My weekly take — Alice in VUCAland
A dear and brilliant young friend told me this week they were tired of ‘having-fallen-down-the-rabbit-hole existence’.
‘I feel like we’re in a parallel universe, disconnected from the life we used to live.’, they said.
And I get it.
We’ve seen things plummeting for a while now. It’s hard not to wonder — just how deep is this hole? What’s on the other side? Are we ever coming back from this? What if it’s so deep that falling very fast still seems slow?
Going through this week’s links, I wonder at what point we can feel we reconnect to our original life. Or any life for that matter. The business buzzword ‘VUCA world’, stands for Complexity, Volatility, Ambiguity and Uncertainty. Disruption was the keyword of the decade in business. Now it seems like the world has turned to us and said: ‘That’s not disruption… THIS is disruption.’
Many of us, people and businesses, are still focused on survival. Companies sometimes call it ‘Continuity’. Like in stories. However, once we survive the fall, what’s on the other side? Where does the story go?
The fall down the rabbit hole is a very personal experience. The level of risk, individually, varies greatly. Bringing outside perspectives into the fall is a challenge. What can we do?
My recommendation is to both zoom out and zoom in, and that is one of the things I try to offer with these Pandemic Readers. On the one hand — the big picture, from the best sources with the best data. On the other hand, to truly make sense of it all, we must also focus on reports and testimonies of individual experiences in all their diversity. The movement between the whole and the parts. It’s at the heart of how people make sense of the world, and of how most strategy models work. It’s not just the best way to make sense of this VUCA world. It’s the only way to make any sense of anything at all.
I’ve been critical of ‘we’re all in this together’ platitudes while the pandemic exposes such inequality. But one thing we all have in common is that we are trying to make sense of the world. What changes, what stays the same. Our story.
“The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.
Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next.”
That’s the silver lining, at least for those of us privileged enough to still have internet rabbit-holes at our service. Perhaps we should add to the strategic innovation principle of ‘fail better’ also — ‘fall better’ down the rabbit-hole.
Here’s this week’s attempt to make sense…
This tends to be the first element we consider every week, and it makes sense — it’s a pandemic. The death toll is central to the story. As the fight for the narrative intensifies, so do attempts to muddy the water. Especially as death toll impacts political campaigns. In some countries, the wrong narrative may get you to ‘trip’ out a window. Who knows what stories will be revealed in the years to come.
Excess deaths are still, however, an indicator to the fact that the death toll is underreported rather than overreported.
Intertwined in this is the case of contrarian-covidiot favourite Sweden. Here’s a fairly nuanced analysis of their highly problematic herd-immunity led approach. Scientists say that only after two-three years can we judge some strategies.
However, if you’re still feeling confused by questions of life vs the economy, here’s a detailed ethical review.
Zooming in, it looks some highly populated areas are far from being out of the woods. NYC still scary, even as the White House is already celebrating reopening.
Zooming in further. Obituaries help us remember each life is a world. Humanise the crisis so we don’t lose sight of what matters.
What does the next round look like? Here are some different patterns it could follow. Patterns for the financial crisis and recovery (coming up) are interlinked with pandemic models in ways too complex to fully track.
Here you can play with the curves interactively and see how VUCA it all is and just how careful reopening needs to be.
Not a god damn flu
More facts are adding up. Not a flu. The virus has many faces.
Zooming in, here’s what the illness actually feels like, great design from the NYT of testimonies accompanied with animated illustrations.
And how a scientist who fought Ebola and HIV reflects on nearly dying from it.
Explain Covid is a new project that tries to explain things clearly and stay close to the science. Led by a team of researchers and students at Brown, MIT, Harvard, Mass General and elsewhere.
A lot of focus has been on masks but face shields might be more important than people think. Perhaps combine both as we move to reopen when social distancing gets tricky.
Brace for the financial crisis
In the UK, BOE said to prepare for the worst recession for 300 years. There’s a number. Unfathomable.
Sir Martin Sorrel, suggests a small recovery and a long slog, like a square root symbol, but reminds it will change between sectors.
Zooming in. Here’s what it’s like for the small business owners, many of who won’t recover from this.
And even survival doesn’t guarantee things stay the way we know them. A small example: Cinemas.
What will happen to the system?
Just like it’s still impossible to chart the full financial ripple effect. How deep this rabbit hole is or how fast we’re falling. It’s hard to gauge the impact on the political system. I was a sceptic in the early weeks and remain so. But there is going to be more debate.
Meanwhile, the UK government already demonising furloughed people as ‘Addicted’ to state charity. That old poisonous chestnut.
How NOT to new normal
Here’s a visual overview of how lockdown and reopening work across the world.
What the politicians seem to downplay is just how fragile reopening is (see above.). Reopening doesn’t just happen, but US and UK leaders seem to be hedging their bets. Trump is pushing a lot back on the states. So much that he announced early in the week that he was closing the White House’s covid task force. He then made a U-turn, but he’s listening when he wants to, which isn’t often. Johnson is pushing a lot on employers and people. Being so vague it’s made into memes, and he’s still defending it as I’m writing this.
These guys. Happily authoritarian when it’s easy, but not when it counts. A little bit like Galloway’s ‘Capitalist on the way up and socialist on the way down.’
Even if Trump is unravelling, he might have enough time until the elections. ‘“The real opposition is the media,” Steve Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, once told the journalist Michael Lewis. “And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”’
Some of that shit has been the constant political dog-whistling to lockdown protests. Those who Trump call ‘The good people’. Many of whom promote conspiracy theories which fit perfectly with their presidents’ lies as a belief system’ approach. Resist the pandemic and the ‘Plandemic’.
‘They are good people’ he says. No, they are not. We now know they were not good people that other time either, back in Charlottesville. They are merely privileged with being heard and over-represented. It’s no joke, Karen.
Rage against the propaganda machine aside, the risk is that this behaviour will lead to the L shaped recovery. Here are the different shapes for economic recovery, as promised.
A certain billionaire seems to be suffering from a similar affliction. Can we make ‘Musking’ a thing?
Meanwhile, Amazon monetises it all. Again. If they only paid their taxes, I’d move that brilliance to the next section.
How to new normal
I’m not against reopening. Only that binary rhetoric of open/close is too dangerous. A good starting point would be to understand the risks and the ripple effects of reopening. Help people understand it rather than vaguely open.
When looking at success stories, such as South Korea, it’s important to understand the differences. If we can’t pass the tests, the risk for communities is criminal.
The pandemic highlights the failures of global governance, but maybe we can fix it or at least learn from it.
Are celebrities there to help us reconnect with normality, or are they a status quo propaganda channel?
If you lost any opportunities to the pandemic, you may find comfort in this beautiful and insightful column. Fuck the bread. Bread is over.
You are more resilient than you ever imagined. Keep safe and beware Zoom fatigue. Here’s the science.
Unsplash collected some of the responses to the UN’s creative brief. A lot of free for public use posters and illustrations.
Miss partying? How committed are you? Would you rave in this suit?
And in Japan, they make sure people can facetime eels, so the eels don’t forget what humans Look like. Where do I even begin with this potential metaphor meme bomb? A good point to sign off.
I try to read broadly and deeply, but I’m only one scruffy human. Send me anything good/important that I’ve missed or put it in the comments.
If you liked this update, please do like and share. If you don’t trust the algorithms, you might want to subscribe and be updated by email. Last week also included an update about my 20-minute video talk for charity about ‘Strategy in a crisis’. This week I’m going to talk creative strategy at SCA — and it’s open.