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There’s No Going Back. You Can Only Go Forward (Thinks Out Loud Episode 312)

No going back: Woman staring into the future

Google just announced that they’re staying away from offices until September 2021… and that most employees will continue to work remotely part time even after. New York City schools decided to hold classes online instead of having a snow day. And businesses all around the world are adapting. They all realize there’s no going back. There’s no "normal" that we’re ever going to return to. Instead, the best way out of the pandemic for business is to look forward.

The latest Thinks Out Loud looks at why we’re never going back, why going back is impossible — and how you can go forward to greater success in the future.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Thinks Out Loud Episode 312: There’s No Going Back. You Can Only Go Forward Headlines and Show Notes

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Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud

Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 16m 18s

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Transcript: There’s No Going Back. You Can Only Go Forward

Well, hello again, everyone, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 312 of The Big Show. Thank you so much for tuning in. This is either going to be the last or the next to last episode we do this year. We might sneak one in the week of December 28th. There will not be a show next week, for sure.

That said, I think we’ve got a pretty cool show for you today. I think there’s some cool, cool stuff to discuss. I want to start with this announcement that came out, 9to5Google reports that Google is not going back into the office until September of 2021, and when they do, they’re going to combine this idea of “flexible work weeks” with what they’re calling “collaboration days.” They expect that people will be in the office. Some people will be in the office some days, probably two or three days a week, and then they’ll be able to work from wherever the other days of the week.

We Are Never Going Back to Normal

That’s a really extraordinary announcement, and it highlights what I want to talk about this week, which is that we’re never going back to normal, and I think it’s time that we all accept that.

Now, what I mean by this is first of all, whatever normal was, whatever we did a year ago, whatever we did, oh gosh, 10 months ago is gone, is gone. It’s just not coming back. I’m not negative about this. I don’t mean to be negative about this. I think it’s a reality that we need to accept because you can never go back.

You can only go forward. You can only build off of where you are at any given point. Now, there may be elements of what existed nine months ago, 10 months ago, a year ago, that will come back because they still work, but there are elements that are gone forever because they don’t make sense anymore, and I think we have a long way to go to figure out what those are and what they will be.

Some Changes Appear Permanent

But there are some things that are becoming really clear. Google announced they’re going to have this very different working environment, and I expect I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the working environment is even more different nine months from now than what they’re saying today, because if we’re talking September, we’re talking nine months away from now. Since we’ve been in lockdown for at least nine months leading up to this, that means that their employees will have worked from home or work from anywhere for about a year and a half before their offices reopen.

Would you call me crazy if I thought that it’s likely they’ll make even further changes before they get to September of 2021, before they get another nine months away from now? I mean, think about it. Who thought we’d be where we are right now nine months ago? The way they’re approaching this is obviously one example of the kinds of changes we should expect to see, the kinds of changes we should expect to be the norm as we go forward. I think we’re going to see so many more over the coming month that we don’t quite realize yet before we get to mass vaccination and mass immunity.

A Generation of Change

There’s an entire generation of people being shaped by what’s been going on in their lives. If you’re a student or if you’re a young employee, this might be all you’ve ever known. Even if you’re partway through your career — but enough of the way through your career that you’ve realized what works for you and how this might work better for you — do you really think that going back to the way things worked will be the norm? I can’t imagine that’s true.

No, it doesn’t mean… Let’s take the student’s scenario. It doesn’t mean that students will always be outside the classroom. Clearly, there are benefits to having people in the same space. I feel that very strongly. I’m going to come to that point in a second in more detail. It just means that going back also isn’t quite right.

New Directions

We’ll go forward in a different direction. Some parts will be the same, some parts will be different. For instance, while I’m recording this, there is a fairly major snowstorm here in the Thinks HQ environment going on. Well, not in the building, but right outside my window. I’m looking at a fairly significant snowfall, so if you hear snowplows go by or things like that, that’s what you’re hearing.

And New York City schools announced tomorrow, they’re not going to have in-person classes. They’re also not having a snow day. Classes, instead, will be held online for the full day. That’s a very different reality from anything I experienced, and if you’re listening to this show, probably anything you’ve experienced as the norm. Not to be all New York-centric, but there was a New York Times article about how offices in New York City, office buildings and landlords in New York City are looking to turn some of those offices into apartments due to the changes in where people are living and where people are working now. And you are undoubtedly seeing stories like this every day. I know that I have.

We’re in a different world and we shouldn’t expect that people are just going to say, "Nah, forget it. Let’s just go back and do the things we always did."

What If the New Reality Doesn’t Really Work?

Now, what if you say, "Okay, but that doesn’t really work. We have found that this doesn’t work"? There was some fascinating research from Adam Ozimek at Upwork that suggested that it works pretty well actually. This is a quote from the study, and I’ll link to this in the show notes, “whether managers personally enjoyed or disliked remote work was a big driver of how they felt it was going.”

