We must, I’m told, plan for the future, as if some other period of time might seem more worth planning for.

Right now, the future most business managers are planning for is next week, or, for the more visionary, next month. This is as it should be. Many businesses are in the metaphorical emergency room, where stopping the arterial bleeding gets priority over curing a long-term illness like cancer.

And yet …

The decisions executives and managers make today should be informed by their view of what’s in store once the immediate crisis has passed. To that end, and because I really wanted to write science fiction, and because there’s still only one Subject worth writing about, here are some thoughts about the post-crisis future and how it should influence the decisions business leaders are making here in the self-isolated present.

In round numbers, when SARS-CoV-2 eventually recedes from view (in case you haven’t kept track, SARS-CoV-2 is the virus, COVID-19 is the disease it causes, and coronavirus is the family of viruses SARS-CoV-2 belongs to), I see three major competing What Happens Next scenarios. Call them Survivalism, Normalism, and Transformationism.

One at a time:

Survivalists are going to pivot from a dystopian future in which nuclear war has wiped out much of our societal infrastructure and norms to the same dystopian future only with a pandemic as the cause. Self-reliance (including a strong immune system) will matter more, social adroitness will matter less; the adjective of choice will be “grim”; and living off the grid will be less isolating than expected because those choosing the survivalist lifestyle will experience an influx of new, like-minded neighbors.

Business survivalism puts us in Great Depression territory, where dramatically reduced commerce leads to greatly reduced personal income, wealth, and spending, which leads to a vicious cycle of even more dramatically reduced commerce.

Survivalist business leaders expect a slow, protracted recovery. They should reduce their workforce to the numbers needed to supply a much smaller marketplace.

Their strategies will be pseudo-Maslowist, figuring most spending will be for needs, with wants and desires a distant second and third, too miniscule to be worth catering to. Probably they’re already adjusting their products and services catalog to fit.

For Normalists the current pandemic is a temporary disruption. They need strategies to get through the next few months, not to adapt to changes to societal fundamentals.

And while nobody has ever deliberately turned off the economics motor before, normalists are confident we’ll all figure out how to re-start it once we can stop dealing with the threat of contagion.

Business normalists should be thinking about the best ways to ride things out so they can ramp up quickly once the recovery starts. This means furloughing employees rather than laying them off, converting others from full-time to part-time status, renegotiating services contracts and licenses, optimizing raw-materials inventories based on a post-recovery demand forecast, and figuring out how to quiesce production facilities now so they can be re-started with as little delay as possible then.

Normalists should also include a chapter 11 contingency in their plans. (Expectation: massive use of the chapter 11 mechanism will help the economy recover by sharing out pandemic-induced economic damage, not that I have any serious expertise in such matters.)

Transformationists? They figure the pandemic will accelerate trends we were going to have to come to grips with anyway, the most important of which is the decreasing need to employ human beings to do all of the work that has to get done. The second most important is that consumers, and especially younger consumers, want more experiences and less stuff. That’s fine if you’re in the entertainment business or are a tourism destination, although the future of cruise lines is debatable.

But even if you’re Disney you rely on retail revenue along with the theme park entry fee.

Those who figure the past prefigures the future will explain that all previous waves of technology have created more jobs than they destroyed. Although the transitions were painful, the new jobs did appear.

But increasingly capable machine learning and robotics mean fewer and fewer humans will be needed to create the stuff retail outlets will be selling less of.

Transformationist business leaders should be doubling down right now on the investments they’ve already been making in artificial intelligence and robotics. They should also, right now, start to re-conceptualize their businesses in terms of how they fit into a less-stuff/more experiences consumer marketplace.

Meanwhile, transformationist savants will start thinking about how to configure an economy so that people don’t need to work to make their lives work.

And not only an economy, but a society and culture, too.

As a writer, right now I have, only one Subject. Which doesn’t mean I’m the only writer worth reading about the Subject (yes, I do have some remaining tattered shreds of humility).

Nor, it occurred to me, is the Subject the only subject that can provide insights into the Subject.

To that end, as I imagine you’re finding yourself with more reading time on your hands than usual, allow me to recommend Lynne Olson’s marvelous Citizens of London.

Even without its relevance, this book would belong on your reading shortlist. It’s history few of us know anything about — how three Americans — Edward R. Murrow, Averell Harriman, and John Gilbert Winant helped save England before the United States joined the war against the Axis powers.

As we chafe at the self-imposed restrictions on our now-on-hold daily routines, it should be required reading: Citizens of London, as it relates the previously untold joint biography of Murrow, Harriman, and Winant, also tells the story of the Blitz in stark, unblinking terms.

Understanding the day-to-day stoicism, courage, and resilience with which the British dealt with two solid months of daily bombings should quell any sense we have of daily aggravation.

We find ourselves shopping on-line from the comfort of our homes. Our inconvenience is shortages brought about mostly because of shoppers who expect shortages. The British crowded into air raid shelters, wondering if this would be the time a German bomb turned their shelter into a mass tomb. And, it found them dealing with very real, painful, severe and constant shortages of food and basic commodities.

If, though, fiction is more to your liking than biography, and you’d like to read about the Subject without reading about it as daily … or hourly, or up-to-the-minute-breaking … news, get hold of the incomparable Connie Willis’s World War II duology, Blackout and All Clear. While not historically accurate in detail, Willis paints a vivid picture of Great Britain in World War II, and especially the Blitz, through the lens of time-traveling historians who find themselves caught up in it all.

If you don’t regularly read science fiction reader don’t be put off. The science-fictional elements don’t dominate the story. The everyday heroism of so-called “ordinary” people does.

Speaking only for myself, reading and thinking about the Blitz gives me something to aspire to.

Parallels between the Blitz and our current government-encouraged, self-imposed quarantines and isolation are, of course, inexact. Especially, the Blitz caused the British to crowd in together. They might have wished for a protective solution that let them isolate themselves, just as we wish for one that would let us congregate.

I will, by the way, allow you some escapism as you wait things out (no, don’t thank me!). While I’m touting Connie Willis, that means you should save The Doomsday Book — a grim and unrelenting telling of the bubonic plague — for more cheerful times.

Instead, seek out her utterly delightful To Say Nothing of the Dog. It’s about a time traveling historian’s (of course!) search for Jerome K Jerome, author of Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog),

Which is, if anything, even more delightful than Willis’s book about it.

Add it to your list.

# # #

Those of us who write have, I think, a responsibility to make sure we rely on trustworthy sources of information; also to monitor ourselves to make sure the trustworthy sources we rely on aren’t limited to trustworthy sources who reliably tell us what we want to read (or hear).

Last week, while using the Subject as a springboard for writing about risk management, I highlighted a source of reliably untrustworthy information. Several subscribers objected to my bringing politics into KJR.

Interestingly, these same subscribers did not complain when I used the Democratic primaries as a springboard for writing about sexism in the workplace, even though I was less than kind in my comments about some of the candidates.

In any event, it’s fair to say that identifying trustworthy sources of information about the Subject is probably more useful than trying to list the near-endless sources of misinformation. Hint: if a source endorses bleach cocktails or homemade hydroxychloroquine, it’s untrustworthy.

Better to rely on the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yes, the CDC’s early attempts at establishing a testing program were pretty ragged. No, that doesn’t disqualify it as a source of reliable information.

One more: while I’m sometimes less than complimentary regarding McKinsey & Company, its COVID-19 Executive Briefing for business management is quite good.

And, of course, there’s Snopes.