Building a bridge to somewhere?

An open letter on living in a world with COVID-19: Where is the end state? (Part 4 of a serie)

Dear world
At a time when people everywhere are using smartphones to conduct virtual meetings, run business and keep up the flow of everyday conveniences that are quickly delivered to their doorsteps – all connected via a seamless global network run by seemingly nobody in particular – it can be hard to imagine that, not that long ago, building a bridge over a previously insurmountable open span of water or geographic divide constituted the world’s most amazing engineering marvel.

For some reason, the coronavirus pandemic has made me think a good bit about bridges. They seem like a good metaphor for where things stand. You see, like most people, I guess I often took them for granted. They were simply there; large, inanimate structures of concrete and steel, ready to take you from where you are now to where you wish to be. That is, until suddenly, the bridges were closed, victims of increasing chaos and equally chaotic decision making.

Earlier this week, I spoke with a journalist about how the current situation reminds me of building a bridge. Except that in this case, while we know where we are starting, our destination is still unclear. Since we don’t know where the other coast lies, or how far away it is, we need to continuously make small adjustments to ensure our bridge is well-positioned once we do reach the other side. This is essential, because when we get there, we need to hit the ground running like our lives still depend on it.

Finding equilibrium in uncertainty
It should not be this hard to figure out where our bridge will touch down. While the world may have never encountered anything quite like COVID-19, we humans have a pretty good track record for intelligent and innovative technological and scientific problem solving. As well as a knack for planning for, and figuring our way out of, crisis situations. I’d even say that, until just recently, we were getting better at it over time.

As the CEO of a sophisticated, foundationally-held data management software company with roots tracing back to 1794, and founder of Lanell, I am confident in my own organization’s plan, and in the data we are monitoring to keep us on course. You don’t stick around for as long as we have without a history of both physical and digital transformation in your blood.

Likewise, I am confident in our team’s ability to help our customers leverage the power of their data to execute their own plans. Our specialty is, after all, empowering organizations to manage and deliver value from their enterprise master data assets. To bring that data together from disparate sources and systems, make sure it is accurate and up-to-date. And then to leverage it to drive innovation and insight and enable transparency that builds better businesses that help build a better world.

Unfortunately, the answer to our current problems is not in our hands – which, due to current restrictions are in many ways tied. Nor is it in our customers’ hands. While I wish I could say it is in government’s hands, I think as it stands, this answer isn’t in anybody’s hands. And without anyone taking responsibility for helping everyone to achieve at least some semblance of equilibrium, amidst so much uncertainty, I’m concerned we may never get this bridge to touch down on the other side.

Crossing chasms, climbing mountains
As if building this bridge to an at present uncharted end state is not difficult enough, it will also need to scale an economic peak the likes of which the world has never seen. The latest data from the US Dept. of Labor paints a portrait of imminent disaster. And this is just for the US alone.

Of course, those on the receiving end of the relief package will see this as a lifeline that saves them from individual financial ruin and communities from short-term financial collapse. But the long-term consequences are at present impossible to fathom. This is going to have to be one incredible bridge.

Envisioning an end state to COVID-19
If I haven’t made it clear in my ongoing analysis, I am not a fan of addressing a global crisis through provincial thinkingand inactivity. While I recognize the impact social distancing has had on flattening the curve, I have difficulty understanding how we got here in the first place. We are smarter than that. In a world where people can manipulate data to make a pair of shoes literally follow your every move across your personalized digital experience, it just doesn’t make sense that we can’t see an end to this madness.

I personally don’t buy it. And to my fellow citizens around the world – regardless of what nation you call home – I’d like to suggest you shouldn’t buy it either. If I was to summarize our collective request, it would be straightforward. We ask for more transparency into how we got into this, and more importantly, what leaders around the world are planning to get us out of it.

As I have said many times already, I am neither a politician or a scientist. I speak as a business manager and father, confident in the knowledge that working together, there is nothing we can’t solve. As long as you start with a plan.

With that as our baseline, I’d like to direct the rest of my thoughts to a select group of key constituencies.

Dear world leaders
Around the world people and their families and businesses are looking to you, to tell us where we are heading, and when, where and how this can and will end. Crisis situations call for honesty, integrity and decisive, selfless decisions. The end state must be defined as part of the plan to get us across the chasm. The problem is, we are not sure these are part of your plans. That scares us. We realize nobody intended for us to be here, that nobody is infallible and that we all make mistakes. In fact, we must all take some part of the responsibility for failing to prepare our countries, cities and towns for a pandemic virus outbreak.

