By Sreeraman Thiagarajan

The Tehri dam in Uttarakhand one of the largest in India can dispense 15,500 tons of water per second from its spillway or gates. Hold on to that figure for a minute.

Every one of us is tired of hearing the word unprecedented. Affix it to justify

layoffs

, closures, budget cuts…it is a bloodbath out there. But there is a tomorrow, and it will be a lot like yesterday. Here’s why.

What we know about living on this planet as the species that’s on top of the food chain is simple. We are social. Conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure, when these terms were coined by economist Veblen at the end of the 18th century, he argued that the wealthy people not only spend money to differentiate from the rest, they also spend their time differently from the rest on activities that are not productive in nature, such as art, leisure, sports and more.

Just during the

pandemic

, Apple launched a new iPhone, Hermes in China recorded $2.7 million in sales on the day it reopened, what is now termed as ‘revenge shopping’. The serpentine queue to buy alcohol in India, even if the price is 70% higher at some places, shows us one thing – we love ourselves. Being social also means we like to do well, show it off, before doing good to others.

Corollary, Veblen’s treatise also included a term called ‘Pecuniary emulation’ which argues, low-status people emulate the respected, high-status members of their socio-economic class, by consuming over-priced brands of goods and services perceived to be products of better quality.

In sum, the haves will spend anyways, the have not’s will keep trying. Together, both cohorts keep the economy chugging while humming some good’ol tunes on capitalist created music pods and apps.

Today, we are constantly witnessing companies and startups taking all kinds of evasive maneuvers. This article is not about doling advice that urges them to not downsize or shut. If it was unviable, it will be unviable, unless necessary actions are taken.

My point is about how the new normal post Covid world won’t be drastically different from what we have known in the past decade. Timeshare based business (resorts, co-working spaces) may have it hard for a bit longer, but it will be something similar to the extra security check we got used to at airports after 9/11. We just have to get to these places a bit early, get a thermal scan and be seated apart. All this, mind you, only until a vaccine or cure is developed.

If the world had to change after any earlier pandemics, world wars,

HIV

risks, or even if every driver wears seat belts after seeing the accident stats stacked against the driver, we would have been a living our lives a lot different.

Most internal memo that comes with pink slips talks about reducing costs to increase efficiency. Some are talking about wishful revenue and profit for the first time. Well, cost reduction and profit maximization are something to be continuously pursued, pandemic or not. Companies like

Toyota

and L&T who have survived world wars have perfected cost reduction as much as profit optimization.

Business with long term vision has to avoid making drastic changes in organisational structure, human capital and process. The idea of permanent work from home sounds like a cost and commute saving option right now. But it is currently predicated on a universal leveler – the

lockdown

! People are staying at home and doing the job due to lack of any other option; and of course, also because everyone else is.

Once zones after zones come out of lockdown, managers will expect their teams to huddle together to catchup on lost targets. Those who are in office will have an edge over others dialing in from their home wearing pajamas. The home bound employees will miss the grapevine, the water cooler gossips and camaraderie that are built over, well, the chai (sutta) break. We are social, did I say that already?

Mumbai handles over 900 flights a day, if one does not take off, that’s what you would read in the news. The layoff and downsizing, honestly feels like,

Covid-19

plus lockdown was an excuse to do what was required (shut, downsize), but would have been politically incorrect or bad optics if done on a sunny day. News about companies shutting down makes it to the headlines, not the ones where it is business as usual. Let us not believe that business closure as a universal state of the union.

The entire pandemic is a huge speed bump for free flow or people and bad sentiments decelerate the free flow of money and spends. We are not in a recession caused by wars (property destruction) or bad fundamentals (2008, sub-prime). We have just hit a dam wall; we will spill out in public, putting Tehri Dam’s 15,500 tons per second to shame.

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Sreeraman Thiagarajan is co-founder and CEO of Agrahyah Technologies and aawaz.com

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