Unite in times of uncertainty

How the corona crisis can become a blueprint for future cooperation. Article by Tobias Rappers.

article | 23.04.2020

The COVID-19 crisis is an unprecedented situation for us. It hit us completely unexpectedly. We lack blueprints to fall back on. Decisions have to be made under great uncertainty because the effects of the crisis are multi-layered and complex. It is therefore hardly possible to decide on the one right path. All we know is that we have to prepare ourselves for a new way of life, both in societal and economic terms: The New Normal. This also poses major challenges for many family and medium-sized companies, the backbone of the German economy.

The corona pandemic breaks with existing habits and routines - and therein lies a great opportunity

As challenging as the current situation is – one can also see that it is making us rethink and act more courageously, giving us new perspectives. Old patterns of behaviour are being shaken by the radical changes in our environment. Prior to Corona, we found it difficult to join forces to tackle major collective challenges such as digitalisation or the most pressing problems such as global climate change. But now, it seems, Corona could be a "pivotal moment" for us – unexpected, but teaching us that collective action really is powerful and can easily lead to fast results. Openness, networking and agility are the imperatives of the hour, which manifest themselves on various levels and can serve as blueprints for all sorts of other challenges:

We pursue the same vision and make common cause. With the virus being the common enemy that affects us all it unites us in a single goal: to halt its spread, to find a cure and to return to normality in order to mitigate the social and economic repercussions as far as possible. Together we are pursuing a focused agenda, boosting cooperation and collaboration.

We design continuous and open learning processes. No matter whether it's the federal government, companies or experts: nobody can proclaim to know the truth ex cathedra or the golden path to solving the crisis. Instead, we admit to open learning processes, share them and thus accelerate collective knowledge. That way we create clarity in uncertain times and reduce the risk of setting the wrong course in a still volatile context.

We obtain different expert opinions. Instead of listening to one's own feelings, ego or the loudest voices in the public discussion, we build on the knowledge of experts and the experiences of those affected. We listen to and exchange ideas with countries that were affected earlier by the virus. It is these first-hand experiences that show us what could work and what not. It is the best knowledge we have.

We join forces. Companies help each other out and work together for the production of scarce medical material. Initiatives such as "We vs. Virus" under the patronage of the head of the Chancellery, Helge Braun, and initiated by organizations such as “4Germany” or “ProjectTogether” activate over 50.000 people. Skills, knowledge, infrastructures and resources are all bundled together at once. We are fighting together, instead of each of us fighting alone.

We are brave, but we drive “by sight”. We make bold, sometimes unpleasant decisions. There is no master plan that promises 100% safety. We learn through practical implementation. We try to make the success of selected actions measurable and share experience. In doing so, we take small steps. We drive “by sight” and adapt the course consistently rather than doing nothing.

We remain lively and innovative. In many areas our life has come to a standstill. In most industries sales have collapsed. Companies had to react accordingly and were forced to adapt their processes or even business models and sales channels almost overnight. For many, the situation is dramatic and, although in most cases this cannot compensate for declining sales, it does illustrate the creative power that lies within us.

Unity in diversity is our strength - and that of the German Mittelstand

That all shows us that we need the courage and strength of all to solve the most pressing problems of our time. Joining diverse experiences and knowledge to tackle a challenge we are all facing at the same time is the key to success. This is exactly what many family and medium-sized companies are demonstrating at the moment. As the backbone of the German economy and its most important employer, they have to become the driver of innovation and the pace-setter of a new era – post Corona.

The last few weeks have made me feel confident and have impressed me a lot. During my work at Maschinenraum, a shared innovation platform for German medium-sized companies, I experience first-hand every day how family and medium-sized companies support each other and put themselves at the service of society: Melitta produces millions of protective masks instead of coffee filters. Viessmann uses its know-how to produce modular intensive care units. Mast Jägermeister is using alcohol for disinfectants instead of herbal liqueur, and the Schauer company now produces protective goggles in addition to plastic parts for cars. And these are just a few examples which, among other things, also show how important medium-sized companies are for Germany.

At the same time, however, at Maschinenraum we see how important mutual exchange is and how big the uncertainty is. There is no easy answer to questions such as "Which technologies or formats help with digital employee communication?", "How do I organize remote work in practical terms?" or "What are the hypotheses for the post-Corona era and what are the possible opportunities?". In video conferences and virtual workshops with different medium-sized companies we notice that it is easier to find answers together, collectively.

We should see the time Post-Corona as an opportunity to reprogram our autopilot

As a society we have been able to learn a lot in the last few weeks: For example, the value of what we have and how easy it is to lose it all. But we have also learned that with courage, solidarity and the willingness to walk new paths, we can train ourselves to adopt new behaviors and thus reprogram our autopilot. We are all in the same boat. We live on one planet. We all have more or less the same problems. We must not forget that after Corona.

Because even if you hear from many corners that the world will be a different one after we manage to fight the virus, I am not quite sure how to prevent society from falling back into old patterns. I hope that we will be able to apply the new behavioral repertoire to other complex challenges such as digitalisation or global problems like climate change. But above all, I hope that small and medium-sized enterprises – the backbone of the German economy – will be the pace-setters of this change and shape it proactively. And once again place themselves at the service of society.

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