Will we all flock back to the office after this is over, desperate for human contact, or will we have developed an impossible-to-shake taste for working from home? Will the crisis build solidarity or encourage tribalism? Will our grandkids make fun of us for perpetually wiping down delivery bags with Clorox?
It's understandable we're all craving the comfort of not only an end date to the current horror, but also reassurance that we will be able to navigate the world that comes after it. Experts are happy to feed this desire with answers and predictions.
If they help you calm your nerves or think through contingency plans for your family or business, go ahead and listen to them. But be warned that, judging by the accuracy of previous predictions, most are likely to be wrong.
Beware of experts bearing crystal balls
The evolution of technology is famously hard to predict. You've probably heard about the tech executive who opined in 1977 that "there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home," but his bad call wasn't a fluke. Albert Einstein doubted the atom would ever be split, Charlie Chaplin called the movies a fad, and Napoleon Bonaparte thought the idea of a steam engine was nonsense.
As Rob Walker pointed out on Medium's Marker recently, guessing how the world will turn out after a crisis is no easier. He digs into predictions that were made after both the 2008 financial crash and 9/11 and finds plenty of howlers.
"In early 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession, Time magazine declared 'The End of Excess,'" he reminds readers. A New York Times piece from the same year predicted "the recession has endured so long and spread pain so broadly that it has seeped into the culture, downgrading expectation." Other commentators agreed that the recession would cure us of out-of-control consumerism for good.
That clearly didn't happen. (Walker has a ton of statistics to back this up if your own observations aren't enough to convince you.) Another bold prediction that 9/11 would mean "the end of irony" seems equally ridiculous now.
The point isn't that it's useless to speculate about the future or to think through various possible scenarios. As a business owner, you have to be prepared for the most likely eventualities. The lesson is instead humility. The world is complex, which means making predictions with any degree of specificity is fiendishly difficult.
So go ahead and weigh the opinions of experts, develop plans, lay bets, but just keep in mind that all of us have a high chance of being wrong. Expect the unexpected and be ready to adapt.