कारवाँ गुज़र गया, गुबार देखते रहे (Gopaldas, ’Neeraj’)
Yes the Virus is here, yes it is highly contagious and yes it is deadly!
So what do we do?
Fight, Freeze, or Flee?
I’m afraid to inform you ‘Fleeing’ is not an option. You gotta either confront the virus or hibernate into oblivion, perhaps for as long as you can count.
Q #1 – For how long should we let a microscopic pathogen dictate terms of our lives, determine the size of our aspiration, and deteriorate our collective determination?
Q #2 – Why can’t we treat #COVID19 as one of the many other life-threatening challenges that we have come to live with?
Q #3- Why should we submissively surrender?
(Before we go any further; I must mention in no uncertain terms that at NO time, should we ignore the warning or the guidelines issued by the competent Government authorities, pertaining but not limited to containment or treatment of the infected. Precaution, for now, is the cure, be smart, and comply.)
These questions are not coming from a place of ignorance or bravado. I am not an epidemiologist, or a virologist/immunologist or a healthcare professional with expertise in infectious disease, nor have I run or supervised public health response in a pandemic, ever. I’m one of you, the ordinary thinking citizen, who is learning a little about the virulence of our heartless invader from the newspaper, medical journal, research papers, and conversation with experts – every day! I am someone who decided to self-quarantine, in the last week of Feb this year (word of thanks and appreciation for my current employer who allowed me to do so, happily). So not in the line of fire just yet, but I do see, how lives of billions around the world are being altered, some more irreversibly then the others. The impact of the pandemic is ringing in all areas of our existence. Our enemy is using one of our key strengths and differentiators from other species: ‘Social connect’ against us, in plain sight.
But, before we dive deep into to sludge of despair, allow me the liberty of bringing a few thoughts into your attention.
Q #1- Are we not better prepared to deal with anything of this magnitude now than any time in the entire history of humankind?
Q #2- Is it not a huge positive that we have tools like the ‘internet and the computer’ to run our lives despite restrictions that the virus harshly may impose on us?
Q #3- Isn’t medical science at its most advanced stage now than in the past?
Answer to all of the above is a resounding “YES” and therefore I say; if at all one of our fellow human beings could NOT have avoided eating BAT for dinner, then there wouldn’t have been a better time to do so than now. And, let me also put it out for your consumption that we are not required to be televangelical about the situation. False hope or needless motivation is not something that I’m trying to put forward here. I’m trying to place in our collective attention an alternative question to invite thoughts.
So, think of it as a grand brainstorming that I intend to do with all my regular and returning 10K readers.
(Pardon me for my inability to answer all of your emails but on this one, I’ll try to get to every one of your emails. When you write to me please have #Ask in your subject line, it will help me sort the questions)
Let’s wargame: What if the virus was to stay and never extinct? What if COVID19 turns out to be another cancer that humans do not know how to cure? (yes, pathology of both the ailments are different, but consider the only eventuality of both the conditions for this argument sake, thanks)
It is undeniably a scary proposition but as they say in the IAS academy (The Lal Bahadur Shastri National academy of Administration) when you are hit by a disaster plan for the worse, the absolute disastrous consequence that it can graduate to, and then solve for it. The idea is that size of the difficulty should always remain smaller than the spread of your preparation. And, so we are going by this ghastly hypothesis of the virus becoming a co-habitant of our planet. Let’s put time aside to think about the challenge exhaustively, from top to the bottom. The complete spectrum: from social, economic, psychological, national, cultural, religious, political to also those relating to foreign relations and domestic law and order. Please do not be superficial in your thought experiment or give in to the temptation of being narrow or being aggressively focused on self-interest, you’ve got to think deeply about it. All forecasters and economists are bringing in models that can send anyone in dizzy, let alone, those who survive on incremental gains from the capital (either of wealth or time and skill) that they employ to earn sustenance. No point denying that it is an unprecedented event and also a rare one, in which we find a great deal of convergence of views from noted thought leaders.
Now, let’s turn to the knowledge pool of history to find a few large scale disasters that humans have had to endure undesirably? Let’s say
1. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.
2. The great economic depression of 1930.
3. The global meltdown of 2008.
4. Throw in the mix, the likes of HIV, Ebola, MERS, and previous SARS outbreaks, too.
Why do I pick public health emergencies and economic crisis for study? Well, because it makes for a good headline to say that we are choosing ‘life over livelihood’ but the harsh reality of our times is that without steady economic activities sustaining the cost of life is nearly impossible.
Pause at this stage, because studying these events will take you about 10 days, that is if you dedicate 3-5 hours to it every day. When you’re done with it come back and continue with the rest of the article.
Here is how the cast looked like in all of these.
Upon developing an understanding of the crisis, estimations were made.
Fear of losing the ‘regular’ loomed large.
