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Aura-t-on une deuxième chance?

ISSUE BRIEF

Aura-t-on une deuxième chance ?

La réelle Raison d’être de l’entreprise est soumise à l’horizon long

par Éliane Rouyer-Chevalier

mai 20201

Aura-t-on une deuxième chance ?

Une grande sidération s’est abattue sur nous en tant qu’être humain, nous renvoyant à nous- même, à notre extrême fragilité alors que les dernières décennies avec leur lot de progrès scientifique, d’amélioration indéniable de nos conditions de vie, sans parler des promesses de longévité absolue, nous ont embarqué dans une illusion d’invulnérabilité.

S’ensuit une période de grande confusion face aux décisions à prendre à court terme, aux peurs ancestrales, au questionnement sur la vie, la mort, le sens de l’existence.

Ces interrogations philosophiques et métaphysiques sont nécessaires et s’imposent à tous en tant que citoyen(ne), salarié(e) ou partenaire d’entreprise, membre de Conseil d’administration, responsable que nous sommes tous à titre individuel par rapport aux autres, à la communauté des humains de la planète terre.

Revenons à l’entreprise. Certains prennent prétexte de l’urgence à gérer cette crise économique sans précédent pour différer la mise en œuvre de la transition énergétique, comme si la première prévalait sur la seconde. D’autres, au contraire, plaident pour accélérer plus que jamais le tournant écologique considérant avec des yeux neufs notre façon de produire, consommer, bouger… En tout état de cause, après les efforts immédiats et considérables de l’État, ce sera bien des entreprises que naîtra le nouvel élan pour sortir de la crise économique. Et la possibilité pour leurs dirigeants d’asseoir un leadership d’un autre style, alliant courage et empathie.

Covid et changement climatique, Covid et biodiversité… l’enchainement des causes et des effets, s‘il n’est encore explicitement démontré, interroge de toute façon. L’excès en tout auquel nous étions arrivés n’est plus soutenable. Il y va de notre vie, il y va de la survie de nos enfants, la génération qui va nous succéder. L’urgence s’impose partout.

Certes colmater les brèches au plus vite, protéger la trésorerie de nos entreprises est un impératif vital. Mais sans étrangler à notre tour les fournisseurs ou les clients qui sont confrontés aux mêmes atermoiements de fonds de roulement.

Et tout en ayant les yeux rivés sur la jauge du cash-flow, ne perdons pas de temps et regardons plus loin. Tirons lucidement les leçons de cette période inimaginable, collaborons avec ceux qui, fort heureusement, feront partie de l’inventaire post-crise, pour travailler ensemble, imaginer de nouvelles solutions, écouter, comprendre ce que les clients veulent, ce qui est essentiel, ce qui est plus accessoire.

Beaucoup d’entreprises s’étaient risquées à exprimer une Raison d’être. Déjà nous redoutions l’exercice un peu trop « communicant ». Le crash-test est là. La réelle Raison d’être de l’entreprise est soumise à l’épreuve de la sincérité et de l’horizon long.

Tirons parti de cette période hercynienne, pour nous réinventer en bonne intelligence avec les politiques, les syndicats, les citoyens, les étudiants—ceux qui croient dans l’Homme, son cœur et son intelligence.

Pas sûr que nous aurons une deuxième chance !

Footnotes:

1 Ce commentaire a été publié pour la première fois sur LinkedIn le 5 mai 2020.

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Issue Briefs

Strategic Significance of the US Elections

ISSUE BRIEF

Strategic Significance of the US Elections

The good news also contains some daunting challenges

by Nicholas Dungan

November 2020

The sense of relief is palpable. The symbolism is powerful. After four years on the lunatic fringe, the United States of America might soon return to a form of recognisable normality, at home and abroad. The record voter turnout and the legitimate, if lengthy and laborious, election process have rebuilt a bit of faith in American democracy. The election as Vice President of Kamala Harris a highly competent, accomplished professional and a woman of both Asian and Caribbean-African descent, helps restore the US to its pedestal as a beacon of opportunity, an emblem of inclusiveness, all quite the opposite of the hostile, peevish, grotesque xenophobia of Trump.

