Like many, I am trying to follow COVID guidelines to limit physical business and social interactions, keep my bubble small, wear a mask when out and about, hand wash and sanitize frequently, but I must admit that it is getting harder to stay as diligent as I was in the early months of the pandemic. Also, like many, my planning horizon for the “new normal” was the end of 2020 or sometime in 2021. Yesterday, I got a wake-up call that jolted my thinking.
I stumbled across an interesting story. In 1978, the US Centre for Disease Control set a goal to eliminate measles by 1982. Although they missed their 4-year target to immunize and eliminate the disease, “the widespread use of measles vaccine drastically reduced the disease rates so by 1981, the number of reported measles cases was 80% less compared with the previous year”. Now consider that the measles virus was first isolated in 1954, a vaccine was invented in 1963, and then improved into the current vaccine in 1968.
Fast forward to 2020. COVID is here, arguably more contagious because of the challenge of asymptomatic carriers and we have yet to develop a proven vaccine. Advances in medical science will allow development of a COVID-19 vaccine on a faster timeline (hopefully by the end of 2020 or early 2021) but has much changed in our ability to immunize our population in less than three to four years? Herd immunity requires a minimum 60 to 70% of the population to develop antibodies through successfully recovering from the disease or through vaccination.
So, what is our best-case scenario for a return to a pre-COVID world? Based on the measles history as a benchmark, are we in for a similar three to four-year period before we return to normal? If so, how many people or businesses are planning for this duration of our current environment before a move to the next normal?
As I said, this jolted my thinking.
Many parents and teachers are concerned about their children returning to school but consider the alternative of three to four-years of virtual or home schooling. Not plausible in my layman’s opinion. Rather, we must figure out how to adapt our schools to keep them safe.
What if you are a business caught directly in the blast zone of COVID (bars and restaurants, travel and tourism, many in the services industries), are you planning for a potential three to four-year run of the new normal?
If you lost your job due to massive impacts in your industry due to COVID, when do you decide to permanently exit seeking employment in your sector and re-skill to something else? If the disruption is thought to last for 9 to 18 months, the decisions you make may be very different than if the disruption is three to four years.
If you are any business, how are you planning and investing in ways to sustain your business if this environment continues for 4 years or is a pivot required to maintain sustainability?
The 21/90 rule says if you make a change for 21 days, it become a habit and if you keep it up for 90 days, it becomes a permanent lifestyle. Is 3 to 4 years a generational change?
Arguably the last time the whole world and people’s lives went on hold for 4+ years was World War II. Young men and women (my father and mother being two of them) left their homes and parked their lives for a duration unknown. As a history buff, I wonder what lessons we can learn from that generation in planning for our next half decade?
I recognize that the thesis of this post is a bummer, but I believe it is a possibility or reality that we need to wrap our heads around. Based on the experience of Admiral Jim Stockdale, Jim Collins articulated The Stockdale Paradox in his book “Good to Great”. Collins states that “Great companies (and people) must retain faith that they will prevail in the end regardless of difficulties, but at the same time, they must confront the most brutal facts of their current reality, whatever they might be. “
Folks, I think we need to collectively confront the most brutal reality of COVID-19 and that it is here for a significant period of time. Hope is not a strategy. I don’t have the answers, but I am certainly thinking though options and evaluating alternatives.
Am I off-base in my thinking? Your thoughts are welcome.