We wouldn’t have Walmart without the mass produced automobile. We wouldn’t have rideshare without the iPhone, and the United States wouldn’t have employer-based health care without the Second World War’s labor shortage. These so-called “secondary effects” are the often unanticipated destructions and innovations that become orders of magnitude bigger than the original primary actions.
As shutdowns roll across every aspect of Western society and business, it’s clear that big change is coming. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is calling for a 14-day national shutdown. And looking at the curve of new infections in China versus the rest of the world, it seems likely Americans will have to deal with shutdowns and self-isolation for much longer than just a couple of weeks.
Some secondary effects are easy to predict: Companies that operate live, in-person events will suffer big cash crunches and maybe face bankruptcy. Retail stores with big crowds and lines down the block will have to adjust or die. “Cannabis tourism” is over for a while.
But how long we’ll be living with shutdowns – the CDC thinks it’ll be months rather than weeks – will be the biggest driver of long-term change.
Could the Illinois state legislature decide to legalize cannabis delivery? Will virtual events play a role? How will business deals, often sparked by unexpected interactions at social gatherings, be generated in a world restricted to virtual interaction?
Amy Webb, a “quantitative futurist”, seems to have a pretty strong grip on how to deal with these changes. She recommends scenario planning, using a series of internal and external uncertainties expressed as the two ends of an axis; categorize them under “economic,” “social,” “technological, and regulatory, politics, activism”; set them up on quadrants, and then try to figure out which things are likely to be immediate, near-term, or long-term changes.
I’m writing to tell you a simple truth: you cannot make accurate predictions describing exactly what your industry will look like in 3, 6, or 12 months. I know you’re under pressure to do that right now. Your organizations want new financial projections and accurate timetables. Your senior executives and boards want concrete answers. Your goal right now isn’t predictions. It’s preparation for what comes next. We must shift our mindset from making predictions to being prepared.
What will be the equivalent new Walmart, rideshare, or health care plan? Starting today, we should begin adapting our businesses, rather than just mitigating damage, for the coming secondary effects.
One more thing: I think we should all be grateful for Indiana’s superintendent of State Police, Doug Carter, who simply says, “Don’t get caught. Don’t. Get. Caught.” He doesn’t tell us how, but that’s about the best wink and a nod a Hoosier might ever get from a law officer.