Beyond the psychological effect, there are several practical benefits that arise from the election of Joe Biden as the president who will assume office on 20 January 2021. (Many have referred to Biden as the ‘next’ president of the United States but the era of Donald Trump is so volatile that to assume Trump will actually make it as far as January seems like a hypothesis that could be proved wrong; if Trump misfires, or quits, or some other surprise occurs, Mike Pence could end up being the ‘next’ president, his job then being to hand over the reins of power to Joe Biden on the day.)

The first practical benefit stems from the quality of the Biden team. Biden himself has a lifetime of experience in the Senate, the legislative branch, and as Vice President in the White House, the executive branch. Biden’s advisors are professionals and insiders. The fact that they are professionals means that they will pursue a policy agenda, not personal aggrandisement, so they will be predictable and trustworthy counterparts. It also means that they will make judgements based on rational policy criteria, not short-term political advantage or blind, unrealistic ideology.

The fact that they are insiders means that they know everybody: in DC, around the United States and throughout the world. This is an enormous advantage compared to the largely inexperienced Trump team, with its reliance on neophyte family members in key White House positions, and so many representatives of the Republican party establishment who had refused to work for the Trump administration. Professional insiders will make a huge difference in getting the business of government done—from the corona virus to climate change—both in domestic policy, particularly with the Congress, and in international relations, with a community of nations cautiously awaiting the United States as a responsible stakeholder in international affairs once again.


A further practical benefit, ironically, arises from the lack of a ‘blue wave’, that massive landslide in favour of the Democrats that would have been interpreted as total repudiation of the Republican party. The Democrat majority in the House of Representatives will be smaller than under Trump and the Senate looks to be quite evenly divided. As a result, nobody will expect the Biden administration to perform legislative or policy miracles. At the same time, the Republicans, though perhaps tainted by their subservience to Trump, can claim their status as a valid opposition party.

An evident additional practical benefit results from the open arms with which the future Biden administration is being welcomed by many world leaders. Even the UK, beset by a relatively inexperienced cabinet and a prime minister seen as too much like Trump, really need not worry: the Biden team will have little interest in settling scores, though they can clearly be counted upon to uphold the interests of the United States in a future UK-US trade negotiation. But their conviction that allies count, and the value they place on reliable relationships, will also underpin their attitude, even with a UK outside the EU. The UK is still a member of the UN Security Council, NATO and the Five Eyes intelligence network; the UK-US working relationship is vast and it is valuable.

Professionalism, experience, freedom from radical expectations and an international community waiting to engage: what more could one ask?

In his first speech as President-Elect, Joe Biden referred to the current moment as an inflection point. He is right. There is a need, as he stated himself in his January article in Foreign Affairs, to re-make American society from the ground up. He literally does need to ‘Make America Great Again’. There is also a need once again to be ‘Present at the Creation’ of a new world order. These are daunting challenges, but ones for which an older, seasoned president may well be suited.

The paradox lies in the existence of not one but two post-war periods, which policy makers have largely failed to acknowledge. One ‘Postwar’, from 1945 to 1989, worked. There was the free world, the communist world and the non-aligned world. International institutions worked because this world of the Cold War was ‘frozen’ and because nation-states dominated as sources of power and as limits to action. Countries, in the free world at least, could do what they wanted within their own borders. They remained masters of their own fate. So did the peoples in their societies.

The second post-war period, since 1989, has been disorganised globalisation. The nation-state is far from the dominant paradigm (which is why this writer teaches a course on non-state actors in international affairs). Society is divided between those perceived as the global elites—often distinguished as much by education, cultural mobility, open-mindedness and humanistic values as by any actual material advantage—and those perceived as left behind, or who self-identify as left behind. In the most recent US election, as in the Brexit referendum in the UK, the proportion of these two demographics is astonishingly close to 50-50. In America and many other societies, the anger of the ‘deporables’ is real, whether elites agree with it or choose to recognise it or attempt to address it, or not. The old left has become the new right. This problem is not going away easily.

