The New York Times reports that, as of early February, more than 443,000 Americans and more than 2 million individuals worldwide have died after contracting COVID-19. These numbers are so large they’re difficult to grasp. And I find it equally difficult to wrap my head around the economic suffering the pandemic has caused—and will continue to cause for years to come.
Still, I’m feeling hopeful. Immunizations are ramping up, new case numbers are trending down, and experts say that perhaps by the third quarter of this year, life will start to look more normal—and economies and households will begin to recover.
Looking back on the thought leadership of 2020 and forward through our current pipeline of 2021 projects, I also see plenty of reasons for hope. And I think many of these reasons boil down to being better in touch with ourselves and more empathetic.
Let me explain.
For most of 2020, many of us were compelled to shelter in place or quarantine in our homes. And most, if not all, activities outside the home were cancelled. No onsite board meetings or other business travel, no concerts or social events, no children’s plays or soccer games to attend. I’ve heard many friends and colleagues liken their situation to being in jail.
In fact, one of my quarantine Netflix binges happened to be Orange is the New Black, a show set in a women’s minimum-security prison. One particularly well-written scene comes to mind where the main character, a prisoner named Piper, addresses a group of delinquent students she’s supposed to “scare straight.”
She says, “…I know how easy it is to convince yourself you’re something that you’re not. You could do that on the outside, you can just keep moving. Keep yourself so busy you don’t have to face who you really are….Other people aren’t the scariest part of prison. It’s coming face-to-face with who you really are. Because once you’re behind these walls there’s nowhere to run. The truth catches up with you in here.”
Similarly, I think the truth caught up with many during quarantine. Without the things that normally keep people busy, we’ve been forced to confront ourselves. The leaders of many government agencies, hospitals, and companies—plus many workers, including knowledge workers—have had to come face-to-face with who they really are.
As a result, I believe many thoughtful people have become more self-aware, as well as more empathetic—they’ve essentially boosted their emotional intelligence. And it has had significant ramifications for content marketing and thought leadership.
Since March, the pandemic has dominated thought leadership, and rightly so. As organizations have fought for survival, thought leaders have asked themselves what they know that’s essential. What can help companies survive? How can they keep workers and customers safe? How do they avoid laying off workers or fix broken supply chains? Many thought leaders have stepped up in a big way with analysis and insight to help inform these decisions.
But thought leaders have also tackled other meaningful issues having to do with racial injustice, diversity and inclusion, and even taking a stand on the US presidential election. And from what I’ve seen, this content is sharply focused on what matters most in society, rather than on profits.
As the pandemic closed schools and daycare centers, working mothers have had to cut back on their hours or leave their jobs entirely to be caregivers. And thought leaders have written that business and government should strive for “…an economy that compensates women fairly for their work, improves access to jobs through family-friendly policies, and supports women in their chosen roles as breadwinners, mothers, or some combination of the two.”
As Black people and people of color continued to suffer racial injustice—in addition to feeling greater impacts from the pandemic—thought leaders have laid out a vision for “Investing in Black lives and livelihoods.”
And the list goes on. In 2020, thought leaders and content marketers took on new topics and approached old topics in new, more thoughtful ways.
I’m hopeful that this trend will continue through 2021. As thought leaders take a step back and get a little perspective on what it is that they have to say, they’ll have better, deeper insights to share with companies, governments, and the world as it begins to lift itself out of this crisis.