⏲ 5 minute read
Every time there is an event that shakes up the world, things change, sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently.
If you don’t believe me, read this.
Historian Nancy Bristow says that before the breakout of the 1918 Spanish Flu, it was a generally accepted practice to drink water out of a common cup in public places.
Well, that changed and the change was permanent.
Be it the Great Depression, a series of recessions, the Spanish Flu, the two world wars, or the market meltdown due to the mortgage crisis, things have changed.
In most cases, after a certain period of time, society came back to operating near normalcy. Of course, there was always change, but that was the change that comes with progress – heavily influenced by the technological shift and innovations.
9/11 was different.
Unlike the changes brought about by the other events, this time it was permanent because it related to public security at large. The airport screenings seemed like an annoyance at first, but then it became a part of life. Nobody questioned it, because the rules had changed. We could not take a chance and give an opening to terrorists who might cause more damage.
Under the hood, what really happened was that there was a breach of trust – a small segment of people with intentions to cause harm could show up anywhere, anytime. The unpredictable nature of their methods and actions caused uncertainty in the way we lived and worked. So, the changes imposed were accepted as normal.
Nicholas Nassim Taleb aptly named a category of such events as black swans: completely unimaginable before they occur, but easily explained post-occurrence.
And then, COVID-19 happened.
A choice was given. You either stay six feet apart or go six feet under.
Obviously, the world chose to stay six feet apart.
And, in that very instant, the world changed.
It’s easy to describe it as a black swan event. However, that would not fully describe COVID-19, as this time, the change is more different – the emphasis is on more here.
To distinguish between the change, first we have to see what makes this virus so different from any other viruses. The key is asymptomatic virality, which means that a carrier can transmit the virus to another person before the carrier notices any symptoms of the infection.
What does this mean?
Unlike the 9/11 scenario, where a small segment of people with mal-intent were feared, here there is a breach of trust between people irrespective of their intent.
In other words, the unsaid social contract of trustworthy-by-default is downgraded to suspect-by-default.
This changes everything at a fundamental level on how we learn, grow, live, love, and work.
The magnitude of this change is unprecedented, but that can get masked by what labels you use to describe it.
If this had been a recession or a depression, you could have mentally painted a picture about the magnitude of the impact. Well, you probably know that this is more complex than those scenarios.
You could call this as a black swan event – an unprecedented event when it happens, but a very explainable post event.
The term “black swan” still does not do justice to what is happening.
Unless we find the right label for this phenomenon, we will be at a disadvantage because we will diagnose the problem wrong, mis-calculate the impact and hence will not take the necessary actions with the right speed and intensity.
Imagine you have a fever and you take your body temperature. It shows 105-degrees, but for whatever reason, you read it as 99-degrees. That error will wreak havoc because as mentioned before, you diagnosed the problem wrong, you will mis-calculate the impact and then fail to take the necessary actions with speed and intensity to solve the problem.
I suggest that we call this a black bevy event.
Bevy is the term for a group of swans. Black bevy in essence would have an impact of simultaneous occurrence of multiple black swan events. It is an event that is unimaginable, but explainable post the event, but more importantly, it changes the way we live in a significant way.
They are already calling the children born during this period as “Generation C.” I won’t be surprised if BC would take on a new meaning: Before COVID.
Rachel Voyles, who runs Colorado Movement Therapy, captured the essence of the problem this can create brilliantly in her message below:
Here is the preview of upcoming attractions. On March 25, 2020, American Airlines sent this message with the changes (temporarily, they say) they have made in response to the COVID-19 threat:
Welcome to the new world of Minimum Viable Touch (MVT).
Let the games begin.
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© 2005 - 2020 Rajesh Setty.