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Chapter 1 This Time it is VERY Different

5 minute read

Every time there is an event that shakes up the world, things change, sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently.

If you don’t believe me, read this.

Historian Nancy Bristow says that before the breakout of the 1918 Spanish Flu, it was a generally accepted practice to drink water out of a common cup in public places.

Well, that changed and the change was permanent.

Be it the Great Depression, a series of recessions, the Spanish Flu, the two world wars, or the market meltdown due to the mortgage crisis, things have changed.

In most cases, after a certain period of time, society came back to operating near normalcy. Of course, there was always change, but that was the change that comes with progress – heavily influenced by the technological shift and innovations.

9/11 was different.

Unlike the changes brought about by the other events, this time it was permanent because it related to public security at large. The airport screenings seemed like an annoyance at first, but then it became a part of life. Nobody questioned it, because the rules had changed. We could not take a chance and give an opening to terrorists who might cause more damage.

Under the hood, what really happened was that there was a breach of trust – a small segment of people with intentions to cause harm could show up anywhere, anytime. The unpredictable nature of their methods and actions caused uncertainty in the way we lived and worked. So, the changes imposed were accepted as normal.

Nicholas Nassim Taleb aptly named a category of such events as black swans: completely unimaginable before they occur, but easily explained post-occurrence.

And then, COVID-19 happened.

A choice was given. You either stay six feet apart or go six feet under.

Obviously, the world chose to stay six feet apart.

And, in that very instant, the world changed.

It’s easy to describe it as a black swan event. However, that would not fully describe COVID-19, as this time, the change is more different – the emphasis is on more here.

To distinguish between the change, first we have to see what makes this virus so different from any other viruses. The key is asymptomatic virality, which means that a carrier can transmit the virus to another person before the carrier notices any symptoms of the infection.

What does this mean?

Unlike the 9/11 scenario, where a small segment of people with mal-intent were feared, here there is a breach of trust between people irrespective of their intent.

In other words, the unsaid social contract of trustworthy-by-default is downgraded to suspect-by-default.

This changes everything at a fundamental level on how we learn, grow, live, love, and work.

The magnitude of this change is unprecedented, but that can get masked by what labels you use to describe it.

If this had been a recession or a depression, you could have mentally painted a picture about the magnitude of the impact. Well, you probably know that this is more complex than those scenarios.

You could call this as a black swan event – an unprecedented event when it happens, but a very explainable post event.

The term “black swan” still does not do justice to what is happening.

Unless we find the right label for this phenomenon, we will be at a disadvantage because we will diagnose the problem wrong, mis-calculate the impact and hence will not take the necessary actions with the right speed and intensity.

Imagine you have a fever and you take your body temperature. It shows 105-degrees, but for whatever reason, you read it as 99-degrees. That error will wreak havoc because as mentioned before, you diagnosed the problem wrong, you will mis-calculate the impact and then fail to take the necessary actions with speed and intensity to solve the problem.

I suggest that we call this a black bevy event.

Bevy is the term for a group of swans. Black bevy in essence would have an impact of simultaneous occurrence of multiple black swan events. It is an event that is unimaginable, but explainable post the event, but more importantly, it changes the way we live in a significant way.

They are already calling the children born during this period as “Generation C.” I won’t be surprised if BC would take on a new meaning: Before COVID.

Rachel Voyles, who runs Colorado Movement Therapy, captured the essence of the problem this can create brilliantly in her message below:

  • I’ve been struggling with the fact that human touch and connection is so wildly beneficial and imperative for health and right now that’s (rightfully) decreased and hoping this doesn’t create more of a rift in human connection. One of the things I tell clients and friends is that long, slow hugs are one of the best things you can do for stress management.

    Too often our stress management techniques are single-person tactics forgetting that we are community beings. And even research actually shows holding a hug stimulates your parasympathetic system (your rest, digest and recovery system that counteracts the fight or flight response from your sympathetic system). Being able to flow through those systems (not getting too stuck in sympathetic stress states) gives your body bandwidth to rest and repair which is essential to immunity and overall health. Long hugs also release oxytocin, reduce heart rate and blood pressure... plus all the just obvious psychological benefits of getting a purposeful moment of love amidst a world that has a hard time slowing down.

Here is the preview of upcoming attractions. On March 25, 2020, American Airlines sent this message with the changes (temporarily, they say) they have made in response to the COVID-19 threat:

  • Hello Rajesh,

    American has temporarily changed a number of policies in response to COVID-19. These changes include a relaxed seating policy, reduced food and beverage service, and suspension of checked pets.

    We've relaxed our seating policy to enable customers to practice social distancing on board whenever possible.

    For the safety of our customers and flight attendants, we're temporarily suspending food and beverage service on flights under 2,200 miles (typically less than 4½ hours). Limited beverages will be available upon request. On flights over 2,200 miles (typically longer than 4½ hours), we will continue to offer a streamlined food and beverage service.

    Because schedule changes increase the risk of leaving a pet stranded, all checked pet service will be suspended beginning March 25. Carry-on pets and emotional service animals are still allowed.

    All details regarding these temporary modifications can be found on aa.com. We appreciate your trust in us in these uncertain times, and we'll continue working to keep you safe.

Welcome to the new world of Minimum Viable Touch (MVT).

Let the games begin.

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© 2005 - 2020 Rajesh Setty.