways. Yes, necessity has propelled us into uncharted territory, but what comes next?
While cities throughout the country are making the bold proclamation that they’re open for business, it’s ludicrous not to acknowledge that we still have a few unresolved roadblocks before we can claim true normalcy. As we all know, COVID-19 still doesn’t have a cure, reputable treatment, or a nationwide flattened curve. We don’t even know enough about the virus to guarantee that once we’ve contracted COVID-19, we’ll never contract it again (Hello, Flu Season!). The flawed model of “stay home if you’re sick or have a fever” doesn’t consider the number of a-symptomatic carriers that might ride public transit or visit local restaurants. The truth is, there are more unanswered questions about our public safety than there are milestones. Which brings me to a laymen’s vision or musing about what things might look like in the future—beginning with a shift in fashion trends.
This week, I ventured out of the house to support a local small business. When the waitress, who usually provides tableside, instead of car-side service, approached with my order, she said: “I love your mask.” The statement conjured a vision of Hollywood transformed by a coronavirus. The standard red-carpet question: “Who are you wearing?” no longer requires actors to reveal information about who created their suits or designed their custom jewelry. No, the question everyone will ask is: “Who made your mask?” A-list designers like Versace, McCartney, and Siriano will all create masterpieces on five-inches of cloth, and I’ll be on my couch in awe of their talent. These new creations will be combined with the return of 1940’s opera gloves or the bold combo of evening wear with edgy motorcycle gloves. Fashionable, healthy, and civic-minded—there’s nothing Hollywood does better. Their willingness to adapt and embrace these essential PPE opportunities is needed more than ever as a growing number of leaders across multiple arenas have failed to lead by example at such a critical time.
The TV and film industry won’t be the only ones to experience this upheaval in essential accessories. As school resumes in the Fall, masks will undoubtedly be added to back-to-school shopping lists, required materials requested from teachers, and don’t be surprised if grandparents forfeit the usual socks in the stocking for an array of face masks and other PPE. This new trend leads me to my next musing—the nuances of non-verbal communication.
Two weeks ago, I went to the grocery store armed with my version of PPE – gloves, facemask, and sunglasses. All my simple vanities like nail polish and mascara obscured in favor of protecting loved ones and strangers alike—not to mention my own health. While I was in the store, I dropped my shopping list. A man behind me called out my loss from his end of the aisle. The stranger had turned his back before I remembered he couldn’t see my non-verbal expressions of appreciation with my face concealed.
The encounter served as another reminder of how deeply this virus has penetrated our reality and how much I rely on non-verbal forms of expression. The raised eyebrow, the coy smile, the firm handshake, the bright eyes that tell the world around us that we’re not afraid or offended by their approach—all of them have been erased in favor of the necessity of health and safety. This has presented a unique problem for those of us in the sales industry since non-verbal forms of communication is half the sales pitch. While
I’m learning to adapt my approach on the business front, I miss the days when I could pass someone on the street or see them across the room, and for just a moment, share an eternity of possibilities with them.
While this non-verbal barrier is in place, what will the future look like under PPE? Will we all start tucking our hair behind our ears to highlight the coyness and interest we usually left up to our lips and eyes to express? Will we find the boldness to talk to the stranger we could never have approached in the past? Will someone create a new, technological way to allow us to express ourselves without words? I’ve relied heavily on Zoom since this crisis began, but I wonder if the next milestone for staying connected during a pandemic is “virtual” reality—all the expression and “physical” contact, but none of the germs. It might sound far-fetched, but then again, we all use super-computers that fit in the palm of our hand.
There is one final musing, if I may be so bold—
As I mentioned in a previous post, COVID-19 has highlighted our ability to transform our lives and businesses, without the protracted excuses that hindered us in the past. One such issue that could benefit as a result of COVID-19 is the need for smaller classroom sizes. For years, our students and teachers have suffered under the weight of overcrowded classrooms. The need for social-distancing could be the answer to our struggles. The required 6 ft. separation could create a host of opportunities for restructuring the way we teach and engage in the classroom setting. While I know many parents, who are overwhelmed by the sudden transition to telecommuting education, there may be a middle ground to keeping students safe, classes small, and parents sane. Like most problems in business and in life, we run into issues when we use “we’ve always done it this way” as the excuse for not stepping outside of our comfort zone. In fact, “we’ve always done it this way” are usually the last six words we hear before we ship a business off to the funeral parlor. We can’t afford those to be the last six words we hear about public school education. Our children’s health and their future depend on it.
Wherever 2020 takes us next, I know we still have a lot of unanswered questions on our way back to “normal.” I know there will be surprises and setbacks, but most of all, I know that somewhere out there is a person or company whose innovation will be just the thing we need. The only question left to answer is, will we take the leap and create it?