What is needed, then, is a new vision, for societies at home and for the community of nations. The strategic significance of the Biden election is that it offers policy makers the opportunity, and the challenge, of exercising, or not, the leadership that will shape a better future for this century.

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Issue Briefs

What Europe Wants

ISSUE BRIEF

What Europe Wants

American reliability within the transatlantic alliance

by Nicholas Dungan

October 2020

There is a widespread perception outside the United States that the ‘idea that is America’ represents almost a state religion, that the US is ‘a country where traditionally it is adherence to creed … that qualifies you for membership’. To many non-US observers, what passes for patriotism in the US looks a lot like nefarious nationalism anywhere else. This was true before the arrival of the current president and has only been reinforced by ‘America First’.

The notion that the United States is ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’, that America is ‘one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’, that the US is a force for good in the world, that American exceptionalism is due to a quasi-biblical benediction of the country—‘We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.’—served to anchor this sense of creed. To question that creed was heresy, until recently.

Breaking the chains of political piety

During the 2016 presidential campaign, the taboo against Americans taking a critical view of their country began to crumble. ‘Make America Great Again’ suggested that America had lost its greatness, even the sources of its greatness. The word ‘corruption’, never before widespread in American political discourse, became common currency, notably in describing the extent to which elected officials were beholden to private interests in ways that, in most other advanced democracies, would point to prison terms.

Since 2016 Americans have increasingly recognised and debated their country’s poor rankings against other industrialised nations in healthcare, public education and infrastructure. Racism and racial injustice have been shown to be acute problems across US society. Divisiveness and bitter partisanship are acknowledged as gnawing national weaknesses. Hatred has poisoned politics.

Under the Trump administration none of these issues has been resolved, many have gone unaddressed and most have worsened.

The implications of this decline for the United States’ role in the world have become increasingly plain. Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a book entitled Foreign Policy Begins at Home. In January 2020, former Vice President Joseph Biden published an article, ‘Why America Must Lead Again’, much of which was devoted to an analysis of the reforms required inside the United States in order to re-establish credible American leadership outside.

The former US Secretary of Defence, Robert M. Gates, has called for an end to the ‘overmilitarization’ of American foreign policy. Ganesh Sitaraman has urged ‘A Grand Strategy of Resilience’, examining ‘American power in the age of fragility’ in which he identifies a host of necessary changes to the American system, albeit he does not go far enough on education or corruption, or how these needed changes might actually occur in practice, which would require an end to partisanship and divisiveness.

‘Stronger with allies’

At the same time as they focus on the United States, nearly all these experts place great emphasis on the need for US leadership to be ‘restored’ while the country stands alongside America’s allies. In January 2019 the Executive Vice-President of the Atlantic Council2 told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States should ‘put our alliances at the core, not the periphery, of our strategy’.

Many of those allies are in Europe, and NATO is the oldest and strongest of the US alliance structures. For many Americans NATO is the first ‘Europe’ they think of. Increasingly, the European Union has also become ‘Europe’ for Americans, especially as the Eurozone debt crisis and the Covid19 pandemic have highlighted the strengths (and incompleteness) of the EU. Lastly, Americans tend to think of ‘Europe’ as individual nation-states, almost all of which, however, belong to either NATO or the EU or both.

What Europe wants

It is clear that Europe—defined as any one of those three forms of Europe—would welcome a set of American policies different from those of the current administration. Angela Merkel’s Germany has rejected Trump and all he stands for outright; in France Emmanuel Macron initially attempted to tame Trump before giving up. Meanwhile the United Kingdom under Boris Johnson contends with a drawn out foreign policy identity crisis, caught as it is between the end of its membership of the European Union and the dwindling of the ‘special relationship’ with Washington. These and many other European leaders would welcome an America restored to its previous pivotal place in international affairs.

But let American foreign policy planners beware. They must not underestimate how far their country has fallen and must not overestimate how much its leadership would be welcome. As US citizens themselves have lamented the frailties and failings which they have, to their chagrin, discovered as the scales of state religion have fallen from their eyes, the world has been watching, too.

