Might there soon be a medical breakthrough that eradicates COVID-19 from the face of the earth? In that case humankind will declare victory and move on. Or the pandemic might unleash new waves across the world, forcing stricter lockdowns and cratering economies beyond repair. More likely perhaps is that contagion will continue, and the world’s societies resolve to live with the risk in ways they have not considered so far. What will that compromise look like? How can we—as nations, as enterprise leaders, and as individuals—adapt to the new conditions and continue to thrive? Setting aside magical thinking and apocalyptic rhetoric alike, we need collectively to agree on some sturdy principles for living with the virus.
For example, what is the failure we are most likely to commit and must avoid as we work to diminish the human ravages of the virus? Imagine that, looking back a decade hence, the inescapable conclusion is that our response fell short. How will that failure be manifested? Who will turn out to have done, or not done, what?
Consider what was first identified as the failure to avoid at all costs: overwhelming intensive care facilities and other scarce healthcare resources. This turned into the clear directive to “flatten the curve” of infection and death. Where that failure was avoided, the new failure to avoid—and therefore the criteria for easing lockdown restrictions—is far less clear and agreed-on.
Or, if effective management depends on tracking progress against objectives, what are the goals we should set ourselves and how will we tell if we are meeting them?
Useful “metrics” must relate to purpose (ie “what matters most”, or perhaps “the failure to avoid at all costs”) as well as accurately, objectively, and comparably representing reality. Absent a clear overall goal, in some countries early in the pandemic massive testing became the de facto purpose, irrespective of reliability or who was being tested, squeezing out arguably greater priorities.
If, as likely, no single figure can measure adequate cohabitation with the virus, a better goal may be to establish an index of qualities that all contribute to human thriving.
Many people have the power to act and effectively influence others. What obstacles might keep them from reaching consensus on a path forward?
The fights around COVID-19 are often characterized as scientific rather than political. In fact, they are both—and in neither realm is much “settled.” Obstacles range from lack of essential knowledge (even misinformation) to conflicting beliefs about what best serves societal needs. Some argue that failure to defeat the virus is down to the refusal of leaders to “follow the science”; others the reverse, that the technocratic bias of decision-makers has kept them from taking commonsense actions based on wise judgment in the face of competing priorities.
How is living with the virus different than living with other risk factors that force people to make tradeoffs in their daily lives? What could be done to make the risks of contagion more manageable?
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs suggests that risks are experienced differently: an immediate threat to life is sui generis, separate from threats to health, prosperity, or social capital. But given the outcomes to date, can we take a more fine-grained view of the risks that different demographic groups face from COVID-19? How can a conflicted media industry be enlisted to help the public weigh the risks better?
What should we be demanding of political and business leaders now? What can they do to increase the chances of coming out of 2020 in better shape overall? What must they stop doing?
the Drucker Forum Editors
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