COVID-19 has significantly sped up the rate of change. On January 21, the first U.S. case of coronavirus was detected. Today, not even four months later, we have seen over 1.3 million cases. Those of us counting in the early days saw confirmed numbers rise slowly, in ways familiar to us, then all of a sudden, they skyrocketed. 

Linear is out. Exponential is in. That challenges our normal, step-wise ways of working. To succeed in the new world, as medical marketing and communications professionals we need an exponential mindset, one that allows us to identify what part of the curve we are on, and then change the way we plan in the days ahead. 

What part of the exponential curve are we observing? Most exponential phenomena occur on an S curve, in three parts. First, you’re on a stairway climbing slowly upwards where nothing much seems to happen. Then, out of the blue, you are shot into the sky by a ballistic missile that shows no signs of slowing. And then, just as fast it flattens out, it slows back down to the ground. 

We witness such exponentiality when a campaign we lead becomes viral overnight. A few people engage, then many more, and before we know it we’ve reached our maximum. Applying this model to our strategic communications and launch plans will force us to think differently about the choices we make for the audiences we intend to reach. 

Even the processes we use to conduct such ideation exercises may shift as they are best suited to a world that no longer exists, as we embrace digital, synchronous brainstorming, voting and other technologies. This may encourage us to shift budget recommendations toward exponential-based interventions, rather than hoping “traditional” sequential activities pan out.

Next, we must begin to change the way we plan for a future that doesn’t yet exist. Exponentiality requires us to recognize the uncertain point to which our stakeholders will arrive in the near future, and plan for that eventuality, not the present. In short, we’ll need to be great at fortune telling. 

Scenario planning and strategic foresight will be in high demand as we lead in a world of increasing complexity, anticipating unknown futures for our key stakeholders. Paraphrasing New York governor Andrew Cuomo, it is better to say we don’t know, because then we can figure out the three or four possible things we might have to do. 

In our environment, supply chain issues may disrupt drug availability, an advocacy group may get lower priority due to emergent issues, or a lockdown may affect audience participation. Thus, we need to proactively consider, and plan for, which alternative future may come to pass for our brand.

The exponential mindset will enable us to adapt to our changing environment and allow us to succeed in this period of uncertainty.

Matt Lewis is global chief data and analytics officer for MediStrava.