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Pandemics III

Coping with the Exponential Speed of Panic


Whether you think the coronavirus is a festering pandemic or an overhyped version of the common flu, there are many things we can learn from how the world is responding to the news of the coronavirus and what indicators may signal a permanent global shift.

While Warren Buffet said, “The market collapse in the fall of 2008 was much more scary, by far, than anything that’s happened here,” it’s too early to understand the full impact and both short and long term impacts.

Several factors make this different than past crises including our heightened levels of awareness, the speed with which companies and countries are reacting to it, and the long term effects that will permanently change humanity.

The good news is that the speed used to form a panic, is the same speed with which it can be defused!

Please don’t misread this as trying to brush off the dangers of our quickly escalating pandemic. Rather, the goal should be to find a way to recalibrate our response in a method that will cause the least amount of damage.


The Speed of Panic

As we move into a world where the accelerating speed of bad news can be measured in exponential adoption curves, and the speed of panic is even greater than the risk of coronavirus itself, we are faced with some very hard choices.

Everything is a balancing act. Is the risk of alarming people greater than the risk of not informing them? Is the risk of destroying the economy greater than the risk of being under-protected? How can anyone know if they’ve struck the right balance in protecting employees at the same time trying to protect the companies and jobs they’re depending on?

Most crises in the past have followed a similar pattern. As our level of awareness grows, an accelerating problem leads to accelerating panic, and that leads to an accelerating financial crisis, followed by massive layoffs, and a huge number of bankruptcies. This is a lose, lose, lose, lose pattern that has been repeated time and again throughout history.

The truth is, this is on a scale unlike anything we’ve seen in the past. This is the first time we’ve had to deal with anything globally, simultaneously, and exponentially all at once. Our digital landscape has become far more pervasive, faster, and reliable than ever before, making it a particularly unique challenge to contend with.

While most feel the need to err on the side of caution, the unintended consequences of every drastic action is beginning to feel like we’re all crew members aboard the ill-fated Titanic with no lifeboats.

Yes, our hearts go out for everyone affected by COVID-19 today, but it’s still a long ways from being our biggest problem.


Biggest Death Risks (2016 data)*

It is highly unlikely that the risk of death from COVID-19 will even break into the top 15 leading causes of death this year:

1. Cardiovascular disease – 17.65 million
2. Diabetes, Blood and Endocrine disease- 10.4 million
3. Cancer – 9.6 million
4. Smoking – 7.1 million
5. Respiratory diseases and infections – 6.5 million
6. High blood pressure – 6.5 million
7. Air pollution – 4.9 million
8. Obesity – 4.7 million
9. Driving fatalities – 1.24 million
10. HIV/AIDS – 942,000
11. Suicide – 800,000
12. Influenza – 650,000
13. Malaria – 620,000
14. Homicides – 464,000
15. Medical errors – 440,000

* Sources: UNODC, WHO, the Global Health Data Exchange of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME)


Understanding Exponential Growth Curves

In the startup world, it’s every entrepreneur’s dream to unleash a super scaleable product and have it go viral. But there’s little concern for the back end of the curve in the consumer products world.

However, in just two weeks people in Italy went from saying “It won’t hit here!” to having the whole country locked down. Yes, this is an incredible teaching moment about what exponential change feels like, but this is different.

While it’s a great case study in accelerating growth strategies, it’s important to differentiate how the exponential curve of panic is far different from growth curves of the disease itself.

Every country in the world has now pushed the panic button.

Decisions affecting literally billions of people are being made in the heat of the moment with little to no understanding of how to find a way back to normal.

Shutting down the economic engines of society does little to solve the problem; it simply compounds the issues.

Any decision made without resistance will be done in haste, without consideration of consequences or repercussions.

Resistance is a powerful tool. It forces well-meaning people to refine their intentions, deliberate over possible outcomes, and be held accountable for shallow thinking and ill-suited arguments.


Final Thoughts

This period of time represents a significant turning point in human history, and understanding the full impact of everything that’s changed will take months, maybe years.

Very likely we will be rethinking personal space in light of “social distancing.” But it could work just the opposite, creating a stronger need for intimacy where we crave human touch and social contact.

We may see the proliferation of businesses helping you “pandemic-proof” your life.

With massive layoffs coming from drowning businesses, we may see coaches offering ways to “bankrupt your way to health and happiness.”

Over the coming months, we’ll be searching desperately to reengineer our strategies around a “new normal.” Is extreme complexity the new simplicity? How does our changing need for personal space change the human interface? Where are the opportunities?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What am I missing, overlooking, or not paying attention to? Take a few moments and let me know what you’re thinking.


By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Epiphany Z – 8 Radical Visions for Transforming Your Future


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