21 Lessons for 2021 and the New Normal

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It is the first month of the year and I have been writing annual review notes at the end of the year for each of the last four years. So, before I write about the 21 lessons for 2021, let us turn the clock back by a year. At the beginning of 2020, I had written my 20 thoughts for 2020. Since a lot happened during the last year, I ended 2020 with a detailed 20 part series on Year in Review on the newly launched website, From The Experts’ Mouth.

Year In Review 2020

This is one of the most exhaustive series that I have ever written and covers a wide range of topics. Since there was so much to be said at the end of 2020, the cumulative word count for the Year in Review series ran up to around 30,000 words! More importantly, the readers appreciated it and I received a lot of encouraging feedback for most of the 20 posts. 

The silver lining for the Year in Review series was that the master post has been appearing as the first result on Google India search for ‘year in review experts’ and ‘experts year in review’ since the third week of December. As of now, it also appears as a ‘Featured Snippet’ on Google India, when searching for ‘year in review experts’, ahead of over 3 billion results. This is quite an amazing feat, especially for a brand new website!

Review of 20 Thoughts for 2020

As part of the Year in Review series, I compared each of the 20 thoughts that I had written at the beginning of 2020 with the events during the last year. I know what you might be thinking. 

In a year like 2020, when nothing went as per plan, isn’t it foolhardy to compare the initial thoughts with the actual events during the year? As you will find out, this is surprisingly not the case!

Even though the year threw in a lot of surprises, I was still able to make the most of the adverse circumstances. In fact, the adversity did help to significantly accelerate some initiatives! These comparisons are contained in the last 5 posts of the 20 part Year in Review series.

21 Lessons for 2021

However, let us focus on the 21 lessons for 2021 and beyond into the New Normal. Each of these lessons is based on one of the posts in the Year in Review series and contains the links to the related post, so that you can dive deeper.

#1 – Managing Risks

We need to put risks on top of our cognitive mindspace. We also need to re-evaluate how we think about risks. You can read more about whether the pandemic was a Black Swan or not

On a related note, I had the pleasure of giving a keynote address at a GRC (Governance, Risk and Compliance) leadership meet. You can check out the YouTube video, if you are interested in details.

#2 – Accelerated Digital Transformation

The pandemic forced everyone to accelerate their digital adoption and transformation journey. The New Normal is already here and the key is to focus our energy on identifying and creating new possibilities.

The example of the two cohorts that I mentioned at a Financial Times event is relevant here and you may want to check out this short video.

#3 – Navigating the Digital Landscape

The sudden change in the digital landscape is increasing the inequalities. Consequently, it is critical that we rely on a structured digital framework. In the absence of an anchor point, our thinking can be influenced by hype rather than our business needs. 

You can also check out this video, where I have explained the 5 ACEs of the framework. 

#4 – How to stay positive and productive

I wrote a book on how to stay positive and productive in the first fortnight of the lockdown last year. I anticipated that people will find it challenging to both become productive and remain mentally fit during the lockdown. Hence, I thought of writing some practical tips that could inspire action.

I had planned on writing a book, but never thought this would be my first one. One of the key lessons from my experience is that the dots can only be connected looking backwards. Keep doing what you love and the dots will connect automatically at the right time!

You can check out the book reviews in this video and buy the book on Amazon.

#5 – Mindset is the Key

The pandemic demonstrated to us that mindset is the key to overcoming challenges. I have written about how the pitstop mindset helped us navigate the turbulence of 2020. However, not each phase of our lives will be the same. We need to tune our mindset according to the phase of our journey.

#6 – Internalize Locus of Control

However, there is one thing that remains consistent through all phases. It is whether we have an Internal Locus of Control or not. This greatly influences our belief system and in turn, how we react to things around us. Try and internalize your locus of control by believing that your actions can significantly influence your environment.

#7 – Never Lose Momentum

If you have read my article on 5 lessons about managing change, you know how much I love the theory of Momentum. This is absolutely important as we shift gears in 2021 and accelerate our journey into the New Normal. Once you have gained some momentum, treasure it and never never never, ever lose momentum!

#8 – Virtual Character 

I had written a humorous account of Zoom meetings during the year. While it is a light hearted read, the underlying point is quite serious. Our behavior on online platforms reflects our character. As we step into the New Normal, let us set some ground rules for our online avatars. 

#9 – Coding – An Essential Skill?

If you have been following my writing, you may recall that I have cited examples of my son and his experiences with programming. This year we witnessed outrage at the misadventures and mis-selling of coding to kids by White Hat Jr. You can read my post on whether children should code or not. However, in a nutshell, try and distinguish between the need for awareness and the need to acquire requisite skills. 