In 2005, fully fifteen years ago, Robert Zoellick urged China to become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ in international affairs. For Europeans today, a United States committed to being such a responsible stakeholder would be a welcome change and a sufficient role, while the United States addresses, and repairs, its domestic ills.

Footnotes:

1 This issue brief was first published on 22 October 2020 on the blog of International Affairs, a journal of The Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House. The writer is a member of the International Advisory Board of International Affairs.

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Issue Briefs

Strategic Foresight and Fragmentation

ISSUE BRIEF

Strategic Foresight and Fragmentation

Scenario pluralism should shape our worldview post Covid19

by Nicholas Dungan

October 2020

Too many strategic foresight scenarios share the flaw of trying to gauge everything through the lens of one paramount explanation from which all findings flow.

Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his essay ‘The Apotheosis of the Romantic Will’, wrote:
If I may be permitted an almost unpardonable degree of simplification and generalisation, I should like to suggest that the central core of the intellectual tradition in the West has, since Plato…rested upon three unquestioned dogmas:
(a) that to all genuine questions there is one true answer and one only…;
(b) that the true answers to such questions are in principle knowable;
(c) that these true answers cannot clash with one another….2

Berlin’s purpose in articulating these dogmas was to refute them. Isaiah Berlin was a proponent of ‘value pluralism’. As Joshua Cherniss and Henry Hardy explain in their contribution on Berlin to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: ‘According to Berlin’s pluralism, genuine values are many, and may—and often do—come into conflict with one another. When two or more values clash, it does not mean that one or another has been misunderstood; nor can it be said, a priori, that any one value is always more important than another.’

Fragmentation works better than concentration

In attempting to arrive at a strategic forecast of the world post-Covid19, we would do well to apply Berlin’s intellectual legacy of value pluralism to the construction of our scenarios. We might consider this, and we might call this, ‘scenario pluralism’, which would consist in the recognition that no single over-arching scenario will prevail, that seemingly contradictory actions and reactions will coexist alongside each other and that recognising those contradictions, far from undermining the credibility of our scenarios, actually makes them more realistic and thereby more robust.

Another way to illustrate this scenario pluralism would be to apply the principle of ‘transformation

maps’ used by the World Economic Forum, which are designed to ‘help users to explore and make sense of the complex and interlinked forces that are transforming economies, industries and global issues’. In this case the transformation maps would apply not to the interrelated issues of today but to the hypotheses about tomorrow.

To keep the terminology simple, we might merely designate this strategic forecasting principle as ‘fragmentation’.

Why the Covid19 crisis produces greater fragmentation

While Covid19 has affected everyone in the world, it has affected many people differently. The multiplicity of government responses stems from radically different constitutional and political structures, governance bodies and healthcare systems in different places. The effect on business organisations depends on their particular characteristics and their industry sector; and policy support for businesses and employees varies in the same way.

Fragmentation also originates in the plurality of the crisis. In the Covid19 crisis multiple forms of crisis are overlaid upon each other, with the health and public safety crisis cast atop them all. So perceptions and policies respond here to the health issues, there to the economic or financial consequences, elsewhere to the impact on society.

The Sense of Reality

Where does this lead us, then? It can only lead to one place: a heightened sense of reality which must be incorporated into our strategic foresight. And for that we may turn, once again, to Sir Isaiah Berlin, this time in his essays ‘The Sense of Reality’ and especially ‘Political Judgement’. This sense of reality, he writes: ‘entails, above all, a capacity for integrating a vast amalgam of constantly changing, multicoloured, evanescent, perpetually overlapping data, too many, too swift, too intermingled to be caught and pinned down and labelled like so many individual butterflies. … To seize a situation in this sense one needs to see … what the result is likely to be in a concrete situation of the interplay of human beings and impersonal forces—geographical or biological or psychological or whatever they may be. It is a sense for what is qualitative rather than quantitative. (3)

The sense of reality, combined with the recognition of fragmentation and an increased tolerance for scenario pluralism—rather than seeking a one-size-fits-all solution—will then lead us to strategic solutions of greater robustness and resilience.

