The status quo. Within a few weeks, the coronavirus had spread around the globe, bringing public and economic life to a standstill in many countries. In April 2020, a total of 178 countries introduced travel restrictions, 157 closed schools, and 145 imposed quarantine and lockdown measures. Management consultants McKinsey calculated that the German economy was losing 15 billion euros a week during lockdown in April. At a loss of 4 billion euros, a substantial portion of this was borne by manufacturing industry, particularly the automotive, mechanical engineering and plant engineering sectors. Next came health care and the social services (1.6 billion euros), wholesale trade (1.1 billion euros), the hotel and catering trade (900 million euros) and arts and entertainment (800 million euros). For 2020, the European Commission is forecasting a fall in GDP of 7.4 percent for the EU as a whole, with Germany (-6.5%) less seriously affected than France or Italy. The EU is providing record funds in order to overcome the impact.
According to McKinsey, it will take until 2028 for Germany to rejoin the path of growth that it would have been on without the pandemic – under one condition: Germany must seize the opportunity to press ahead with digital transformation. Conditions are favorable right now. In response to COVID- 19, a lot of companies have fast-forwarded the process of digitalization. Companies that had procrastinated for years have suddenly gone ahead and done it. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sums it up: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digitalization in the space of just two months.”
Yet this is not the only aspect of social and economic transformation that can now gain added momentum. More clearly than ever, the coronavirus pandemic has uncovered the vulnerabilities of our system – but also revealed the opportunities we face. “The measures to stabilize and stimulate the German economy need to be geared first and foremost toward achieving greater sustainability,” says Fraunhofer President Prof. Reimund Neugebauer. “And this must be done in a way that also substantially strengthens our competitiveness.” For Chancellor Merkel, the key lesson of recent months has been the need for Europe to acquire “greater strategic sovereignty.” Neugebauer also calls for a rethinking of Germany’s current dependences: “The goal is not to achieve total self-sufficiency but rather to have sovereign freedom of choice. And sovereignty depends on smart policy and on a community’s scientific, economic and social strength.”
Resilience is the measure of whether societies and organizations are able to overcome critical situations and whether they possess the technological, social and economic means to do this. “What resilient systems and organizations all have in common is that they invest in redundancy, spread their resources widely, and are able to organize themselves; they factor in the possibility of unforeseen events, focus on their own capabilities and strengths, and have flexible processes,” explains Florian Roth, innovation and resilience researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI in Karlsruhe (see Interview, p. 32). For Roth, it is not enough merely to rebound when adversity strikes or, as the original sense of the word suggests (from the Latin resilire), to “jump back.” If we want to make our system more resilient, we must also exploit this momentum and venture a leap forward or, as Roth calls it, a “bounce forward.”
For many years now, resilience has been a topic of research in the fields of psychology and the social sciences, engineering and the material sciences, and in economics and ecology. Given the complexity of this subject, the analytical approach of engineering science may well offer certain advantages. “Resilience doesn’t come about by accident; you can plan for it strategically,” Stolz explains. “Resilience engineering is all about developing the measures and methods required to make optimal decisions before, during and after a crisis. A major emergency event is divided into five phases, all with fluid boundaries: prepare, prevent, protect, respond and recover.”