Wrapping up 2020

What sums up the strange and completely unfathomable year of 2020?
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It seems as though everywhere I go these days I have to say whatever it is I am trying to get across twice. After I say, for instance, “I’d like $20 in gas on pump 5,” the clerk says, “What?”

If another clerk says, “Would you like fries with that?” I usually have to say, “What?”

Clerks, bank tellers, wait staff, even people I casually meet on the street or a hiking trail – if there’s an exchange of words, the first listener always answers, “What?”

“Mumble, mumble, blah, blah – enter your (mumble, mumble, blah, blah) account mum(number)ble.”

“What?”

We finally figure it out, but what with all of the face-covering masks, it takes more time than it used to. A barista at Starbucks and I recently had a similar exchange, and then he added–through a couple of mumbles and not a few “What?” comments–that until COVID he didn’t realize how often he lip-read to fill in the gaps in hearing.

It got me thinking that the word that neatly sums up the strange and completely unfathomable year of 2020 is “What?”

Since the world essentially shut down in mid-March, by early October there were more than 210,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States, 1,015,000-plus deaths worldwide, and just over 2,000 deaths in Colorado. If you had told me–or anyone!–in February that this would be a reality seven months hence, the only appropriate response would have been “What?” Come to think of it, when I look at the numbers even now, with months of endless news and statistics shorting out the synapses in my brain, all I can think of is “What?”

And then I shake my head when pondering that in all of this time, with all of the knowledge gained and the admonitions to protect ourselves, and with all of the resources that the United States of America should have been able to muster, there remains a critical shortage of PPE–Personal Protective Equipment–for essential health care workers in the country.

“What?”

And, of course, there are the business questions.

Millions of business offices closed to on-site work, white collar workers working from home and the prospect that to some extent–maybe a large extent–this may become a somewhat permanent arrangement?

“What?”

The unemployment rate in the most powerful country and most prolific economy in the world, while improving to some degree in recent months, remains at historic high rates, particularly for the lowest-paid workers on the economic scale?

“What?”

The restaurant industry, which represents the leading employment sector in all of the economy, shut down nearly completely for quite some time, then allowed to open at 50% capacity in a business model historically operating on very low margins to begin with, faces the prospect of losing as much as 55% of its businesses permanently?

“What?”

The airline industry–and with it related businesses like hotels, car rentals, parking lot operators, etc.–crippled, with tens of thousands of layoffs announced or looming, and reporting that even with a COVID vaccine on the horizon that it may be as long as four years to rebound, with perhaps major carriers unable to recover at all?

“What?”

Amid all the chaos and the crisis, with everyday people eating into their savings to survive, pay bills and even eat as the lifelines established early on have expired, the nation’s stock market, represented by the Dow Jones Industrial Average, initially experienced a drastic drop but has returned to nearly pre-pandemic highs?

“What?”

Thousands of college kids, sent off to begin their journey to adulthood at CU, CSU and other cathedrals of high education, locked down in their dorms/frats/sororities/apartments and forbidden to congregate in groups exceeding two people, working on computers in virtual classrooms, heading back home because, well, what’s the point?

“What?”

Someone I just met in a new community recently asked me, “Are you and your wife open to socializing?” My response of “What?” was only half initiated by the socially distanced and masked muffled question. The other half owed to my incredulity that we live in such as world.

If you had just come out of an eight-month coma and I told you all of this, how would you respond?

Obviously, you’d look quizzical and say, “what?”

Categories: Business Insights, Magazine Articles, Management & Leadership