Year 2020: When a punch in the mouth left all plans upended...
Last month, Johnny Depp and Jeff Beck released a cover of John Lennon’s Isolation. Beck, for the benefit of the uninitiated, is one the greatest guitarists ever; Depp, the uninitiated are likely to be familiar with and needs no introduction. Isolation is a lovely song; the cover is brilliant; but what gets it a mention here is its aptness. I’d definitely put it on my Corona playlist.
“People say we got it made;
Don’t know we’re so afraid,
We’re afraid to be alone;
Everybody got to have a home,
And that’s just the first paragraph of the song. It is from the 1970 album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. It was his first solo album after leaving The Beatles.
A decade later, Lennon and Ono would release Double Fantasy, the last album released before his death. The album contains the song Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy), which showcases the best of Lennon’s songwriting, but isn’t very well remembered today, except for one line: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
The full paragraph in the song goes: “Before you cross the street, take my hand; life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Yes, I know the original quote wasn’t Lennon’s but we will let that be.
I was reminded of Lennon’s song on Friday night when Delhi experienced a minor earthquake, its fifth since the lockdown began on March 25. The quake, during which everything shook quite badly, came towards the end of a week when Delhi was expected to see a locust attack (which didn’t happen, thanks to the direction of the wind more than anything else), and during which the number of new coronavirus disease cases in the city crossed 1,000 twice.
Whatever plans anyone had made for 2020, none of these are likely to have been part of it.
Everyone had plans for 2020 — individuals, companies, even countries. Maybe it’s because of the ring 2020 has; or perhaps it’s because 20-20 stands for perfect vision. In my previous avatar as a business journalist, I’ve encountered enough companies that set very specific targets for 2020.
“By 2020, we will be...”
The only way I can think of finishing those grandiose visions now is... “alive”.
And that’s as true for companies as it is for individuals.
Even before the pandemic struck, it was becoming clear that medium-term planning was a pointless exercise. Through the 1990s and 2000s and the first half of the last decade, companies used to thrive on three- and five-year plans. But around the middle of the 2010s, smart companies began realising that the three- to five-year planning window was the trickiest — and also the most treacherous. It was alright to plan for the really long term, and it was essential to plan for the very short term (even if it was all about operations and not strategy), but the ability of unknown unknowns to completely throw three- and five-year plans off course made the medium-term planning exercise difficult.
The Covid-19 pandemic is definitely an unknown unknown and the only known cure for it — breaking the chain of infections through isolation, quarantines, and lockdowns — challenges the fundamental tenets of a networked and globalised world. It isn’t just traditional businesses that are affected; new age companies built around the premise of the share economy have been hit hard by the fears associated with “sharing”. As an aside, I expect sales of personal vehicles to go up. More people will buy cars, motorcycles, even cycles (I’m told there are already waiting lists for those in New York).
So much for planning. When boxer Mike Tyson was once asked about whether he was worried that rival Evander Holyfield had a plan for him, he famously answered: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Which is the gangsta equivalent of “life is what happens to you, while you’re busy making other plans”.
And 2020 has punched us all in the mouth.