Pandemic, Inc. by Patrick Schwerdtfeger. Authority Publishing: Gold River, CA (2020). 168 +x pages . US$19.99 (paperback).
For all of us, 2020 has been a year of uncertainty and confusion. “Normal “ activities of going to work or school, seeing family, and even shopping have been aborted. Who could have predicted these life-altering changes?
It turns out that futurists, like Patrick Schwerdtfeger, spend time analyzing trends and predicting business activities for tomorrow. Patrick is a sought-after keynote speaker and author. During the corona-panic lockdown, he looked toward the most impactful changes that he believes have staying power. This is the thrust of “Pandemic, Inc.”
Unlike much of the media in 2020, Patrick offers a message of opportunity for business owners and managers. “...there are some very real and tangible things that businesses can do to (1) survive, (2) rebuild, and (3) thrive after the crisis is over...” (pg. 3, author’s emphasis). Each of the eight primary chapters describes trends and offers business advice to take advantage of future trends.
Trend #1: Self-Sufficiency
Already a trend before corona-panic, groups of people were moving “off the grid”. Patrick recognizes this trend and its impact on engineers and engineering managers. Solar panels will continue to grow as people strive for independent living. Technology will continue to advance driving down manufacturing and installation costs.
Trend #2: Analytics
The trend toward “Big Data” was already in place long before corona-panic. The pandemic has simply accelerated the vast accumulation, storage, and processing of more and more data. Engineering managers and business owners will use and optimize data to target marketing, while governments will use increased data to manage healthcare. We must be cautious, however, of the misuse of data and understand the complexity of models before we accept their outcomes and predictions.
Trend #3: Liquidity
In business terms, cash is the most liquid asset you own. You can trade cash for anything. Debt in our personal lives, in business, and especially in governments is a threat to long-term survival. What happened to your day-to-day living when the stock market crashed in March? Holding sufficient cash resources to keep things running will be an important lesson for all of us going forward.
Trend #4: Virtualization
Most of us are now spending a significant amount of time on Zoom or FaceTime. We have social networks, business meetings, and family time in front of a screen. Engineering managers must consider how to apply technologies, like virtual reality (VR), to trouble-shooting operations. Educators must adopt engaging studies via virtual platforms. How have you adapted to a virtual world and what can you change to make a hybrid approach (virtual and in-the-office) successful going forward?
Trend #5: Automation
Again, automation was already trending upward before the corona-panic. However, “Pandemic, Inc.” emphasizes an acceleration of automation as cash-strapped businesses transition routine tasks to machines. “Germaphobes” (pg. 80-81) will continue to drive fears of contact with people we know and especially of strangers. Patrick predicts reemergence of shared ride service and autonomous vehicles despite a growth in the number of “germaphobes”.
Trend #6: Governments
Big government with more intrusion into previously private activities is an enduring trend predicted in “Pandemic, Inc.” “The pandemic is turning into a massive power-grab by governments and globalists” (pg. 106). Bitcoin and blockchain are likely outgrowths of this trend. Serving government agencies and customers will become a bigger aspect of most businesses in the future.
Trend #7: Exponential Thinking
Patrick notes that technology has growth at accelerating rates - exponential versus linear. From an engineering management perspective, we are seeing enhanced performance at decreased costs for many goods. Harkening back to Trend #3 (Liquidity), engineering managers should consider how to invest in these rapidly accelerating technologies while still preserving cash.
Trend #8: Decentralization
In “Pandemic, Inc.”, Patrick notes that decentralization encompasses most of the other trends (pg. 123). Just like me, when the author was a child, we had just one local newspaper and a handful of television channels. Today, we are bombarded with hundreds of channels in social media and ways to consume “the news”. Unfortunately, we seek out “echo chambers“ (pg. 124) more than truth or full data sets. This trend allows us to be more connected with those like us but less connected to anyone with a different opinion. Decentralization thus impacts business decisions, including market structures in hiring of new employees.
“Pandemic, Inc.” is an interesting read. Patrick Schwerdtfeger has been analyzing and speaking on future trends for years. Will all these trends come to fruition? Certainly not. But as engineers and engineering managers, we must be aware of both technological and social trends that impact how we design operations and products. I recommend “Pandemic, Inc.” for a couple of reasons. First, it is easy and quick to read. It summarizes challenges to the global economy and offers a glimpse into a possible future. Second, whether or not you agree with Patrick's view of future trends, engineers and engineering managers must be aware of alternate perspectives that influence our customers and manufacturing processes.
What do you think is the most significant trend to arise from the corona-panic?
About the Author
Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, PE (State of Louisiana), PMP®, CPEM, NPDP is a writer, speaker, and facilitator. Teresa founded Global NP Solutions to help organizations learn, adopt, transform, and sustain innovation. She frequently presents keynote presentation on innovation and design thinking.
Teresa is the co-editor of the PDMA Body of Knowledge 2nd edition and is the author of a popular book on innovation, The Innovation ANSWER Book.
Prior to founding Global NP Solutions, Teresa worked in R&D, process technology, innovation at ExxonMobil Chemical Company. She has degrees in Chemical Engineering and an MBA. She is a Certified Professional Engineering Manager. You can reach Teresa at email@example.com.