#10 – Reality of AI for Kids

Continuing with the theme of kids, I saw quite a few examples of middle school kids learning Artificial Intelligence. To extend the lesson from the previous post, each of us is unique. We should chart our journey based on our strengths, interests and circumstances. We need to avoid the comparison mindset and falling prey to the herd mentality.

#11 – Customer Experience

Let us switch track to intelligent automation at work and specifically in the field of customer experience (CX) or customer service. One of the attributes of these tough times is that customers needed organizations and CX teams to be more empathetic and humane. However, the most common response was to push more technology to solve the problem.

The key lesson is that customers are humans who will remember you for how you make them feel. As we enhance the usage of technology, let us keep the human aspects in the foreground!

#12 – Convergence of Business and Technology 

One of the trends that I have witnessed over the last few years is that of Citizen Developers. We made a lot of progress during the last year, with our business users creating business applications under my guidance, without any IT resources.

The key learning for the new normal is that the lines between business and technology leaders will keep blurring. The historical approach of these remaining in their respective silos will not work any longer. 

#13 – Engaging Remote Workforce

The debates regarding the future workforce model continue unabated. However, one thing is clear. Remote workforce is here to stay, in some shape or form. 

Most of us have struggled with managing teams and engaging them remotely. Institutionalizing the culture in a remote work environment is going to be an even bigger challenge.

#14 – Team Members – Extended Family! 

The pandemic has helped us understand team members better, since we have a ringside view of their homes. We did some activities where we had fun engaging employees along with their families. A by-product is the realization that it may not be sufficient to think of team members in isolation. It may be a good idea to think of them holistically, including their families.

#15 – Physical Fitness and Mental Health

The single biggest realization of the previous year was the importance of health.  Consequently, I have written about a SUPER model for physical fitness and mental health. We must take a moment to sit back and think about our health. If we do this earnestly, I am sure most of us will find that it is silly that we keep running around, ignoring one of the most critical attributes of our long term well being. 

#16 – Milestones and Cross-roads 

In our journey, the current circumstances have presented complex challenges. As I have mentioned in my post about the journey and milestones in 2020, the key is to focus on doing the best we can. Not all phases of the journey provide the same experience. However, the power of compounding effect of small actions can yield wonderful dividends in the overall journey. Just focus on getting to the next milestone!

#17 – Digital is not an add-on 

Many organizations have made the historical mistake of treating digital strategy as an add-on or as an appendage to their core business strategy. I have written a detailed post about the Digital Tsunami. The key lesson for 2021 is that one needs to review the entire business model and re-imagine the same in light of the digital tsunami.   

#18 – Artificial Intelligence and Natural Stupidity

I have summarized a lot of my experiences with Artificial Intelligence in a detailed post on Top 10 things to know about AI. However, the last lesson mentioned therein is key. Like any other tool in our arsenal, we must not get ahead of ourselves and get carried away by the hype. We must use this technology for our benefit and not merely to fit in. After all, as Albert Einstein once wryly remarked, ‘Artificial Intelligence is no match for Natural Stupidity’!

#19 – Back to the Future

Having written about children as well as the futuristic technology trends, it is time to bring the two together. I have done this in my post on Back to the Future. The key takeaway is that we need to reconnect with our childhood in order to progress. Our innate childhood qualities such as curiosity and creativity will take us far, especially during uncertain times. When the past patterns don’t repeat themselves, it is time to be child-like and keep exploring and learning something new each day!

#20 – Expectation vs Reality

Finally, let us come back full circle to the New Year. We have compared the 20 thoughts at the beginning of 2020 with the detailed Year in Review at the end of 2020. As we saw in the last 5 posts of the series, a lot of the initial thoughts documented at the beginning of the year were still valid at the end of the year. 

If we are clear about the direction we need to take, we must enjoy the journey. It does not matter if the path we are being forced to take is different from what we had initially expected. However, we must periodically take a step back and introspect about our overall direction and the end goal.

#21 Gun Salute 

And, the end goal is a nice segue to the last of the 21 lessons for 2021. To continue with a play on numbers, the last lesson is of gratitude. So, let us thank all those who have helped us in big or small ways in our lives with a 21 gun salute.

I continue with my tradition of writing a detailed annual note for the 5th consecutive year. You can read more about Sweet Sixteen, Top 17 welcome to 2018, check if the millennium did come of age in 2018, or read about my 20 thoughts for 2020.

However, a lot of people entered the New Year with a mindset of skipping the ritual of making New Year Resolutions and reflecting on the past year. So, it is time to make up for it. Let us try a 21 day challenge and express gratitude to one person who has helped us for each of the next 21 days.

Let me act upon my advice right away. Thank you for spending your valuable time reading through my thoughts. And, for the encouragement and engagement that has prompted me to keep sharing more of my thoughts with you. Have a blissful time, empowered with the 21 lessons for 2021 and beyond as we embrace the New Normal! 






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