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COVID-19, Pandemics & Grey Swans (Part I)

December 22, 2020. It is just over 10 months now since schools in the San Francisco Bay Area were first shut down, and residents were asked to “shelter in place”.

When COVID-19 became Pandemic, the first association that came to mind was our environmental context. Increasing global population, overuse of natural resources, and unconscious destructive behaviors have clearly been taking a toll.

In December 2019, a year ago, as we entered a new decade, articles highlighted the massive gap in global plans to curb carbon emissions. We are far off the mark from where we need to be, to avoid global temperature rise and the impacts that will have on the Earth’s natural life-supporting ecosystems.

Increase in infectious diseases has consistently been reported as a top 10 impact of global climate change. It’s increasingly harder to dismiss everyday impacts as well.

As we are forced to take note and draw relationships, we may see ourselves as frogs in a proverbial pot that we ourselves are heating up, slowly boiling over with ourselves in it.

Crisis As Opportunity for Transformative Change.

The second association that’s come to mind in contemplating the COVID-19 Pandemic, is the opportunity presented by crisis. The world’s albeit varied and chaotic response, has also provided new exciting glimmers of hope.

As a corporate transformation consultant, I’ve studied and worked with the challenging process of getting large groups of people globally to reorient their working approaches and behaviors, for the profitability of their companies and the benefits provided to customers and shareholders.

It doesn’t take much more than logic and a little life experience, to see that the impetus to change and the capacity to make big dramatic leaps, is facilitated by the level of response needed to avert a crisis. My own project experience ranging from turning around a public company post bankruptcy, to optimizing global conglomerates, to bootstrapping startups, has also validated this truth. Accumulated knowledge, study, and deeper understanding of human behavior reinforces it.

Real dramatic transformation is possible when survival depends on it.

While acceptance of humanity’s influence on climate change has progressed and even reached a tipping point since I personally tuned in more deeply to the topic in 2003, we obviously have not overcome the inertia of those who have prefered to ignore, or resist the implications to date.

Here we sit, 10 months into Pandemic. We have seen and are continuing to see an acceleration of changes already on the horizon: online shopping, remote work, robotics, education technology, an increasingly digitally driven economy, universal basic income, etc.

Point of View, on COVID-19 and Grey Swans.

COVID-19 as a “grey swan event” has created the greatest opportunity to facilitate world changing paradigm shifting global transformation that I’ve seen in my lifetime. And it comes at a time when it is absolutely needed, beyond a doubt.

As the Guild describes, “a ‘grey swan’ is a term used to describe a potentially very significant event that is considered unlikely to happen, but still possible;” a unique occurrence that “could shake up civilization, the world economy, culture, marketplaces, workplaces, and life.”

In light of increasing trends and with plenty of solid science-backed grounded reasons, it is time to prepare ourselves mentally for the likelihood that pandemics and other ‘grey swan’ events will happen with increasing frequency.

Dramatic change is inevitable as we experience the waterfall effects of disruption of our natural ecosystems, and as we take the necessary steps to replace our overextended built environment of the last hundred years with regenerative alternatives.

Sheltering in place, wearing masks, social distancing, developing vaccines, and providing critical services, COVID-19 has given all the people of the world a shared existential challenge, to be faced by all at the same time. What an introspective, personally and morally challenging, transformative experience this has been in itself.

But to think that we will be able to skirt out from this pandemic with a vaccine, ready for the next grey swan; I’m not sure that we’re exactly there yet.

It's time to shore ourselves up for much more dramatic actions to be taken.

We have a high leverage opportunity provided by this grey swan crisis. Let’s seize the day, take on the radical transformations needed, and out of disruption and chaos embrace the beauty of ‘grey swans’.

We’re about to start 2021. There’s a lot of work to be done.

Photo by Adonyi Gábor from Pexels

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