Be Prepared: Prepared, for what?

I was, for a short while, a Boy Scout. The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared.” Though I wasn’t a scout for long, that motto is one I’ve taken to heart my whole life – whether personal or professional. I have always tried to use foresight and prepare for contingencies. Years ago, when working as a photographer, I learned of the need to prepare for “wardrobe malfunctions” when my pants split after I finished a job; being prepared from then on included having extra clothes in my car. In Magnus’ work, I insist on using checklists and having spare equipment, extension cords, and more. We have a hurricane checklist because hurricanes constitute our number 1 emergency in Florida. (See prior blogs http://magnusinsights.com/2013/10/personal-life-interruptions/, http://magnusinsights.com/2015/02/dealing-with-hurricanes-disaster-planning/, & http://magnusinsights.com/2017/09/life-and-work-go-on-after-hurricanes-personal-tragedies-etc/) But, hurricanes come with warning and lots of media coverage and forecasts. Hurricanes leave with a path of destruction taking weeks and months or years to recover from damage which is visible. The damage is isolated to an area and, in worse case situations, we at Magnus can relocate outside the damage zone to work; this is possible more than ever before. But, a pandemic? I won’t go with “Who would have thought???” and my comments on that will be forthcoming. But, for a business, being blindsided by not just the actual event (the Corona Virus) but being blindsided by draconian rules, procedures, and processes that changed overnight, then tightened day by day, has been an incredible experience. Certain types of businesses must have had contingency plans for such events – hospitals, medical providers, medical equipment manufacturers, etc. but I don’t think many of us considered how fast things would change and how tight the restrictions would be. I think that, in the “after” analysis, whenever that comes, governments and businesses will assess what was done right, and what was an unnecessary restriction. The point of this post is that there are obviously threats in this world that have never been considered as real, that is, beyond the movie screen, kinds of threats. SWAT analysis would not have pandemics on the horizon of most businesses. Clearly, using 2020 hindsight, perhaps they should have been. But, what steps could a business, small, medium or large, take to hedge the risks of such things? I’m sure that the #1 lesson for most businesses will be ensuring that fast action can be taken to work remotely, and to do so securely. We’ll develop checklists, reminders of the need to stock up on gloves, masks, toilet paper, and more. As individuals, we’ll enhance our hurricane kit by adding more food and cleaning materials. We will learn from this and hopefully, be ahead of future viral threats. The bigger question is, for what else should we be prepared?

It’s difficult to be prepared for something one doesn’t anticipate.  For example, I would never have anticipated that the COVID-19 pandemic would have led to mass hysteria over toilet paper!  What in the world has toilet paper got to do with anything?  (Yes, I know all about it now.  People are resorting to primordial behavior, trying to exert control over a situation none of us can control, and whatever other theories can be used to explain the toilet paper hysteria, but still, I say “Toilet paper?”.)  One of David’s long time friends recently told me that, in his doctoral program in management, with a concentration in homeland security, there were classes in which situations similar to the one we are in now were simulated.  This says, at least to me, that COVID-19 and other pandemic situations were never out of the realm of possibilities, rather, they were considered highly unlikely to happen and thus, nothing about which to be alarmed, get prepared for, etc.  Most people are unable to process statistical information, let alone complex computer models of epidemiological data, such that it is not surprising, now that I think about it, our world was not ready.  In addition, due to numerous psychological processes, such as denial, defensive attribution, and confirmation biases, many people are slow to react to novel information, particularly novel information of a negative variety.  Thus, while David is more prepared to handle new situations than anyone I know, in the current crisis situation, he is forced to respond and react rather than adopt the more proactive approach he prefers.  I agree with David that I hope we have all learned from this situation, however, I am not so sure about whether most people will be able to apply their new knowledge to a different kind of threat that might be just around the corner.

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