Covid-19: Part 1 (A Systemic and Conscious Analysis)

COVID-19 aka Coronavirus: diagnostics, (conscious) solutions and systemic implications

Pandemics. Scary, disruptive, fascinating, predicted, fast (exponential) and furious. 

Over the last 25 years, I was triggered by two particular pandemic movies: Outbreak and Contagion. Actually, I saw the movie Contagion for the second time recently, in December 2019. In hindsight, It prepared my mindset a bit. Fast forward four months and we are all experiencing it, albeit to a lesser degree. 

Let us start at the beginning, at least for me. After following the global pandemic daily since mid-January, I have noticed a lot of fascinating phenomena. On January 27th I tweeted this:

“I pray for the world and especially China for the containment of the virus. I am very concerned now due to incubation time, death ratio increasing and virality. Will impact the whole world in my view. I don’t understand why WHO is so hesitant, all signals are deeply red.”

Back then, the Dutch government did not say anything about this, at least publicly. The Dutch authority on pandemics (RIVM) was tweeting soothing messages: “it will not impact Holland”, “we are fully prepared”, “lockdown is not needed, we go for herd immunity strategy to flatten the curve” (without any significant testing), “schools can still open as kids are not spreading the virus”, “democratic leadership is sufficient in a crisis”, “the average time in hospital intensive care is 10 days” (instead of the real 23 days), “the virus is not asymptomatic” (it is for two to four weeks sometimes) …and so on.

They continued doing this until early-to-mid-March. Mistake after mistake after mistake, at least 10 in a row. After that, their tone reversed. Similar dynamics happened in most – if not all – Western countries in different degrees (e.g. USA, Italy, UK, Spain, France). Even the WHO – the key (alleged) expert on this – was not as sharp as they should have been. It is their key responsibility to alert in time without false positives and false negatives. 

So a few critical questions popped into my mind:

  • How is it possible that our (political and medical) leadership seems to be so in denial, reactive, linear and passive?
  • What does this crisis tell us about human nature, our institutions, our thinking and our mindsets?
  • What are possible solutions for the next pandemic or the next wave in the current pandemic starting in Q4 2020?
  • What are the implications of COVID-19? Will we shift to a different world? For how long?

The worst pandemic in modern history was the Spanish flu of 1918 that killed tens of millions of people. Today, in our interconnected world, it spreads far quicker. But there is also the flip side: our global connectedness allows us to diagnose the virus faster, to create and distribute a vaccine faster. So which side is winning? Right now it seems the latter seems to lose but for how long? We can do much much better if we act as a Group Mind.

Diagnostics

So what happened in the last three months? A quick (and probably incomplete) diagnosis:

  • Lack of awareness of the (unique) nature of the problem by most leaders (in other words, simple linear extrapolation of the past into the future)
  • Complacency underlying an emerging systemic crisis (in healthcare in this case)
  • Short-termism (leading to a worms-eye view instead of a birds-eye view)
  • Fragmented (non-holistic) measures (first, washing hands was advised, followed later by social distancing, then sequential lockdowns etc.)
  • Democratic leadership instead of top-down leadership needed for a crisis
  • Lack of knowledge of exponential phenomena, technologies and solutions 
  • Lack of expertise in complex adaptive systems and system dynamics 
  • Lack of secondary and tertiary effects analysis
  • Lack of knowledge related to antifragile systems (decentralization, slack, simplicity, pull over push, long term thinking, automation etc.)
  • Lack of statistical expertise related to a new fat-tailed virus/problems (beyond a normal distribution; White and Black Swans)
  • Lack of expertise of superforecasting to predict the growth of the pandemic accurately (prediction heuristics applied scientifically by the CIA and others)
  • Experts are sometimes non-experts due to their outdated models (healthcare capacity models and pandemic models which are at least six years old) 
  • A governance structure (the highest level advisory board) dominated by vertically siloed experts like virologists, epidemiologists, ignoring the horizontal integrative perspectives (complexity, exponentials, antifragility, superforecasting etc.)

The combination of these fundamental problems led to the following results:

  • Herd immunity strategy above a lockdown (intelligent or full)
  • Slow lockdown (instead of the required fast and decisive intelligent lockdowns) 
  • Lack of testing at scale (virus, immunity) 
  • Lack of inbound checks and quarantines (airports, borders)
  • Scarcity of healthcare resources across the board 

Most experts now acknowledge the importance of dealing with all four results in parallel (quicker lockdowns, maximum testing as well as inbound checks) to have a solid solution to the virus. This is probably the best approach medically, economically (long term) and ethically, even though you still have to be very wary of additional outbreaks of the virus after an initial lockdown. 

Solutions

Below I will share my perspective on possible effective solutions of the fundamental problems stated above and upcoming pandemics/health risks. 

