Blog post

False Pandemic Prophets

By Frank Buytendijk | April 13, 2020 | 0 Comments

What will the future bring after the pandemic crisis is over? Will our economy collapse, or will we find a way to resurface and create a more sustainable society? Does the pandemic mark the end of globalization, or will restoring our economies require an even more globalized approach? Will COVID-19 apps be the end of privacy and create new levels of surveillance, or will it spark innovation into new privacy paradigms?

So many questions. It is in our nature to want to have answers in uncertain times. They give us grip and help us pull through. It is also in our nature, as our brains are essentially large pattern recognition machines, to do predictions.

The mainstream media are full of experts predicting the long term effects of the crisis. The funny thing is that these experts have been making many of these predictions for a long time already. They see confirmation of that they were already thinking in the crisis. “XYZ is going to be even more prominent now”. Confirmation bias, another very human thing.

Don’t listen to false prophets. Don’t be a false prophet.

The simple reality is that we don’t know what the future will bring beyond the first order effects. A systemic shock shakes everything up. None of our predictive models in business work anymore. Most of our heuristics – how we interpret our environment – don’t work anymore. The only prediction I am comfortable making is that most likely for every effect we anticipate, the countereffect can be reasoned equally plausible. We will see more sustainable initiatives AND economic damage. We will see more nationalism AND more globalization. We will see more threats to privacy AND new privacy paradigms. At the same time.

Now, if that is the case, how does that help us? How can we move forward if there is no clear sense of direction? Are we aimless?

No, we are not. In fact, there is opportunity. Opportunity even exists by the grace of uncertainty. With so many directions playing out at the same time, it means there are also multiple paths to recovery. There are more ways to differentiate, and find your own path.

So here’s what you need to do. In your discussions on how to move forward, and testing your strategies, find a countereffect for every long-term pandemic effect you come up with as being relevant to you. Reason the opposite with equal rigor.

For first order – immediate – effects, take the right decisions and move forward. For some this means cost containment, for others it even means scaling up in certain areas. For every second order effect, or mid and long term effects make sure your strategies in multiple envisioned futures, or you can reconfigure those strategies to. Keep your options open.

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