“Without a structured approach to ordering the world, the world will impose its views on us. The fact is some things are more important than others, some things are easily verifiable…Simple processes help us sort the mess and prioritize.”from “Managing Risk by Screening Out Trouble”
The coronavirus presents two specific risks to most of us. One, we transmit the virus to someone vulnerable (older, ill, or immunocompromised). Two, we or someone we love gets sick or injured in some other way and can’t access the health care system because it’s overwhelmed. These risks highlight the interconnected nature of the situation. Our individual choices affect others.
Given the risks, how do we contemplate a path forward?
We know what we don’t know.
This is a numbers game. And the numbers will get worse before they get better. In forestry, for example, trees planted years ago give us the forests we have today. Waves of trees can grow in massive booms. Foresters call this “a wall of wood” or “the pig in the python”.
With the coronavirus, the spreading that occurred silently weeks ago gives us the infections we have today. We don’t know the infection rate, which makes it difficult to know the pervasiveness, speed and, ultimately, decline of the coronavirus. What tells us we can return to normal? When we have smog alerts or forest fires or car crashes or hurricanes or food poisoning, we have metrics and indicators that signal “all clear!” Why? Because we have data.
We don’t know what’s knowable.
It does not matter if this situation is better or worse than people think, thought or said; it just is. And currently, we don’t know what “is” is. We can’t yet touch the bottom of the pool because we don’t know how deep the water is. We need data, and data requires testing. Each and every failure to deliver, offer, conduct, collect and communicate the results of a test reflects a small crime and failing in this battle.
Anything short of complete, ruthless transparency obscures our ability to know what is knowable, develop plans and support each other. From here, we can chart a path for our teams and help people make decisions for their local situations.
We know what to do.
In forestry, we have systematic approaches that apply generally to situations requiring clarity for making decisions. First, work to understand the local situation, as it varies by region and market. Second, question the data to understand its quality (e.g. seek trustworthy sources such as Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center). And third, make (phone) calls to know what’s knowable and confirm that people have what they need to follow the simple practices we know work well.
With a clear sense of where we are and how things work, it’s easier to organize our teams and get moving. This gives purpose to our work and confidence in the process with an eye towards the future.
For those interested in a further discussion of strategic thinking (and how the coronavirus affects the forest industry), click here to read a five-page white paper.