Mundo #13 - How to think about a changing world
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
G'day, and welcome to the thirteenth edition of Mundo.
How should we think about a changing world for our personal and professional lives?
1. It starts by remembering to broaden our perspective. Social distancing means physical barriers, but it shouldn't mean walling ourselves off to other perspectives.
2. We understand the world with simplified models, or "maps". These need to be updated.
Also below is a cracking podcast and book recommendation.
Many thanks to Helena Doná and Tommy Dyer for their thoughts and feedback for this edition.
Approximate reading time: 4 minutes.
Photo credit: Pixabay
Thinking about a changing world
How do we perceive and react to our changing world? Scrolling through our newsfeeds in week 10 of lockdown in New York, we are inundated with the rolling coronavirus news - vaccine hopes, economic damage, infection figures. The scale of this pandemic has touched every facet of our personal and professional lives. As our anxious desire for more information increased, our exposure to other perspectives narrowed to our insular, quarantined lives. Distant from the real social contact of commutes, office small talk and happy hour banter, instead nudged by algorithms on our feeds.
The narrowing of one's exposure to the wider world isn't a new phenomenon - it's something often spoken about with political leaders and elites, as conditions of personal protection, full schedules and scripted appearances close in on them. The broader public often lament their "removal from reality" for poor decision making. As the coronavirus spread globally, this has closed around more of us - those who are fortunate and privileged enough to be quarantined.
As the COVID Crisis accelerates social, political and economic shifts already underway before the crisis, using frameworks to navigate reality is vital. Yet if we're not careful, our isolation can see us feeding data through a narrowing feedback loop that becomes steadily removed from the broader reality. The map is not the territory, and this crisis can morph our map to resemble less and less the territory that we all stand on. This is a prescription for poor decision making, greater social discord, and deeper silos.
In our personal and professional lives, we're best to lean in to the advice of experts in areas where we aren't ourselves specialists. We should be conscious of relativity, and how the pandemic is affecting countries, cities, and even suburbs differently. Different perspectives are drawn from different vantage points, and this drives social, economic, and political behaviour, and their second order impacts. Narrow perspectives at the death of World War I saw a punitive peace at Versailles, and festering resentment that again walked the world to global conflict two decades later.
As many areas slowly unwind lock-down restrictions, we must keep other perspectives in mind to anticipate their response. As a political-economic analyst, this is prudent in advising the most resilient path forward for businesses - watching for signals without flinching from noise. It also enriches my own "map" of scenarios and their second order effects of a world in flux.
Our decision making should be examined in a balanced way. The threat of a global pandemic was a risk foreseen by public health experts, however most of us didn't factor the likelihood and impact of such an event into our personal lives and business planning. Businesses shouldn't yearn for a "return to normal", not in the models we implicitly or explicitly used to understand the risks we faced, nor to the financial and operating practices that prized thin margins and "just in time" supply chain delivery above all else. We should be considering ways to enhance our personal and business agility by planning fall-back options within our corporate ecosystems, and running scenarios that don't simply assume future shocks are similar in nature and magnitude to historical shocks. In short, we need new maps for understanding the territory, and a more holistic balance of personal and corporate resiliency, agility and efficiency.
As the son of a surveyor, I've spent school holidays and weekends working with my dad in the bush, on street corners and construction sites, measuring boundaries and hammering new survey marks to update plans for new developments.
The 2020 territory is different to 2019 - you should update your map.
More on this theme to come.
Further reading and listening
Mental Models for a Pandemic - Farnam Street
Managing Crises in the Short and Long Term - HBR IdeaCast
Edward Luce of the FT paints a grim picture of Trump's handling of the pandemic, and how his myopic view of US markets and November presidential elections drove a disastrous response.
This week I finished The Eleventh, a terrific podcast series exploring the downfall of Gough Whitlam and his government in 1975. For non-Australians, this was the most dramatic moment in Australian political history, when Governor-General Sir John Kerr, as the representative of the Queen in Australia, dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
When many are fatigued at the Trump administration's continued assault on American institutions, this is a fascinating case study into the strength of institutions against individual actors. In Australia these institutions have since remained resilient, however time has faded the very real fears present in the aftermath of the dismissal.
I also finished Grantlee Kieza's biography on Sir John Monash, a war hero and leader who was fundamental in founding Australia's post war national identity as a break from the country's cultural British roots.
Monash held views typical of his time that reek of anglo-exceptionalism. Yet the path he forged as a German-speaking Jew espousing egalitarian values laid the foundations of an Australian ideal that we still promote, albeit imperfectly. His military success is a case study in superior organisation and the value of a vast breadth of knowledge, and not only narrow specialisation.
Please feel free to send through your own thoughts and articles to me. Forward this along to others who might find this an interesting read. Stay calm, think of others, stay healthy. Mitch