As fireworks lit up the night sky on the 31 December 2019, as we hugged loved ones, families and friends, as the sound of joy and happiness rang through the streets, we ushered in 2020. There was so much hope and optimism for what the new year was to bring. My personal new year’s social media message was the hope that 2020 lives up to its name and provides clarity in vision and purpose.
Reflecting on the year gone by and considering my new year’s wish, I believe that some sense of clarity of vision is precisely what 2020 brought. It made clear to the world that the way we’ve been treating the earth, not only mother nature itself but also the people living on this big rock, is not sustainable. It exposed the discrepancies in inequality. It showed us, not only the promise of technology, with progressive companies that embraced digital technologies, not having skipped a beat in transitioning to “Work from home”, but it also highlighted that we have so much to do to bring technology to the poor and marginalised. The future is here; it’s just unevenly distributed.
I remember, at the onset of the pandemic, and when lockdown had just kicked in, you may recall, the rule at the time was not to wear a mask, not because the masks did not work, but because, as a nation, we didn’t have enough to go around. The World Health Organization wanted to prioritise the production of masks for use by our frontline workers.
I went to the supermarket and had a brief chat with a lady packing the shelves. She was fearful that she did not have a mask, especially since she had a co-morbidity, that being diabetes. At the time, the supermarket expected her to come to work; however, they were not willing to provide her with a mask. Her anguish was exacerbated by the fact that the tellers all had masks and face shields that were provided by the company, however, because she was just a packer, she was treated differently.
She too was a frontline worker. Someone that, despite her worries and concerns about the virus, and her risk, still came to work, in part, because there was no other choice.
Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek economist who served as minister of finance in Greece, during the height of the Greek economic crisis, in his latest book, Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternate Present, writes, “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world.”
A key concept in Agile is the notion of “pivoting”. A few people I have spoken to over the years have alluded to the fact that they don’t like the word “pivot”. For me, pivoting is instrumental for agility and having the ability to adapt. To “pivot” is to look at the situation and based on the assessment to date, to decide to change course. It is to not only make the decision but also to make a concerted effort to take a different direction.
Pivoting is by no means an easy feat, especially if precious time, effort and resources are put in to build something with the belief that it will make a difference. There does, however, come a time, where pivoting is necessary. There is impermanence to everything. Impermanence does not only mean finality; it also implies progression. If things did not change, we would not have progression. Old things need to die to make space for the new.
That brings me to the title of this blog. We are at a pivotal time. Many of us have been caterpillars, consuming from this earth. A caterpillar’s only job is to eat, grow and to consume as much as possible. However, a caterpillar eventually goes into a cacoon where it goes through the process of metamorphosis, turning into a butterfly. The butterfly not only beautifies the planet but also visits a variety of flowers, and helps pollinate our world.
Suppose we change the context of lockdown to reflect instead, the narrative that we were cocooned in our homes. We can look forward with a renewed sense of optimism and hope. We can strive to make a difference.
The pandemic is far from over, and we haven’t even yet started to consider the many other challenges facing us as a society, challenges such as climate change, inequality, poverty, health and justice for all. As a human race, we have a long way to go. However, if we consider this pivotal moment in history, we have a choice. We can choose which direction to take. We can choose a path where we work towards an imagined future, where, as a society, we strip away the veneer of greed and short-termism to reveal the prospect of a more sustainable and equitable future for all.