Mar 15 2020

Dealing with evolving information about Covid-19

Humans are, as a general rule, poor at changing their minds once they’ve developed a view about something. This can be the cause of plenty of arguments and I suspect is a significant reason we’ve become so much more polarized as a country in recent decades (that, and it’s ancillary effect of causing us to seek out only information and data that  support our unbending view).

But in the case of dealing with a pandemic like Covid-19 it can be downright dangerous. I thought it would be helpful – perhaps even important – to talk about why being open to new and evolving information is so critically important in a time when what we know about Covid-19 is changing so rapidly.

I’ve certainly been through this journey myself. My views continue to change as I learn more. An hour ago I posted about the need to dramatically change how our society is approaching the virus and specifically some radical changes that we need to make now to slow the spread of the disease. People reading it will have various world views about the virus, bring varied biases about just how severe it is and as a result what we should do about it. I’d encourage you to keep an open mind.

My own views on this have evolved quite a bit and very rapidly. My very first reaction to hearing about a novel virus effecting an area of China was one of skepticism. The data I saw suggested that it wasn’t particularly dangerous for most people and it was pretty far away so it didn’t feel like something that was emergent. Even as it started to spread in Asia and Europe, I dismissed some of what I was seeing. As it got to the US I spent a lot of time talking about the “denominator problem” and just how little we really knew about how dangerous the virus really was because we didn’t really know how many people actually had it. Last Monday (that’s not even a week ago, for those of you playing at home), when we were trying to decide if we should go ahead and host our annual CEO Summit that was due to take place Wed evening through Friday of last week, I argued with my partners that we should continue with the event (fortunately I lost that vote). By Thursday we decided to close our office and ask everyone to work from home. By Friday I had pulled all in person meetings off my calendar and cancelled all non-critical meetings generally to free up some time. Last night I joined a growing group of colleagues calling for essentially closing down all social gatherings (bars, restaurants, churches, etc.).

Once views get entrenched it’s hard to change them (we’re watching as an entire major new network deals with this – or really fails to deal with this – in real time; it’s agonizing). I’d encourage everyone to step back from whatever their initial impressions were of the now unfolding crisis and view it with a fresh lease.