Learning From The COVID Crisis’ Complexities

Rory Sutherland made this point, “Isn’t it interesting that the whole world’s scientific elite are trying to solve a problem that, in most cases, your immune system solves within a week?” There are so many interesting variables inside of this, let’s dissect a few we can broadly apply.

  1. The scientific elite. The real experts. The actual people who don’t just dream stuff up but actually figure out how to make things happen. There’s a certain status of those who get results by testing hypotheses and being willing to publicly make mistakes. What are we doing in real-time where failure is an option but we still expect to learn something useful? 
  2. Complex systems. The virus and how it spreads is complex because we don’t know exactly how it works. We can model it the same way you can describe a sunset to a blind person. We can explain the factors we can easily define, but at best we recognize there are a host of others we have to set aside and approximate. How do we find the most important, most influential factors to get an idea across? How do we set aside which ones to ignore? How do we respect the complexity of the problems we solve for while still arriving at an actionable solution?
  3. Intellectual honesty. Our bodies are amazing. This virus is amazing too (and utterly terrifying). We only somewhat understand how either interacts with each other. The other side of respecting complexity is to be humbled by the systems in front of us. What do we deal with every day that we can use a reminder of just how big/complex/wholly unknowable it is?

These are big questions. Dealing with the vastness of a new virus spreading through the world that somehow most of the human population can fend off and survive despite never having encountered it before – it’s awe-inspiring. We don’t have to understand every detail. We are going to make mistakes. We are going to take forward steps and be both brave and humble. No matter what business we are in, we can draw lessons from this experience if we keep looking for them.

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