Right now, the world plays a protracted game of whack-a-mole with the virus, stamping out outbreaks here and there until a vaccine can be produced. Several articles have recently listed a couple of alternative directions for where we are heading.

Clearly the dream scenario would have been that every nation manages to simultaneously bring the virus to heel, as with the original SARS in 2003. Given the current status of the pandemic, it is highly unlikely that we will come to worldwide synchronous control. So, let’s stop looking in this direction.

That leaves us with the option that the virus burns through the world and leaves behind enough immune survivors and build “herd immunity.” But as COVID-19 is more transmissible and fatal than a flu, it could leave a trail of millions of victims and fatally devastated health systems.

I doubt many of you will choose this quick but deadly “heard immunity strategy,” making it likely that we continue to pursue a whack-a-mole strategy that is the longest and most complicated. But that means we have to live with the virus. Because we cannot stay inactive for too long.

And you are making it harder by not being transparent with regard to when and how we can all become active again. Time is the critical factor. A crisis cannot be fully solved through inactiveness or provincial thinking. But right now, we are at an economic standstill that risks sending our children on into a world where the next plague is long-term debt and unemployment that will leave us unprepared to support the weak and sick in the years to come. So, we ask you to tell us, where is your end state? How are you preparing us for the next wave of COVID-19? How are you preparing us for a new outbreak? Where will our bridge hit land and how will you prepare us to get across?

Dear fellow citizens and consumers
Over the last decade most of us have increased our personal consumption. Not simply in how much we spend, but also as a percentage of our income. Never before have we purchased and consumed so many different products and experiences. Digital technology put the power in our hands and we gladly took control.

But now, many of us have gone into retreat and we are limiting consumption to essential, non-discretionary things. It’s an understandable reaction. We’re unsure about the future, about our jobs and about the world we have created for our children. But let us remember, that the restaurant visit yesterday that didn’t happen, the hotel room we didn’t stay in, the hair cut we didn’t get – these things will never be sold. Their value – and the value they enable for many of our fellow citizens – is gone forever. So are the revenues to those who supplied these industries. This is the ripple effect of long-term inactivity that makes so many others wonder if they will have a job or a future tomorrow. Remember to do what you can to help each other so that when we do emerge from our current shelters, we emerge stronger together.

Dear customers and partners – present and future
I am proud to serve you. Like you, we are constantly evaluating our contingency plans. We are all affected in unique and different ways. We are looking at the same curves that lie ahead. We know your customers, employees and business partners are concerned. We are all holding back because we want to protect the jobs and the future of our companies. We are all cautiously waiting to see light at the end of the tunnel. We are all in the same boat.

In truth, depending on the exact nature of our businesses, some of us are struggling to keep our boats moving fast enough, while others might be following instructions to sail around in circles. In either case, we know everyone’s tank can run empty at a certain time. A hotel without guests will not be renovated, a restaurant without diners will not stay lit, a factory without raw materials or demand will not stay online. But through it all, we are ready to support you. Our ownership means we will stand strong, ready to help you manage your business to keep your suppliers, customers, partners and vendors updated and informed, and empowering you to make the right decisions based on trustworthy, transparent data.

Dear friends and colleagues
Thank you for your dedication in difficult times. Remember, no matter what happens, we do not leave customers or our people behind. Working from home can be tough, so be sure to take breaks and consider vacation to rest your mind. If you feel isolated, or if you are single or a parent who needs to balance a day with kids not in school, we will work with you together to find ways to navigate. Wherever you live, whatever you believe in, whoever you are voting for, remember, we will come through this by working together as one global company across borders. We know provincial thinking will not solve this. We have contingency plans to address this, and we keep updating them as we serve our customers. Together we will not be inactive. We will persevere and succeed because it is my personal purpose to make transparency a catalyst for a better world. And that is what I am continuing to do.

Keep building; “somewhere” lies just ahead
There are no easy answers to the questions or problems I’ve posed. But there are answers and we will find them.

To all those with the ability to influence action and change, we ask you to step up and take on the challenge, because silence and inactivity will not get us there.

To everyone else, be brave and dedicated and flexible as we all adapt to whatever “the new normal” brings next. As I have noted, managing through the pandemic feels like we’re building a bridge without knowing exactly where it will hit land. Finding our way to our unseen destination requires everyone to remain strong and agile and to keep building.

If we can all do that, I’m confident we’ll be stronger together for the experience when we reach the other side.

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