While it’s true the world is facing an exponential health, social and economic crisis, it is also showing our outstanding resilience. We meet Nicolas Bouzou, economist and professor for the MBA Law & Management programme at Paris II-Assas, and Laurent Bibard, philosopher, sociologist and head of the Edgar Morin Chair on complexity at ESSEC Business School.
The health crisis has been compounded by an economic and social crisis along with increased unemployment, insecurity and poverty. What are the conditions for an inclusive recovery?
Nicolas Bouzou – We’re experiencing the worst health crisis for 100 years, and the worst economic and social crisis for 80 years. Unlike “classic” economic crises, the way out of this one primarily relies on health solutions. It’s difficult to make predictions since everything depends on the behaviour of the virus and vaccine policies. However, the public measures deployed in France to help the most affected sectors – tourism, culture, food etc – provide essential support and are bearing good results. In 2020, the bankruptcy rate actually dropped by 25% compared to 2019! After previous crises, “life instinct” tends to take over and boost the economy: people want to get back to their previous lives. This is the famous “whatever the cost”: adapting the economy to immediate needs in order to recover quicker.
Laurent Bibard – On the other hand, the most vulnerable people risk disappearing from the radar. Before being an economic problem, poverty is a social problem: and lack of relationships. The poorest are “invisible” and must be given the means to fit into our new world in the strongest sense, creating all the links necessary. This involves education, for example giving young people the means to express themselves and joining together in solidarity.
Remote working, digitisation and the health crisis have fundamentally disrupted ways of working and accelerated changes that were already underway. Do you think these are long-term changes? What’s your vision for companies and management in the future?
N. B. – The crisis has resulted in an extraordinary requirement for many companies to modernise and adopt new working methods. Teleworking is one way for businesses to grow towards a management model based on authority: giving work more meaning and employees more autonomy.
L. B. – Managers have to avoid two traps: the first is the optimism/pessimism duality. We can’t predict the future, so the only thing we can do is be confident or not about the things we already know or can invent. Uncertainty about what lies ahead means opening our minds to a whole range of possibilities, discussions and questions. The second trap lies in the prevailing culture of control that we often see in companies and that is counterproductive. Instead, managers should promote resilience within their teams by granting greater autonomy and freedom to improvise like artists when necessary. We saw during this crisis that it is the most agile companies who can adapt the most – we must readjust what we already know to respond in new ways.
Uncertainty about what lies ahead means opening our minds to a whole range of possibilities, discussions and questions.
What lever(s) can be used to transform the lessons we’ve learned from a forced and long-lasting crisis into new, positively accepted ways of working?
N. B. – Distinguish between the restrictions brought about by the crisis and what a company can do in response. The example of remote working holds many lessons. The full teleworking model imposed in certain sectors offered benefits but also limits. Not all employees want to work from home. It will therefore be necessary to make it optional at the end of the crisis and, if possible, limit it to a few days a week in order to keep face-to-face contact and social relationships going. While teleworking may be good for tasks that require individual concentration, it makes interacting in meetings more difficult.
L. B. – When we think we have all the answers, we’re no longer open to learning. The unknown is frightening but it also brings opportunity. Our best asset is to trust in our ability to improvise as our healthcare workers have shown so brilliantly during the first phase of the crisis. We all have considerable and varied skills, which we forget we have, but when faced with unknown problems, can still be drawn on and become great assets if we’re careful. We must be open to dealing with the unknown: it strengthens our chances of success.
Let’s talk about individual reactions: the crisis has shone a light on our capacity for resistance and obedience. What behaviours does our society need to adopt to be more resilient?
L. B. – We never know what we’re capable of, for good or bad. We have to walk the line between overconfidence and humility. The current crisis is radical but you have to realise the world is in crisis all the time! We still need to be joyful, upbeat and happy, knowing how to make the most of the circumstances in front of us. Our first duty is to do everything to be happy, because then we can spread happiness around us. We also urgently need education so that the equality we demand becomes a living reality.
N. B. – Everyone needs to be aware of reality and not resort to ideological theories given the current context. Those suspicious of China point to the “Chinese virus” for example. The crisis has also shown we can be united, whether between members of the same team at work or in terms of government commitments to help the most disadvantaged populations. Courage is also essential in this crisis. And finally trust and belief you can make things better. Trust is a duty, especially when it comes to the youngest.
Nicolas Bouzou © Juliette Bouzou
The crisis has also shown we can be united, whether between members of the same team at work or in terms of government commitments to help the most disadvantaged populations.
More on this topic (in French)
La comédie (in)humaine – Pourquoi les entreprises font fuir les meilleurs, Nicolas Bouzou et Julia de Funès, Les Editions de l’Observatoire, 2018
Complexité et organisations – Faire face aux défis de demain, Laurent Bibard, Edgar Morin et l’ESSEC, Eyrolles, 2018