Lockdown – through the Escondido lens

We are in lockdown with Covid-19.  Large parts of the economy are in suspended animation.  Other businesses are operating on a hugely reduced scale.  Others have recognised that their sales have dried up but have redeployed that assets and staff to help address the pandemic.  The Chancellor of the Exchequer has become the “employer of last resort”, funding 80% of staff wages as an inducement for companies to keep people on their payrolls.

How should we interpret the reshaping of businesses through the lens of the Escondido Framework?  In particular, what does it do those market interfaces that define the firm as visualised in a simple form by the Reuleaux Tetrahedron?

Are companies in the same business now that they were last month, before lockdown?  In some cases, it easy to say that, at least temporarily, they are: the Lymington sail maker who has turned over his computer fabric cutting capability to turning out fabric pieces for others to sew up as scrubs for NHS front line staff and the university engineering departments that have deployed their 3D printers to make components for surgical masks.  These companies have moved from one market into completely different one.  Their staff, capital, and suppliers are relatively unchanged, but they have exchanged the customer market with which they usually interface with a completely different one.

Others have been transformed into agents of the state: temporary distributors of transfers by a government that has banned their businesses (particularly those in consumer services: retail, hospitality, entertainment) from operating.  In their cases, the regulatory interface (not displayed in the 4 market interfaces of the Reuleaux Tetrahedron that describes the simplest companies, but has to be imagined in a multi-dimensional context) has moved inwards to the degree that the company is no longer creating value other than as a channel for transfer payments.

Another way of looking at the interpretation is that the company exists only in a shadow form, some ghost of what the company could become once again.  I suspect there is a quantum analogy here – the locked down company with furloughed staff as Schodinger’s Cat. Certainly, the physical assets remain present, the staff remain employed, the wiring of the corporate structure remains in place, and the Dark Matter of the soft things such as relationships, corporate memory, social glue, shared assumptions, implicit operational and communication protocols continue – albeit that they may be vulnerable the longer that the lockdown continues.  Zoom and its competitors keep some of the Dark Matter alive.  The efforts that the investor, directors, and managers make in supporting and communicating with their staff will help, but the longer the uncertainty remains, or if the companies scrimp on their effort and investment in maintain this soft stuff, the greater the risk that the Dark Matter will leak away.