How to reopen the economy: Do we optimize to save lives or save livelihoods?

In a very general sense, we all feel that this too shall pass. Yet unlike the dot com bubble burst in 2001, and the recession of 2008, Covid-19 has us facing one of the worst times in the history of our lives.

Many companies are trying to figure out what to do. Projects and campaigns are being put on hold or cancelled. Everyone is worried about their future, their jobs, their income; and what makes it worse is that unlike any other crisis faced before – people are dying.  This has left most of us feeling exceedingly uncomfortable as we worry about our kids, our food supplies, our recent loans, our families and most of all our own health.

I thought for some reason about the D.C. sniper attacks 18 years ago. Fear ruled as John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, brought Washington to a standstill over the course of 23 days in October of 2002, randomly killing people engaged in everyday activities such as pumping gas. Only a year earlier, the area had weathered the September 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, which killed 184.

We are all walking around with fear, not knowing if we would be singled out by the Covid-19 virus “sniper”. We all know we need to keep moving forward, yet this is all new so there is no previous pattern to follow or track record to rely upon.

There’s a big debate going on right now about when and how to reopen the economy. Do we optimize to save lives or save livelihoods?

I’m borrowing here, from the wisdom of Victor Cheng, a former McKinsey & Company management consultant, strategic planning consultant, public speaker, and author of several business books.

The far bigger issue is that we don’t have the data to make a well-informed decision.

Imagine for a minute that we had the ability to test every person in the Trinidad and Tobago to see if they have COVID-19. Imagine everyone takes a 5-minute test every 48 hours for two weeks.

In that time frame, we would be able to identify exactly who is contagious and who is not. With that accurate data, we could separate the contagious from the not contagious.

Thirty days later, the pandemic would be over for us and we would be able to save the maximum number of lives and livelihoods.

(To keep it that way, we would give the same series of tests for anyone entering the islands from another country.)

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When you have really good data, you can make extremely effective decisions. You can understand the story and decide quite accurately, what should be done next.

When considering Covid-19, we have a data quality issue. It is very difficult to solve a problem if we cannot even quantify the magnitude of the problem.

That said – we are all dealing with a new experience and so we are all on a learning curve. We can only solve a problem if we first understand that we do have a problem. Then we can set about to solve it.

Many of us are panicking about money.

From a neurophysiological point of view, Dr Maria Nemeth tells us that when you’re anxious regarding money, your amygdala, the seat of fight, flight, or freeze, activates. It then hijacks your creative centers. As a result, it becomes impossible… or at least very difficult… to solve problems or be resilient when you are faced with challenges.

Now is a great time to go back to basics. First ask yourself: what business am I in? Or perhaps, what business do I need to be in, since the current model for my business is no longer working?  Next look at who you’re serving and what problems you’re going to be solving for those customers.  Rethink your web presence. If you don’t have a site, then now is a good time to get one. Check all social media site messaging, especially LinkedIn and ensure that you are communicating clearly so those who need you can find you.

And finally now is the time to persevere, once you’re still operating a viable business. Most people let their battles define them. They see failure as an indication of who they are. Mentally tough people let their perseverance define them. They see setback as an event. Uncertainty is to be expected. A setback is something that happens to a person, not who a person is. This attitude is what will help you through and past Covid-19. Even though we are all surrounded with not knowing, by death, and by seemingly insurmountable odds, our grit will see us through and we will emerge transformed amidst the new normal – victorious!