  • All emergent and current leaders should follow courses on complex adaptive systems, antifragile systems, system dynamics, systemic leadership, superforecasting and exponential phenomena, technologies, organizational models, thinking and exponential doing. These should be embedded in curricula of all higher education institutions going forward.
  • Centralise national direction, not at the hospital level (IC beds, masks, nurses, doctors, test kits etc.) 
  • Create slack in the healthcare system (redundancy at different levels).
  • Avoid fragmented solutions or measure by applying systemic thinking from day one.
  • Create a core team, not just vertical silos but also horizontal integrative expertise.
  • Mix the Chinese, Taiwanese, Singaporean and South Korean pandemic models. This means maximum testing, earlier (intelligent) lockdowns and inbound traffic screening (airports, borders). If you eliminate one of the three, it will not contain the pandemic effectively. You need to implement all three at once. 
  • Use new exponential technologies to prevent, diagnose and treat COVID-19 like China has, but in a more privacy-friendly way (drones, computational biology, face ID, algorithms, robots, DNA sequencing, CRISPR, nanocoatings, satellites, thermal imaging cameras, audio sensors for dry coughing, GPS tracking & social graphs, WeChat for alerting services, QR codes for health state/access etc.)
  • Acknowledge that we don’t know what we don’t know, especially in new phenomena like new viruses such as COVID-19 (with a small HIV component combined with SARS). We need to apply the Precautionary Principle maximally to prepare for the worst. Quick and bold. Go against the tendency to play it safe for political motives.
  • No more JIT supply chains in critical healthcare or medical offerings (too much dependency right now with China and India for example).
  • More decentralization of production via 3D/4D printing (of masks for example).
  • Increase automation in healthcare systems, humans are too vulnerable to viruses.
  • Simplify the healthcare system (way less bureaucracy than today).
  • Better pandemic alert system (IoT and people as sensors combined with AI alerts).
  • Improve simulations of pandemics for better crisis management (see Bill Gates TED talk from 2015).
  • Faster FDA approvals and testing (happening now with a new J&J vaccine for COVID-19).
  • Testing vaccines virtually (computational biology and quantum AI combined).

In sum, a new mindset, perspective and level of consciousness will result in a more holistic/systemic approach to the problem. On top of this, new governance and organizational structures are needed. Finally, new exponential technologies should be used quicker and at scale.

This also suggests why I seemed to detect the huge impact of the virus/pandemic faster than the WHO and the Dutch government (see the tweet above from 27th January). I have been prepared in thinking exponentially since 2008 (due to my background within Singularity Summit and Singularity University). I knew about antifragile systems and Black Swans due to Nassim Taleb’s books. I was aware of pandemics as a key threat to humanity due to posts by Martin Rees and Bill Joy over the last 20 years.

My mindset was agile enough to see the interconnectedness of the world and China (supply chains, airlines) due to my personal and professional experiences in China. I was in a state of curiosity and not-knowing, of ambiguity, of looking for the progression of data points in China related to the incubation period, lethality and infection rate R0.

In short, I was prepared and woke. This allowed me to interpret the same data in a different way relative to the mentioned institutions.

Implications

Yes, there will be massive economic, social, political and medical dislocations and impact. I highly recommend you to follow the posts and videos on the pandemic by experts and deep thinkers like Nassim Taleb, Lex Fridman, Ray Dalio and Nouriel Roubini. Medically, it is likely this will go on for at least another 9-12 months based on the average vaccine production and distribution timelines in the past.

Economically, it will probably have considerable domino effects on unemployment, JIT supply chains, overleveraged companies, the housing market, banks, Euro crisis and more. Expect 2-4 years of sequential economic crises. Politically, we might see a (temporary) surge in more nationalism and populism due to economic recession / depression. 

This might look depressing at first glance. The upside is that this will be the key catalyst for us to move to a better and more modern world and economy, with significant benefits (as shown below). At least, this seems to be the opportunity for now. 

So how does our world look like after this crisis (as can already be seen today in some cases)?

  • Back to the essence of life > Skip the superficial. From form to substance. Less is more.
  • More family life (kids, partner, parents).
  • More time, stability and focus due to less travel and less paradox of choice and FOMO feelings.
  • More (necessary) introspection, walks (alone) and meditation > more wisdom, purpose and Ikigai > impacting expectations towards work and workplaces > purpose-driven organizations will accelerate after this crisis.
  • Better for climate and health due to travel shutdown. Delhi (the most air-polluted city in the whole world) has lowered its air pollution index from 302 to 65 year-on-year in March this year.
  • Reappreciation of peace, freedom, dancing, festivals, art (scarcity is value).
  • Reappreciation of human interactions and intimacy (scarcity is value).
  • Reappreciation of nature, universe and silence (scarcity is value).
  • Sustainability and climate change/crisis become even more urgent topics for all organizations and institutions.
  • Global entanglement (see the live global meditation sessions with hundreds of thousands of people attending organized by High Vibe and Love Out Loud).
  • More 3D/4D printing and decentralized, circular production systems > more ownership, better for social and ecological inclusiveness and more antifragility. 
  • More self-sufficiency> increasingly becoming the CEO of your own life, including food, finance, education, health, goods, etc.
  • More digitization (eCommerce, digital festivals, digital conferences, digital education, videoconferencing, digital health, digital government etc). Not just for the pandemic but also for climate change
  • More fluid laws and regulation.
  • More real creativity, less status (see also the shift away from Snapchat and Instagram to TikTok which is more about mastery and doing amazing things).
  • Different relationship towards consumption (more conscious, less conspicuous; less ownership, more access due to home working).

In sum, COVID-19 allows us to reconnect to our inner and outer nature, to appreciate all that makes us uniquely human and self-reliant, as well as all experiences that elevate our lives.

How does this all link to conscious learning? 

Well, conscious learning is about systemic analysis and reflection. Let us all advocate a fundamental change in the decision making processes of our political and medical leaders. Furthermore, the crisis might be a trigger to end/change the Age of Decadence. It is the ultimate Wake Up Call, taking into account the other challenges we have to deal with (like climate change) and how we deal with ourselves, each other and nature.

Finally, the crisis is a catalyst for our personal conscious learning process. To cut the wood, live from our essence inside-out and appreciate the outside in a fundamentally new way, at least for a little while. Hopefully forever.

Read Covid-19: Part 2 (An antidote to pessimistic thinking) here.

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