We took the leap, and everything changed.

The Leap

On the 23rd of March 2020, the world ended.

“Go home,” the message came. “Stay safe.”

Soon nearly everyone, everywhere within the developed world found themselves at home, all day long.  Day after day. Waiting for the first massive and deadly wave of the COVID-19 pandemic to pass.

Days became weeks.  Weeks drew out into months.  The wave crested and subsided. By early June it appeared safe enough to risk an occasional encounter with other people. Restrictions eased. People left their homes.

To find that the world had changed.

Across the ten weeks from the end of March through the start of June in 2020, the world saw more change than in the previous half-century. In some ways, more than it had seen in well over a century.

On the surface, everything looked the same: the same cities, buildings, cars and all of the physical infrastructure of civilisation remained.

But this change had almost nothing to do with the physical basis of culture.

People had changed.

Only when we lose something we’ve always had do we really see it. Ten weeks indoors, away from others, had given all of us a longing for physical connection, allowing us to apprehend its true value.

In the absence of physical presence, we spent ten weeks learning how to get the most from the enormous wealth of technology that we’ve acquired over the last decade: smartphones, high-speed networks, cloud-based software services, and much else besides. We could not touch, but we could connect. 

And connect we did: not quite effortlessly, far from automatically, but enough to forestall a sudden “hard stop” – and with increasing confidence. Predictions of economic armageddon proved wildly overstated. In large part, business carried on as it had before the pandemic. In many cases, without so much as skipping a beat.

In the moment, people focused solely on keeping things running as smoothly as possible. An almost unknown esprit de corps pervaded many workplaces, as teams worked nearly round-the-clock to ensure that infrastructure kept organisations connected, processes operational, and customers satisfied. 

No one expected it to work as well as it did. Instead of an economy predicted to be ‘dead in the water’, requiring an extensive ‘restart’ of basic economic processes, business carried on in a continuity – with a few bumps along the way.

In those first weeks, it all felt very exciting. So much news came our way every day that our perception of time warped. Days felt like weeks, and weeks like months. It became difficult to remember the day of the week in the absence of the regular patterns of commuting and working and leisure.

Time stretched on, and something that not long before felt terrifically novel acquired the stale air of the ‘new normal’. Everything we learned about how to work across those ten weeks somehow ended up as Standard Operating Procedure.

When we came out of hiding, we ourselves had changed beyond all recognition. We had spent so long by ourselves practicing these new skills that they’d become almost automatic behaviors. And not just for ourselves, but for our teams, our organizations – and our homes, our families, and our lives.

We gained a lot in those ten weeks – or rather, learned that we already had capacities that we’d never put to use. Because we never needed them.

Using those capacities changed us. We’ll never forget that we learned we can choose to do things differently. That we did things differently.

Doing things differently for ten weeks created a sharp, deep division in our understanding, from the time before – ‘pre-pandemic’ – to the time after.