When ten observers of the World share what 2020 meant for them


Didier Marlier

December 19, 2020

From Disruption to Engagement

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In 2004, James Surowiecki (head of the Business Column in The New-Yorker), published a book which still fascinates us nowadays: “The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations”.

In it, he provides several examples where collective intelligence produced far more accurate, insightful or useful results than the opinion of “the” specialist! But, for the “Wisdom of Crowds” to truly function, Surowiecki identifies five conditions:


  1. Diversity of opinion: various sources of information
  2. Independence: independent minded people
  3. Decentralisation: a wide geographical and intellectual diversity
  4. Aggregation: a process should exist to reassemble the diverse opinions and transform them into a collective decision
  5. Trust: everyone believes that the process is fair and participants honestly make their choices independently from each other.


We notice that many of our clients are putting a huge amount of effort into diversity and inclusion, which has the potential to tick the first 3 conditions above. However, we too often see the value undermined by processes that inadvertently encourage bias. The classic error is group ‘brainstorming’, where a first thought, or a compellingly explained idea, has an exaggerated influence on subsequent inputs. People follow the thread rather than bringing truly new insights. Also, when assessing the relative merits of ideas, or synthesising a conclusion, there is too often an unconscious weighting given to the views of leaders, powerful individuals or subject matter experts. Without thoughtful team processes, much of the value of diversity can we wasted.

We have tried to apply Surowiecki principles with our senior team in the global Enablers Network. We invited them to share their wisdom with a simple open question:


What has 2020 meant to me?


Critically, all the responses were sent to one person to collate, so nobody could be influenced by the thoughts of others. Next, all names were removed, and the anonymised responses were returned to the team so each person could independently summarise their own meaning. We will use these multiple perceptions to influence how we might evolve the Enablers Network in 2021. When we started the experiment, we had absolutely no idea how it would turn out.

We hope you enjoy reading the answers below and invite you to form your own overview. We will not be offering you our own summary as that may influence how you decode our thoughts. Whilst reading, please notice if you are drawn to the writing of those people you know (or like); it may be an unconscious (or conscious) bias at work.



What has 2020 meant to Nick McRoberts?

For me, as for millions of people around the world, 2020 and particularly the constraints of Covid, have forced us to live in a never ending present. I had already been reading the Stoics at the end of last year and it was great preparation:

“You only live in the present, this fleeting moment. The rest of your life is already gone or not yet revealed.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

It has been a great challenge not to be able to make plans or develop big projects – but to try to be content in a simple daily routine. Not to be able to do many of the things we took for granted but it turns out matters most – seeing family, friends, just being with people.

We learnt to take what we do online – and learnt the limits and frustrations of the virtual world. Still, I think we will look back on this unprecedented time for self reflection, and figuring out what we want to do with our lives, as painful but transformative.


What has 2020 meant to Bruce Fecheyr-Lippens?

2020 meant a personal life changing journey. From “personal loss” to a profound “professional choice”. 2020 helped me to focus. 2020 gave me some answers I was blind for. 2020 was the year for me to shift from “many connections” to a few “very deep connections”… A new chapter in a life journey that became boring :=). Although sometimes tough, 2020 has been a gift…


What has 2020 meant to Michael Newman?

I look back on 2020 with positivity. Disruption and uncertainty have put a huge amount of pressure on business leaders at all levels, and most have stepped up to the challenge. I have seen so many examples of leaders reimagining how they work; refocusing their goals, energising their teams and fighting for results. A second seismic shift has been towards empathy and a genuine care for others; not just those in a formal reporting relationship, but across organisational boundaries.

Business leaders have accepted the scale and impact of Covid. By finding new ways to collaborate and innovate, they have maintained optimism about a brighter future. In contrast, public discourse has too often been characterised by pessimism, negativity, criticism, and partisanship.

We have a generation of business leaders who have battled a major recession and are now emerging from a global epidemic. As they grow into senior positions, I hope to see them combining their deep resilience and adaptability, with a heightened human touch, to bring new forms of leadership to business and, optimistically, to wider society.

Roll on the roaring twenties Mk II.


What has 2020 meant to Ben Clayton-Jolly?

2020 will not be forgotten quickly, and I hope the challenges of this year will become a long term enabler of positive change. Covid-19 has devastated our societies but has also perhaps brought a new global sense of identity as our suffering is shared real time. Organisational leaders have had to prioritise the physical and psychological safety of their people, whilst at the same time adapting to widespread disruption to business models and ways of working. The post Covid future is still uncertain but home working and virtual meetings will certainly become part of the ‘new normal’. Death helps us prioritise what is important and many people are rethinking what is important for themselves, their families and their organisations. In the background climate change continues and the repercussions of not addressing this will completely dwarf the pandemic. And in the middle of all this I have been moved by inspiring examples of leadership at all levels, both locally and globally. Challenge and crisis are often necessary ingredients for change and collaborative, co-creative leadership is now needed more than ever.


