COVID-19 Lessons for Leaders

The still slowly unfolding catastrophe of COVID-19 and the failures from some world leaders to adequately respond to early weak signals demonstrate a few crucial truths that any leader, facilitator, and innovator ought to understand:

  • We are prone to thinking linearly, especially without a rudimentary understanding of complexity. Emergent phenomena within complex systems often scale at rates that most of us can’t intuitively grasp.
  • Hyper-focused expertise is insufficient to catch multi-dimensional, cross-disciplinary chains of causality. For example: A disease with a 1% fatality rate spreads fast enough through a population to trigger a human DDOS attack on a healthcare system which then increases the fatality rate for every single disease exponentially.
  • Mistrust in expertise, in scientific disciplines, and in values-driven institutions may be the greatest existential threat that our country faces.
  • Pluralism and connectedness are natural antidotes to simplistic, myopic, linear approaches to complexity.

As leaders, it is imperative that we don’t rely on our pathetic, one-dimensional faculties alone to navigate complexity. Don’t attempt to tackle complex problems without proper facilitation of the following steps:

1. Include diverse viewpoints

2. Diverge without judgment

3. Converge without ego

4. Ensure decisions cohere to measurable facts, not just narratives; but be prepared for new or unexpected factors to have unanticipated impact.

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