Hello, I hope you’re well. At least two of the events that I was going to attend in the next few days have been canceled because of concerns about covid-19, so I have had a little more time to read and think than I was expecting. One of these events was the gathering this evening to talk about our Reading for Leading book, How To Be An Anti-Racist, which was disappointing but prudent.
I am working on a book about strategy with my good friend Jennie Weiner. One of my other tasks this week is to revise chapter 2, about the definition of strategy—which is incredibly difficult. And in the midst of this, I am, along with everyone else, trying to keep up with the news about the coronavirus; and I have been privy to several conversations leaders in different organizations have been having about how to respond to the epidemic. So many questions about how to judge the threat and what to do in response. UConn just announced that classes after spring break will be online…
So for what it’s worth, I have a few thoughts.
First, these decisions are incredibly difficult, and the people who make them are vulnerable to a great deal of judgment—I believe that this is known in America as Monday morning quarterbacking. I know this from the feedback that district leaders have to deal with when they announce snow days—and if it turns out that the weather wasn’t as bad as predicted, the decision to cancel school can lead to some unpleasant messages from parents and community members. So the idea that school could be closed for days or weeks is truly a momentous decision, particularly when so many students are dependent on school for meals, services related to disabilities, and so on.
I am reminded of one of the lessons in another of our Reading for Leading book selections, Thinking in Bets. The author, Annie Duke, writes about the mistake we make when we judge the quality of a decision by the end result. She calls it resulting, and we do it all the time. My favorite example is when she points out that just because you make it home safely after a few drinks does not make the decision to drive a good one. Likewise, a good decision does not always guarantee a good result. A decision that causes something NOT to happen can be especially hard to justify, and so it’s even more important to separate out the decision from the outcome. The tendency of some people will be to assume that the decision was an over-reaction. I was mildly snippy to the barista at Starbucks on Tuesday who declined to make my almond milk flat white in my Yeti Rambler and insisted on giving me a disposable cup instead, and I am sorry.
This chart in the New York Times (which actually started life on the CDC web site and then was picked up by the Economist and I first saw it on Twitter) was incredibly helpful to me in understanding how to think about the strategy that is being advocated by health officials—specifically, the decisions that are being made at the moment to curtail travel and restrict large gatherings are probably not about preventing the spread of the virus, but in slowing it—and in doing so, making sure that medical services are not overwhelmed, and thereby making it more likely that vital equipment such as ventilators will be available for those who need them, thereby saving lives.
I was really struck by the value of this chart. Before I saw it, I didn’t really get how or why the decisions about what to cancel when were being made. But the chart provides guidance on the goal (“flattening the curve”), the rationale (so that the volume of cases does not exceed the capacity of medical resources to respond), and the needed actions (anything that delays the spread of the virus). In other words, it communicates a strategy. I feel so much better about the recommendations being made by medical professionals, and I feel so much better prepared to revise chapter 2.
I hope you stay well. If there is anything I can do for you (remotely), please let me know. Best, Isobel
Isobel Stevenson, PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Ave
Hartford, CT 06106
Coaching Letter: StevensonCoachingLetter.org