Don’t wait for the “return to normal” that will never come

By Carl Heise

Business is bunkering down in response to COVID-19, partly driven by commonsense, partly government orders. But while most of our headspace is consumed with operational matters like changed work conditions and that small matter of survival, we must make room for bigger conversations. The kind of conversations that will get us from today’s anxiety-ridden video conference to the bounce on the other side of the curve.

When we emerge from these overwhelming and uncertain times there will be no “return to normal”. But this was the case even before COVID-19. We were already living in a society in a constant state of transition, the virus response just makes us hyper-sensitive to the phenomenon. No one has seen normal for a long time.

In this state of transition, we face increasingly complex problems that are harder and harder to define. Problems are dynamic, changing over time, often rapidly. They are networked: existing across individuals, teams, business units, the enterprise, community and business partners at local, national and global levels. They cannot be solved using solutions from the past.

The COVID-19 response provides an opportunity for us to interrupt old thinking, shrug-off redundant mindsets and prepare for a future in which change will continue to be the only constant.

Enter Transition Design

So how do we do this? One incredibly powerful tool is Transition Design. Transition Design was conceived to tackle the biggest problems faced by society, including climate change and natural resource depletion, with the aim of facilitating societal transitions to more sustainable futures*. But the approach is transferable to other areas, including business. Transition Design deals with new problems, and the need for new services, products, solutions, and spaces by building capacity in people and organisations to solve problems flexibly.

One key feature of the Transition Design approach is that external “designers” are sought to help reframe the problem, but they are not charged with solving the problem. Rather, they are employed to model and coach on the approach. This avoids the risk of working to a near horizon, with experts required again the minute the next problem surfaces. In other words, the approach is more important than the fix. It is the approach that creates the future fixes.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but I would strongly advocate spending energy and resources on capability building towards future-focused solutions today rather than waiting to see what happens. This will place you in the best position to scale up quickly when the economy shows signs of life again.

I have never been more passionate about our SHIFT offering than I am now, because it offers exactly what we need right now. A tangible, outcome-focused approach that can help businesses plot their path from chaos to calm and a clearing to discover alternative ways to fulfilling their desired outcomes into the future.

To learn more about Transition Design or Brooke’s unique approaches to problem solving contact me via


*Kees Dorst (2015) Frame Innovation: Create New Thinking by Design