Students from EADA Sustainability Club have been speaking to a range of professors and experts from the EADA community to discuss how we can learn about COVID-19 and the implications are for sustainability and business. In this interview, we talked to Associate Dean Jordi Díaz, who shared his views about changes in consumption and the “new normal” post-pandemic.
Jordi Diaz, Associate Dean of Programmes at EADA Business School, has a background in Human Resources, with an interest in disruptive innovation strategy (the focus of his doctoral studies) and authentic leadership development (Harvard Business School). Diaz first joined EADA in 2002 as Director of International Programmes, and has since vastly expanded EADA’s institutional design and programme portfolio and established global outreach programmes.
Diaz’s work stretches beyond the borders of EADA. He has served as the Chair of the Executive MBA Council in the U.S. and he was selected to participate in EPAS (European Programme Accreditation) in 2014. He was also appointed Director of the EFMD Global Network in 2017. During our interview, we discuss the effect of COVID-19 on emerging innovation paradigms, consumer perceptions, the SDGs, and the “new normal” of the future.
“Back-to-basics” mindsets bring consumption into the home
COVID-19 has abruptly expanded digital services, e-commerce, and domestic lifestyle consumption to reach consumers that were previously tied to their offline consumption habits. Diaz explains that consumption habits such as e-commerce have been disproportionately accelerated, which he foresees to last even post-COVID. Similarly, at-home lifestyles and “back-to-basics” approaches, incited by COVID-19 and consequential lockdown restrictions, are predicted to become of unique economic and accessible value to consumers. Inevitably, this will drive consumption into the home. This includes telemedicine, education, cooking, home workouts and sports, and remote working, which Diaz highlights as the big winner of this crisis.
Accelerating what existed before
Diaz predicts accelerations of other movements and trends that were already underway. The transition in consumer behaviour towards in-home consumption will trigger the necessity for an accelerated innovative mindset. Companies stepping up to support healthcare sectors need to realise that the production lines of health and hygiene products that are in high demand at the moment such as face masks, will not secure their position in the market once the imminent threat of the virus passes. Thus, this crisis presents a profound need for future thinking; an innovative mindset that is able to accurately anticipate and respond to the industry’s new normal – whatever “normal” that may be.
Following the momentum of innovation and funnelling it into a sustainable action can lead to heightened business consciousness. Diaz sees the role of business in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals as playing an ever-important role in executive decision-making, again expedited by COVID-19. Due to the unprecedented effects of COVID-19 on the longevity of businesses –some of which are yet to disclose themselves– corporations far and wide will be pushed to centralise efforts in support of the SDGs. While these guidelines existed pre-health crisis, the SDGs have now become acutely relevant due to the change in the immediate context. Diaz describes the COVID-context as the “perfect context” to accelerate the adaptation of the SDGs into corporate agendas and strategies around the world.
A return to “good enough” alternatives
A disruptive innovation mindset, by definition, exists within most basic features. Given the economic and resource constraints we are facing, Diaz predicts that frugal solutions will become more important than ever. In the current state of fear and anxiety, decisionmakers across the globe are being challenged to find basic, cost-effective solutions for driving innovation towards alternatives that are “good enough”.
In line with the “back-to-basics” approach detailed earlier, Diaz predicts that innovation will focus on making the inaccessible accessible — bringing activities previously confined to gyms, leisure centres, medical centres and office buildings into the comfort of people’s homes. These innovations will succeed not only due to their cost-effectiveness, but also due to the new key value propositions that Diaz identifies: convenience, simplicity and affordability. New behaviours and solutions that are cheaper and “jobs to be done” on a rudimental level will succeed in a post-COVID world.
A series of “new normals”
Diaz poignantly describes the COVID-crisis as a “phenomenal experiment” generating new habits on all levels – from the individual, to communities, governments, global governance and the corporate sector. While new relationships of trust are built, other transactional relationships are strained, or even severed, as a result. However, Diaz does not see this crisis as resulting in a singular, permanent “new normal.” Instead, he anticipates a volatile, ever-changing dynamic, resulting in a “series of new normals”. For example, the “experiment” of these past few weeks has introduced many workers to the possibility of working from home.
This opportunity originally evolved from a “normal” of WeWork hotdesking promoting space efficiency and flexibility within the workplace. As in the case of hotdesking, this new behaviour won’t disappear once the lockdown is over. The difference of this post-COVID “new normal” is that it infiltrates every aspect of our lives, unlike singular events that shift norms in isolated spheres, such as airplane travel in the case of 9/11.
Diaz anticipates the sustainability focus in businesses to last a mere two years before its acute need vanishes from our muscle memory. Nonetheless, the hope is that companies will recognise that this framework makes processes more efficient and heightens productivity and adjust accordingly, forming yet another “new normal.”
Diaz’s advice to business students: “Be the disruptors of the incumbent workplace!”
An uplifting and motivating insight: Diaz reminds us that as recent master’s graduates in the wake of COVID-19, we will be active contributors to the same ground-breaking solutions that were previously reserved exclusively for high-profile consulting firms. Restricted by cash flows and driven by a need for innovative mindsets, companies need to settle for less to make more. This is where we come in: we can turn problems into opportunities. We are at a unique advantage given that we are not part of the status-quo (hardened veterans of business), and are motivated, dynamic and easily adaptable to new situations. This will undoubtedly ease our integration into the “new normal” and makes us uniquely attractive and valuable to employers. Let’s make the most of it!
About the author
Lina Baumstark is currently enrolled in the International Masters Sustainable Business & Innovation and is one of the contributors to the EADA Sustainability Club Newsletter. Lina has a background in media and journalism, and though originally from Germany, she lived and studied in the U.K. and Switzerland before coming to EADA. She is a proactive volunteer and competitive swimmer and she is passionate about making a tangible difference in the world.
About the interview series
In this series of interviews, contributors to the EADA Sustainability Club Newsletter explore how the role of business in society is shifting and adjusting to these unpredictable and complex times with COVID-19, covering topics such as digital data technology, emotional intelligence and global governance. Other articles include: Managing the Transition with Professor Joan-Miquel Piqué, Technology as an “enabler” with Richard Ferraro and The Challenge of Ethical Leadership with Professor Ferran Velasco.