Footnotes:

(1) This issue brief is an abridged and updated version of a paper initially published in April 2020. 

(2) Isaiah Berlin. The Proper Study of Mankind. London: Vintage Books. 2013. p.555.

(3) Isaiah Berlin. The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and Their History. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1996. pp. 46-47.

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Robustness and Resilience

ISSUE BRIEF

Robustness and Resilience

Success after Covid19 will depend on strategic thinking

by Nicholas Dungan

October 2020

There has never been, in the lives of most of us, any phenomenon to compare to the Covid19 pandemic. Nobody is still alive to tell us whether the pandemic will change global society as profoundly as the Second World War did, or whether it will pass away, like the Spanish flu, and see life return to a pre-pandemic normal once a vaccine is found or the disease dies out. The real answer is, of course, ‘Yes to Both’ (and for an analysis of that dilemma see the CogitoPraxis issue brief from April 2020, ‘Don’t Do It — Don’t assume this crisis will “end” or that everything will change forever’).

Yet there is already enough evidence to examine the forces of change in action.A leading article in

The Economist on ‘Winners and losers’ from Covid19 introduces a remarkably complete special report on the world economy by Henry Curr, that newspaper’s economics editor, in which he assesses the opportunity and the danger arising from the Covid19 pandemic, from the standpoints of international trade, labour markets, interest rates and the role of government, with side features on market concentration and emerging economies.

Societal resilience provides little insight on who wins or loses, and why

Some societies have fared much better than others, and raised questions about the efficacy of authoritarian versus liberal societal models. China’s hard-line centralised autocracy seems to have been efficient, but the strongman tactics of Trump, Bolsonaro and even Putin have not. South Korea and Taiwan have done brilliantly through public information and testing, the United Arab Emirates initially controlled the pandemic well through technology and strict measures, Germany has succeeded best in Europe while Sweden and to some extent the Netherlands relied on citizen responsibility with considerable freedom of movement. The United Kingdom failed miserably compared to its continental European neighbours. The United States’ response exposed all the flaws, and a few virtues, of the American way. No single model can claim to be the perfect solution.

Business success looks more predictable, but varies

Among industry sectors, certain winners and losers do already stand out. Quite obviously, technology constitutes a big ‘winner’ sector as #WFH working from home has increased reliance on tech still further: the spectacular recovery of the tech-heavy S&P500 during 2020 is evidence of that. Shares of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Netflix and Salesforce are near all-time highs at this writing, while Zoom, for obvious reasons, is nearly ‘off the charts’.

Pharmaceutical companies, for equally plain reasons, have fared well, though not all of them equally. The share prices of those in the lead of vaccine or treatment research such as Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Regeneron and Roche are, for the moment, near their historic highs.

At the other end of the spectrum lie the ‘losers’ from Covid19, many of them sound companies but whose business model is under threat from the pandemic. This includes hotels, aircraft manufacturers (except for their cybersecurity and defence contractor segments), airlines, airports, travel and tourism generally, commercial property firms and many retailers.

Companies bewteen these two extremes make an especially interesting subject. Some, such as in consumer goods—L’Oréal, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Unilever—are performing admirably on their existing business model. Luxury goods companies LVMH and Kering have recovered almost entirely to near their past highs, while Burberry and Richemont have not, or not yet. Manufacturing success is mixed—nothing new—with Covid19 effects felt differently across sectors and firms.

Big problems for basic sectors

More intriguing are those companies whose services or products are essential to the functioning of our world, but whose future prospects, whether from Covid19 or from other exogenous factors, or both combined, face massive strategic upheavals in their business models. The insurance industry, for example, is beset with transformations which are fundamental to business success (see CogitoPraxis issue brief ‘Challenges to the Insurance Industry’); banks are caught in the deliberately tight noose of regulations inherited from the 2008 financial crisis; both are on the back foot in the race with fintech pioneers such as Ant in China or Lemonade in the US and Europe. Fossil-fuel based energy companies—especially big oil—are simply essential in the transition to a zero-carbon economy, but have fallen badly out of fashion.