The new normal emerged.
The old ways got forgotten and the new normal became the norm, the usual.
This virus is not whipping the human race from the face of this planet, that only an asteroid will do, whenever it does. So let us jump to step 3 because 1 and 2 have been completed in the last 5 months or so since we discovered the unwanted guest, the Corona Virus.
Finding the ‘new normal’
As sub-step 1, let’s accept the virus and respect it for what it is.
Scientists around the world are working round the clock to understand the vulnerabilities of the virus and ways in which we can attempt to neutralize it. Till they succeed we know that ‘social distancing’ is the way to go, along with other protective and precautionary measures like the triple-layer face mask and sanitization, etc, you get the idea. Would it have not been worse if we knew no way around it? We know now that as long as we do not come in direct contact with the pestilence we are good to go. So with that intel can we not reimagine our world? Yes, we can! Yes, it is not going to be an easy assignment because we have been building infrastructure optimized for efficiencies and space and this new arrangement is in fierce conflict with both of it.
But, there is a way around it.
There is no easy answer but it must be found anyway, because it matters!
Imagine if we were to spread the demand and supply to fit the linear scale of time accommodating the social distancing norm? Simply put, if you spread what you used to produce in 9 hours to 24 – you’d end up achieving previous levels of output without exposing yourself to irresponsible risks, of course at the cost of efficiency but is it not better than having zero output, or an output reduced greatly by the imposition of social distancing norms?
Let me give you a service scenario from the contact center industry.
Imagine you had 100,000 customers to support in a 24*7 support window, but the bulk of your support requests came between 7 AM to 8 PM.
You had a workforce of 30 people to support the load of the requests.
On the known inflow distribution you plot available staff hours. It was simple and straight forward, the physical infra was also built for it.
You’re required to maintain a certain distance between two people and are also required to avoid the clustering of humans in any setup. So what do you do?
You can now schedule not just your support agents but also customers to maintain the same level of support. That is spread the customers evenly across the 24 hours too.
A. Divide your customer base into three categories, preferably the elderly in the first 8-hour block of the day, others in the other two.
Educate customers about the rationals of this distribution and make them aware of their slots.
B. Divide your workforce in three-shift, so in a space built to support 30 (actually you only build for 80% of the strength), distributed in the bunches, each of size 10 agents are accommodated. Social distancing is honored.
All three sets of customers will get equal support and the service provider also gets to fit the staff within the same infra without compromising on the need for social distancing.
Ok, before you jump rightfully to claim that all industries and setups are not linear. For example in the food industry, support volumes follow eating cycles and can not be staggered evenly throughout the day. And I agree with you. The broader point that I’m trying to argue here is that we will need to ‘think’ of newer ways of dealing with the situation within the space that restrictions leave for us and yet create what we must, without letting the virus either kill us or our economic progress.
On the other side of the same example:
For all things administrative and managerial, there is a need for us to understand that, if we invest our energies on replicating ‘old practices’ as is in the new set up; we will fail miserably. This challenge should force us to question everything that we did earlier to figure out if they must be continued in the future too and must they be done, what is a newer way of doing it. Perhaps, a digital way of executing it must be explored.
Business Travel is a classic example: People used to practically live inside suitcases, is it not? Ask them, are they traveling now, and why not? The answer is ‘because they simply can’t they do not’. And that is the very principle that needs to be applied religiously and homogeneously. What will be a better time to adopt technology? All of us have been paying for the hardware, network, and tools for a long time. It is time we start using them too as our sole way of conducting our affairs, both personal and professional.
Let me give you the SOP: “Question everything that you do”
Imagine a scenario, where your job requires you to keep a track of telephonic conversation between two sets of people.
Why should the conversation be telephonic?
2. Can it not be moved to a digital medium? Zoom or any other platform that facilitates internet based exchange?
3. Can you not tie the conversation to an inexpensive dialler?
Of course, you can. One way or the other.
This ultra-simple scenario may not do justice to the complexity of your situation; but remember I’m not trying to solve your specific issue, here, but simply and solely trying to orient you to question your ways of conducting yourself. Because all answers will emerge from it like they always have inthe past.
Let us not permit the virus to decimate our creative thinking and problem-solving ability, we have a fertile brain that is perfectly capable of devising the solution. Let’s give it a chance. Lest you forget, we have evolved into our present form from a single cell organism, in the last 4.3 billion years. There is always a way out, as long as you’re determined to find one.
Digital transformation is no longer, the one more thing that leaders and organizations used to do to gain superiority over their competition, it is now a necessity, a question of survival – so get on with it.
I refuse to remain afraid of the virus and I implore you to shun fear too.
Let’s rebuilt our lives again, together.
I’ve published various articles in the past expressing my views on digital transformation: you may want to check them, on the website. Linking two of them here, which I find most relevant.