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OPINION: Living in Interesting Times

By Billy Singleton/ Chilton County Chamber president

During a 1936 speech to the British Parliament, Sir Austen Chamberlin admonished his audience with the phrase, “May you live in interesting times!” Although this may sound like a blessing or warm wish, Chamberlin actually used the phrase to refer to a period of chaos and disorder.

The year 2020 will be remembered as one of the most interesting times in our history. For many, the promise of the New Year of 2021 has become a highly anticipated event, hopefully bringing with it an end to the pandemic that has devastated lives, impacted economies and significantly altered social behavior around the world.

Today, one of the most common themes included in conversations, newscasts and social media is the strong desire for a quick return to a normal way of life. Unfortunately, there is no magic switch to turn off the pandemic and immediately return our lives to a pre-virus normal. In fact, the legacy of COVID-19 will be a new definition of normal.

For example, as the people of the United States celebrated the arrival of the New Year in January 2020, no one could have imagined that designer protective masks would become one of the highest demand consumer items; that “social-distancing” would be a commonly used term in our vocabulary; or that a random sneeze in a crowded building would send people scurrying for the exits.

When the time comes for this pandemic to pass, and that day will arrive, it will be critically important for residents, businesses and industry to understand that the world will have been changed forever because crisis creates change. With the passage of only a few months, activities that were once considered out of the ordinary: virtual online meetings, distant-learning education systems and working from home have become and will continue to represent the new normal.

For retailers, the post-pandemic world will create many new challenges and opportunities. Even though the pandemic will eventually end, the memory of its effects will linger. Many customers will continue to be concerned about proper sanitizing in restaurants and places of business. Being visible in posting and complying with public health guidelines is one of the most effective means of reassuring customers that the business is concerned about their safety during the dining or shopping experience.

In the post-pandemic world, an online or social media presence will be vital to economic success. The capability of providing customers the opportunity to browse and purchase merchandise from home will create new demand within a previously underserved market. For high-risk customers, the availability of no-contact pick-up or delivery of purchases will further increase the potential market of a business.

Most important, for businesses to survive the new normal, innovation will be a necessity. Providing old services in new ways and creating new services to meet traditional needs will be keys to success. The Greek philosopher Plato wrote, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Anticipating the necessities of the marketplace and creating innovative solutions to meet those needs will be essential to surviving in the rapidly evolving post-pandemic environment.

Life during these interesting times will be what we make of it. For business and industry, the new reality in achieving success will require innovation, the ability to respond rapidly to changes in the marketplace and persistence. In developing these strengths, retailers, business and industry will be better prepared in the future when interesting times again descend upon us.