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Emergent Ideas Around Covid-19

We spend a lot of time thinking through emergent scenarios and the strategies that enable risk mitigation and opportunity exploitation around the world.  Covid-19 provides a nearly unprecedented disruption at a global level that is reshaping our lives, economy, and culture. Here are some of the emergent ideas that are on my radar screen surrounding Covid-19 that could inform your decision making process or your scenario planning.

The Unknown Unknowns

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” — Niels Bohr

We seem to be stuck in the perpetual cycle straight out of the poster the 20 year old TV series Millennium.  Worry, wait….the end is near.

There is still so much we don’t know about the longer-term health impact of Covid.  Can you get it twice? Can the symptoms persist for a longer period of time? There are some who have overcome the initial infection only to have symptoms persist for 30-45 days with reported weakness, shortness of breath, and fever.  Until we get more persistent testing and more runway studying the virus, there are many unknown risks.

The In-Between economy

“We can never gain victory solely by postponing defeat.” – Eric Frank Russell

In the science fiction novel Snowcrash, originally published in 1992, author Neal Stephenson articulated a world in which the United States was only competitive in two segments of the global economy; software development and high speed pizza delivery.  Basically, two extremes in the services economy with no in-between.

With the Coronavirus we are seeing the economic impact associated with a disruption in the services industry and raises the question as to how we fill the gap in-between.  How do we establish some economic resiliency along the full spectrum of the economy and do we want to?

The Bad News Waterfall

“The future always comes too fast and in the wrong order.” – Alvin Toffler

We’ve got no place to store oil, so today they are basically paying you to take it off their hands in the futures market.

Companies like Disney, now adjusting for a longer shutdown and laying off 100k people.

There is a waterfall effect in play with regards to the Covid-19 impacts that will take a while to fully realize and could be incredibly hard to price into markets.  Looking at supply chains and dependent ecosystems might help you predict future impacts in ways that are meaningful to your own planning.

The Long Goodbye – Failed State Dialogues and Misinformation Campaigns

“The best lies have a little bit of truth.”  – Jose Rodriguez

There is increasing dialogue around the U.S. as a failed state finally coming light in view of Covid-19.  Long lines at food-banks, and revolutionary wars

Just when we thought our adversaries might find it challenging to innovate their misinformation campaigns, we have the emergence of Covid and the plethora of potential narratives of discontent at their disposal.

Covid-19 will be the most notable misinformation vector over the course of the next six months and this misinformation will play a huge role leading up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election.  In a topic with so many potential unknowns, the truth is pliable and we’ll see that exploited to an extreme. With model based planning it becomes nearly impossible to prove the reality for the course not taken, so past and future decision making on testing, rebooting the economy, and even how to hold an election will all be open for dispute.  Our adversaries will exploit this as we will exploit it against ourselves to satisfy a particular narrative or outcome.  It is already happening.  Just look at the investigation behind the reopen movement domain names.

If we are truly moving into one of the most decisive periods in recent U.S. history, how will that impact your business and your planning?  Your organizational and cognitive resilience?

Sustained Preparation and  Efficient Execution

“Some people say preparation is everything, and for those who never execute, maybe it is.” Eric Haney

Two of the most impactful lessons coming from Covid-19 will be the case studies in sustained preparation and efficient execution.  How do we maintain preparedness for known bad scenarios when you can have decades or even a century between those risks manifesting themselves in an impactful way.  How do we sort through knowledge transfer between generations of planners?

Where extensive plans and preparedness exist how do we ensure an ability to rapidly transition to execution of those plans and crisis decision making? Those organizations with capable planning processes and efficient execution will be disproportionately advantaged in the market going forward.

A New Role for AI – Early Warning and Contact Tracing

“We become what we behold.  We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” – John Culkin

What role will AI/data science/Machine learning play in our ability to deal with pandemics.  From 2000-2008, I spent a lot of cycles helping to build 56 Terrorism Early Warning groups in the highest risk U.S. cities.  While intelligence analysis is largely considered a job for human-based wetware, I can’t help but think that AI can play a role here as I’ve watched the decline of those local early warning centers over the past decade.

Also, as we struggle to find the balance between privacy and civil liberties and the benefits of using devices like phones for pandemic contact tracing and pandemic management, can we develop AI driven contact tracing that alerts people to risks while maintaining privacy of individuals? Does there exist a system where the AI operates with an information alert model independent of government or corporate oversight or control of the underlying location data?  Can these systems become the effective closed-rule custodians of this task?

What is Remote Working?

“Don’t assume based on data. Data leads to false facts. Data reads the lines, but people live between them.” – Kevin Roberts

Remote working is the new way of working for the near-term, but would a long-term remote working model look like?

Obviously, technologies associated with remote working and collaboration become key. Not just the SaaS solutions, but the underlying hardware becomes increasingly important.  We’ve got a Zoom room set up in the Devost house. OODA CTO Bob Gourley bought a green screen. Do we wind up with work from home pods similar to the video gaming solutions. Does remote working migrate off the desktop into more specialized hardware to free up your laptop CPU?  

Will our co-working spaces develop into isolated remote working pods with minimal human contact and dedicated noise-proofed space for those that can’t efficiently work from home?  How does this impact our bandwidth consumption, our power usage, and other underlying infrastructures. 

What’s Up With Bitcoin?

“The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” – William Gibson

Weak global currencies and fiat disruption are exactly what cryptocurrencies are designed to mitigate?  Does the lack of real movement in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies counter that perspective or is it just too early to tell?  Why are we seeing a run on physical gold and silver, but minimal movement in cryptocurrencies? Affinity for old standards or a desire to physically hold something in our hands?

 If data is the new oil, how do we migrate to a new economy that isn’t as dependent on oil but rather allows us to monetize data through blockchains?  Many experts have chimed in with regards to how blockchain will revolutionize many industries, but what does that mapping look like now?

We Are All Builders Now

“If you do not think about the future, you cannot have one.” John Galsworthy

The maker movement is increasingly important as I see countless people making supplies not just for their own use, but to donate into the healthcare system.  If you broadly define makers to include self sustainment, there could be drastic shifts in other areas of the economy as well. I see many friends buying 3D printers, starting victory gardens, and cutting their own hair.  Just yesterday, I gave my 15 year old son a pretty decent haircut at home and now we own the clippers and the scissors. Will they accumulate dust in storage when this is over or will we continue to make and sustain more on our own?

At the macro level, I personally believe that a crisis like this is an incredible opportunity for disruptive innovation.  To that end, I found this essay by Marc Andreesen not only inspiring, but closely aligned with my views.  

What will you choose to build or create at the organizational or individual level over the next six months? 

How Can We Help?

“Change has never happened this fast before, and it will never be this slow again” – Graeme Wood

At OODA we pride ourselves with keeping one foot in the future and bringing robust analytical approaches to emergent strategic planning.  We’d love to engage with your team, so feel free to reach out for a discussion at mgd@ooda.com.

In the meantime, please take advantage of these resources for additional reading and to inform your decision-making process.

Matt Devost

Matt Devost

Matthew G. Devost is the CEO & Co-Founder of OODA LLC. Matt is a technologist, entrepreneur, and international security expert specializing in counterterrorism, critical infrastructure protection, intelligence, risk management and cyber-security issues. Matt co-founded the cyber security consultancy FusionX from 2010-2017. Matt was President & CEO of the Terrorism Research Center/Total Intel from 1996-2009. For a full bio, please see www.devost.net