So it’s not that it works or doesn’t work. It’s that your perception of whether it works or doesn’t work is shaped by your feelings about it, whether or not it works for you personally.The only people who think remote work isn’t going to last are people who don’t like working remotely.

You May Be Right. But…

Now, I want to be incredibly fair. At least some percentage of those folks, maybe it’s the vast majority of those folks, may dislike it because it’s not working and they haven’t quite found the metrics to show that yet. That is absolutely a possibility.

I also think it’s more likely, just based on what we know about human behavior and what we know about human perception, that people who dislike it personally are having their point of view colored by their point of view of its effectiveness colored by how they feel about it.

Digital Leaders Are Already Adapting

I’ll tell you why I think that. There’s a fair bit of research, a fair bit of news about how the digital giants, the frightful five, AGFAM, whatever you want to call them, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, how they’re setting themselves up to win, how they’re setting themselves up to succeed. Because they haven’t been taking these shifts for granted.

I did a whole show about this early on in the pandemic, probably somewhere in, over the summer, and it’s partly because they have the resources to invest in these changes. But here’s the thing, whether it’s because they’re doing a really good job of understanding the data and adapting to the needs of customers really quickly, and being focused on these longer term changes — which is what I suspect is most likely — or it’s because they’ve already invested in this and they want to make sure that they get the benefit of those investments, it’s very unlikely that they’re going to look to reverse course.

What You Can Do

We live in a different world, and what you need to do is you need to begin to adapt to that world as well. We need to stop thinking about how we’re going to go back and we need to think about how we’re going to go forward.

We need to think about, "How do we build a digital company? How do we build the kind of organization that ensures we’re not destined to lose to the big guys?" By the way, I’ve done episodes on those very topics in just the last couple months, and I will make sure those are linked to in the show notes.

The first thing we have to do is acknowledge that this is the new reality, that this is where the world is going. It’s what our customers expect. It doesn’t mean that nothing ever comes back that we’d missed from the old days… listen to me, that we missed from way back when in 2019, right? I don’t want to suggest that.

It means that the parts that are still meaningful and relevant and valid for your customers will absolutely come back, but the things that we’re finding work better now, or at least better enough that it’s not worth the trouble of figuring out how to go back to the way things were are gone forever.

Get Ready for the New

The sooner we adapt to that, the sooner we recognize that, the sooner we put the right pieces in place to ensure we’re ready to succeed in the world as it is, as opposed to the world as it was, the better position you’re going to be in for the long term.

I did an episode not long ago, where I talked about how we get to “Brand 2030,” and one of the things that I said was an old maxim that I like, that says, "The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago. The second best time is today." So if we think things aren’t going to go back, we think things are going to go forward, and here’s that spoiler, they always go forward, but the question is, "What kinds of trees do you need to be planting today to make sure you’re in great shape by the end of 2021, by the end of 2022, by the end of 2023?"

There’s No Going Back. You Can Only Go Forward Conclusion

I’ll leave you with this thought. I’ll leave you with this question. I want you to close your eyes for a minute, and I want you to picture that it is December 31st, 2023. It’s three years from now, and you’ve just had the best year in the history of your company. You’ve just had the most personally fulfilling year you’ve ever had. You’ve just had the greatest successes you’ve ever achieved. What did you do today? What did you do tomorrow? What did you do the next day that make sure that’s true?" Because that’s what you should be doing now, and I bet you’re going to do some really cool stuff to get there.

Show Credits

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we aren’t out of time for this week, but I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all our episodes by going to Again, that’s Just look for episode 312. You can click on the subscribe link in any of the episodes you find on to have Thinks Out Loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single week.

You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Stitcher Radio, Spotify, Overcast, wherever fine podcasts are found. Just do a search for Tim Peter Thinks, Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud, or Thinks Out Loud. We should show up for any of those.

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Thinks Out Loud on Social Media

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Sponsor Message: SoloSegment

As I do every week, I’d like to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment uses machine learning, natural language processing, and all of the cool things that AI does to understand anonymous behavioral data and connect website visitors with the content they need to accomplish their goals.

Because they do this, using anonymous data, it meets all the requirements of GDPR, it makes your customers comfortable and feel like you’re not being creepy. It’s a really cool tool. You should absolutely check it out. You can learn all about it at Again, that’s

Show Outro

With that said, I want to say thank you again for tuning in every single week, as well as today. I have now done 312 episodes of the show, and it means so much to me that you tune in week after week, that you listen week after week. As I mentioned at the top of the show, we’re not doing an episode last week, so it’s going to be a couple weeks before I get a chance to speak with you again.

And I just hope that you have not just a great rest of this week, not just a great week ahead, but that you have a wonderful, wonderful holiday season, that you stay safe, you stay sane, you stay healthy, and I do look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud again next time. Until then, please, be well, be safe, and as ever, take care, everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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