Fareed Zakaria is the host of the CNN show, Fareed Zakaria GPS. He is also a columnist for The Washington Post, a contributing editor for The Atlantic, and he is the bestselling author of several books including his newest one, Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World.
The pandemic has had an impact on every one of our lives, and the effects will be felt for a long time to come. Early on in the pandemic, Fareed knew we were going through something big, something the world hadn’t gone through for over 100 years, and he wanted to figure things out for himself. He also wanted to help others make sense of everything, which is what pushed him to write his newest book.
Every part of our lives has been affected–health, politics, economics, and education. Thankfully we live in a time when we have the technology and resources needed to be able to still carry on for the most part. While office buildings, schools, and restaurants shut down people got creative and found a way to keep going with online learning, home deliveries, online work meetings, etc…
But while there are many good things about technology, there are also a lot of cons that come with an all virtual world.
The limitations of technology
The place we see the limitations of technology the most, according to Fareed, is in our education systems. Education is not simply about children and young adults soaking up information, it is also a very social and emotional experience as well.
As Fareed shared with me, “you have to create an atmosphere of social trust, you have to create an atmosphere in which people feel like they’re having fun, you have to create an atmosphere where people feel a little bit of competition, you know, with peers and all that together creates the kind of opening in our minds that allows the knowledge to go in. And so if you just think of it, and say I’m just going to put you in front of a computer screen, and you will get information, and you will imbibe that information. No, you won’t. You won’t. You know, the mind just switches off.”
There are definitely some things that just aren’t the same virtually as they are when we are face-to-face. Fareed says that one of the challenges we will face after the pandemic will be to figure out the power and the advantages of this online world we’ve been in. But we also need to look at the disadvantages of what we experienced and figure out how we can fix it. And he believes that we will end up in a hybrid model of some kind where we have a mixture of in-person and online.
We can use technology for good things, but there are also ways in which we use it that can be harmful. But it is up to us how it is used. We can choose to text and drive which is dangerous, we can choose to multitask and always be available online which can cause burnout, we can use it to spread lies and misinformation. But it can also be used in ways that keep us safe, productive, and less stressed.
As Fareed says, we should be optimistic about the future, but we also need to be realistic in order to see the problems and challenges that come with technology. It’s not about being a blind optimist, it’s about being aware of all the problems that exist, because that’s the only way you fix them.
How leadership has been impacted by the pandemic
Over the past year leaders around the world have had to pivot to lead in a completely virtual setting, and that is not easy. Fareed shared an example of something that happened to him personally as a leader during this time that really made him stop and think.
His team from his current CNN show has been all virtual, everyone on the team is working from their own homes. And at one point in the pandemic, he noticed that the morale was not as high as it usually was and people were getting burned out, which he found odd since his team is so close-knit and they have always worked so well together.
So in order to get to the bottom of the problem, he called a team meeting and he asked his team to be open and honest with him to figure out what was going on. And one team member was very blunt and told him “Look, you sometimes send these cryptic emails that are really hard for us to take”. And so the conversation started around why they felt that his communication was different now than before.
And what they came to discover was the loss of casual conversation and in person engagement was really at the root of the problem. Before the pandemic, they would see each other throughout the day and joke, ask each other about their families, talk about their weekend plans, etc…So in that context, after you hand some light banter throughout the day to get an email simply saying “we need to re-write this” doesn’t sound so bad.
But now in a completely virtual setting, they were going days without talking or interacting and then to suddenly get that same short email of “we need to re-write this” seemed harsh and rude. And it was ruining the morale of the team.
Fareed shares, “It made me realize that what I was doing there was I was spending social capital, rather than building social capital. And that what I had to do was to be very conscious of the fact that in this virtual environment, you’ve got to build social capital before you can spend it. And you’ve got to put in the time and the energy.”
What does that look like? Instead of writing one sentence, maybe you should write a full paragraph. Instead of jumping into the agenda for an online meeting, you should ask people how they’re doing, or joke around a bit. Instead of going a few weeks without checking in with an employee or a co-worker, reach out even if it’s just to say “hi, how was your weekend”.
“You need to realize you cannot just, you know, kind of issue commands and expect people to follow them or issue directives, that doesn’t work. Where it might have in a different context, where there was a lot of soft stuff going on, and then you had this one email that came through.”
What’s going to happen to the cities?
Throughout the pandemic, and even a little before that, people have speculated that cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago are going to disappear. And while the option to have work flexibility is more possible now, which means people don’t have to report to a central office, it doesn’t mean cities are a thing of the past.
Fareed looks to history to figure out the future, and when we do that we see that people moved to cities because there was more work and because they could earn more money there. When you have a highly dense population, there are more people to sell your product to. There are more people to invest in your business. There are more people around to network with.
“That density is what produces economic activity, which is why, you know, there’s a couple of very good calculations that suggest that people who live in particularly large cities tend to be about 50% more productive than other people. I’d say it’s not that we’re smarter, it’s that you’re more likely to meet people, you’re more likely to do more deals, you’re more likely to see more stuff. I don’t think that’s going to change”
And while people no longer have to live in a city center to be close to their organization’s headquarters, you will probably see a large amount of people living on the outskirts and commuting into the city–if not everyday, then at least from time to time.
One thing Fareed thinks will change about cities is that you won’t be seeing as many big office buildings, since most people can work from home or from co-working spaces or even smaller more localized offices. So these big office buildings may be used for something else like affordable housing or performance space or something else.
Fareed’s advice for individuals and leaders in the post-pandemic world
When I asked Fareed what his advice would be for individuals looking for opportunity as things start to open up and also for leaders, he said he would offer everyone the same advice–whether you are a leader or not.
He said, “One thing that I think we don’t talk enough about is what are the personal lessons and opportunities that the pandemic has produced? We spend a lot of time talking about all the external stuff we have to fix. How do we get better government policies in place? How do we get corporations to change the way they run? How do we get cities to be transformed? What are all the external things we need to do? But we should also be thinking to ourselves, what are the internal supports that have mattered the most during this pandemic? What have we learned about ourselves as human beings, what do we need to be fulfilled, to be happy, to be productive–and productive in every sense of the word, right. Not just as workers, but as partners, as parents, as children.”
No matter where you are in life we all have a chance to learn something from what we have been through. We can all ask ourselves–what makes me happy? What gives me joy? What makes me productive? And we can maximize that in a way we have not done before. We only get one life, so use it well.
He also believes we should all ask ourselves this question– How can I be a better version of myself–given what we have gone through and the ability we’ve had to get to know ourselves without all of the distractions we had before the pandemic. It’s been a difficult time for all of us in different ways, but what can we take from this experience, what can we use from this to propel us forward and to make us better human beings?
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