What has 2020 meant to Stephen Okunowo?

2020 has been a time to see opportunity in adversity. It has been a time to pause and appreciate what one has, rather than what one is being denied. I have embraced new things and learned new skills.

It has meant space to reflect, plan and be grateful. To enjoy time with family and recharge ready for the next wave.

As one of life’s optimistic cynics, I have despaired and rejoiced in equal measure at the leadership shown by Political Leaders. I have also seen what we are capable of achieving when the need is great and the stakes are high. I have seen that we need to be agile and ingenious without losing that which makes us human. Intellect without compassion is a curse.

I have remembered that we need to care for our planet and to try harder to help it heal. Someone wiser than I once said, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. This may not have been what he meant, but there is a warning in there somewhere.


What has 2020 meant to Didier Marlier?

When we come out the other side

No longer forced to run and hide

What sort of world will we see?

What sort of humans might we be?

When we come out the other side

No colours or religions to divide

A better world for you and me

With morals, hope and dignity

When we come out the other side

Will our prejudices be set aside?

The human race can now be free

To determine its own destiny

When we come out the other side

Let’s think of those for whom we cried

Remember those who gave selflessly

Who cared for us, for you, for me

When we come out the other side

Recall the ones who all defied

Attach no blame but make them see

How close we came to anarchy

When we come out the other side

For all of those who haven’t died

We will celebrate, so full of glee

And make our mark in history

When we come out the other side

What a wondrous world we’ll all see

And what better humans we will be!

(Andy Barham 2020)


What has 2020 meant to Chris Parker?

2020 has been the year of transformation.  I will never be the same, and that is brilliant for me.

Professionally, I have observed so many people around the world solving incredible challenges.  The sense of global shared purpose feels marvellous. Opportunities to contribute meaningfully continue to present themselves!

Socially, I started a podcast and have published over seventy episodes. Connecting with incredible people from my home office. It has become a platform to share stories about ‘everyday entrepreneurs everywhere’ and continue learning.

Emotionally, we discovered how fortunate we are as a family to have the space in the house which enabled us to live in comfort and safety.

Physically, the joy of moving was shared with my boys as we adopted a habit early on in the pandemic to walk in the nearby forests and pick up trash.

Spiritually, my journey of embracing the positive and withholding judgement was tested during the crisis. My connection to myself and the universe has become incredibly strong through the experience.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then 2020 has been the mother-load of necessity.


What has 2020 meant to Marvin Faure?

A time when so many things changed and yet the essentials remained the same

A time to wonder at the infinite extent of human selfishness and folly

A time to step off the treadmill and lift my eyes to the horizon

A time to take stock on where I am in my life’s journey

A time to reflect on what is truly important to me

A time to renew neglected friendships

A time to study, a time to learn

A time to smell the flowers

A time to plant seeds

A time for loving

A time for gifts


What has 2020 meant to Bob Devlin?

This tumultuous time, fraught with uncertainties points to a future that’s far from clear.  With offices closed and business gone virtual we’ve functioned in ways hardly imaginable a year ago.  The intensity of typical polarities has increased exponentially: fear <-> excitement, hope <-> despair, safety <-> risk, past <-> future.  In this, we’ve been called to dig deeply and ask big questions: what’s important, what we dare to envision, what we’ll fight for and for some, what we’ll die for.  Back in March, I accepted the invitation of a wise friend to sit quietly together amid the chaos, each morning, at 630, on zoom.  He generously offered a structure that liberates, helping us cultivate the place where time stops, anxiety melts away and calm emerges.  The sages and mystics were right.  Within each of us there’s a universal space and when we slow down and tune in, something remarkable happens.  It’s taken a Covid year to come to this simple realization.  For that, I’m immensely grateful and I intend to bring this renewal and gratitude to my world as what will be emerges.


What has 2020 meant to Deborah Berlinck?

2020 was the year when I asked the most basic questions about life. What do I really want? Where are we all – collectively– going? Where is my place in all this ? The idea of end brought by the pandemic and by so many people around me infected or killed by the virus Covid-19 made me plunge into questions about the essence of life, work, relationships.

It was not an easy year professionally, but it was rich in terms of questions and reflections. I would not say I came out of this as a different person.  But I will definitely come out  with different questions and even more eager to connect with people to seek the answers. As the year ends and the scientific community rushes to stop the spread of the disease, I wonder if we will ever take stock of what we have been through to change ourselves for the better.


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