Robustness and resilience will require thought leadership

What binds all these examples together are notions which The Economist cites in its special report: ‘robustness (the ability to keep working through a crisis)’ and ‘resilience (the ability to bounce back from one)’. The only way to achieve those, whether as societies, industries or companies, is through strategic foresight (see CogitoPraxis issue brief ‘Strategic Foresight and Fragmentation’).

As time passes and we gain perspective to assess the Covid19 crisis, two truths will stand out: first, the longer the pandemic lasts, the greater will be the lasting changes to behaviours;
second and above all, once the pandemic is past—even before it is past—the true winners will be those who have thought through the implications and constructed scenarios for the future, not those who have principally reacted to events. Thought leadership, for companies and for countries, requires thinking globally and strategically. Those who can demonstrate global strategic leadership —a more sophisticated, nuanced, scientific form of thought leadership—will be the winners.

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Don’t Do It

ISSUE BRIEF

Don’t Do It

Don’t assume this crisis will ‘end’ or that everything will change forever

by Nicholas Dungan

April 2020

The Covid19 crisis will go on and on and on, because it is not one crisis, nor even a sequence of crises, but an accumulation of crises: health, societal, economic, financial, political, geopolitical.

Even if every country everywhere manages to master the pandemic, even if the pandemic never re-appears—and both of those are wildly optimistic hypotheses—the effects of this crisis will last years or even decades. It will shape the lives of Generation Z far more than the financial crisis or even 9/11 has shaped those of the Millennials.

It will continue to make a forceful impact upon our daily lives, our social interactions including distancing, but also upon our ambitions, initiatives, projects, perceptions, hopes and fears. That applies to individuals, families, societies, countries, businesses, governments, the ‘international community’, ‘global society’.

The economic effects have barely begun to be appreciated. The economic consequences of the pandemic will obviously translate into significant—and, at this point, unforeseeable—political consequences.

Those political consequences, in turn, will alter the lives of countries and influence international relations, both within regions and among regions, in ways we cannot measure today or perhaps even imagine. There is every chance of major civil unrest, class conflict, military tensions and even new wars, a far cry from the idealistic calls for a global ceasefire heard in some leadership circles.

Don’t assume everything will change

Many individual people, expert commentators and journalists have written, photographed and shared on social media the pronounced evidence during the worldwide lockdowns that humankind harms the planet. Nature has reclaimed its place quickly as humans ceased to overwhelm it.

New habits have formed. Parents have been able to spend more time with their children, and perhaps learned better how to do so, even if, in many places, grand-parents have been denied the enjoyment of their grand-children.

Traffic has virtually disappeared. Public transport, where it is running, is less overcrowded.

For those who are fortunate enough to be able to #WFH work-from-home with adequate space and privacy, the daily commute into the office in urban centres appears an increasingly futile waste of time. It also exposes us to contagion.

People, businesses and governments have adopted technology with an ease and speed that defy predictions.

Our inclination is to hope that these virtuous realisations and new behaviours will last. But the temptation to go back to business as usual will often be equally strong. Most major corporations have no alternative business model in their back pocket which they can deploy; bruised in many cases by the economic and financial fallout from this crisis, they will seek a return to ‘normality’. Organisations, both public and private, run by conservative, established people, will want to revert to what they mistakenly consider the safety of the world before the pandemic, whereas if the world before the pandemic had been truly safe, we would not be where we are now.

There will be no going back to before, but there will also not be a gleamingly pure new world either. Those who attempt to recreate the past will fail. So will those who expect a wholly rosy future to emerge from this crisis. Each extreme is equally unrealistic. Any attempt to cling to one extreme or the other is likely to lead to discontent, misunderstanding and conflict.

The post-Covid19 era will exist somewhere along a spectrum of positive and negative. Realistically, what we can do and what we should do, as individuals and as societies, is to try move life after the crisis a bit more in the right direction.