The Only Cool Thing About Covid-19

Geoff Smith Portrait

PAR Geoff Smith

POSTÉ LE mardi 11 mai 2021

I am hesitant about writing this blog, I wouldn’t want to seem disrespectful or unsympathetic to the profound pain and suffering caused by this pandemic. The physical and emotional suffering and the economic tragedy that have been unleashed is too deep to measure.

Still, most of us – probably due to some unavoidable Darwinian selection process – are both resilient and optimistic by nature, otherwise we’d have thrown in the towel long ago. We are certain that the vaccines will win the fight against the variants, the alternative will simply not be tolerated, and so now we can start thinking hard about what comes next. This is a moment in time unlike any we have seen before, and it’s uniquely a moment that can be embraced by anyone. For a brief while at least, business and life changing opportunities are more equally available across society than ever before, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

That is because absolutely no-one knows what post Covid-19 looks like. Nobody knows what’s coming. Not the bank CEO’s, not the policy makers or intellectual thinkers, not the business leaders of yesteryear (2019, to be precise). Many people have strong opinions; no-one has any actual idea. Nothing like this has happened in our lifetime, nobody has any experience with it. The best data out there is too new, too incomplete to be of much use. We are all watching history unfold together on TV every night, so nobody has an inside track. I don’t know how long this will last, but certainly a little while yet.

Will people move back to the offices, or will working from home become the dominant model in a digital post-commute world? I have seen well thought out analyses that conclude that only 65% of the workers will return to the office at all, and those people only 60% of the time. I have seen equally convincing evidence that long term demand for downtown Toronto office space continues at near pre-pandemic levels.

You will remember the recent experts’ consensus that Toronto housing prices would drop significantly because of the pandemic. The opposite happened.

Last week, I heard that EllisDon lost two strong prospective ‘new hires’ because they had competing job offers allowing them to work from home 100% of the time. We don’t believe you can build a great company that way, we believe culture is crucial, but these were strong candidates, and great people are hard to find. Did we make a big mistake?

Many people have told me (and you too, I’m sure) that the stresses and pain of the last year have forced them to entirely reorder their priorities in life, while just as many tell me they need to get back to ‘normal’ as soon as possible, in order to save their own sanity (and marriage). Are we witnessing a permanent societal change, or will things snap back as soon as everyone is vaccinated? Should you start your new business (or buy your next house) in Mississauga or wine country? Perhaps you should invest your retirement savings in an apartment block in Peterborough or Kamloops, as long as it has great bandwidth. Pre-pandemic, my brother bought into a traditional lumber mill and a Muskoka marina, both of which now seem strokes of genius. Where and in what sectors will the new demand come from? There are great and small fortunes to be made, we are at the starting line right now.

One thing everyone agrees on is that Covid-19 has rapidly accelerated the ‘digitization’ of our economy, but who wins in this brave new software world, the small entrepreneur with a brilliant idea, or the bigger players with the deeper pockets? (One thing I know for sure, in any economic circumstance, is that institutional ‘deep pockets’ rarely generate entrepreneurial creativity on their own, just as often they kill it dead.) There is lots of money out there looking for brilliant new ideas.

The point I am struggling to make here is that when everything in an economy and in life is running along in the normal predictable fashion, current power structures are easier to maintain. Everyone has a pretty good idea what will happen next year and the year after that, and they can take steps to protect themselves. That’s gone now, everything is upended, uncertain, unpredictable, they don’t have any better idea than you do. It’s easier than ever to get ahead of the game, if you guess right about what and where the game will be.

If you have an entrepreneurial mindset, a little courage, and the ability to move fast, there has probably never been a better moment for you in the last fifty years than right now. Whatever ‘it’ is, it’s there for the taking. And in the face of all the other grief, that’s cool.

Thanks very much for reading.