The New Human Truths About COVID-19

Just to get this out of the way, and in case you hadn’t already noticed, I hold a longstanding dim view of Donald Trump’s performance in his job as our Supreme Leader, and that certainly includes his performance during the current COVID-19 health crisis. He was slow to recognize the seriousness of the threat to our nation’s health and slow to mobilize the country’s defenses against it.

Because I still try to be fair, despite my dim view of his performance, I would stipulate that he didn’t cause the problem, and it’s probably not possible to estimate how much worse he made it by his long reluctance to recognize or mobilize against the pandemic.

COVID-19 is the biggest global event—and challenge—of our lifetimes. As such, it is changing human attitudes and behaviors today and forcing organizations to respond. However, the need to respond won’t end when the virus’s immediate threat eventually recedes.

Imagine it’s September. Things are back to normal. We can meet face to face, travel is possible and we can wipe our asses because toilet paper is easy to buy. But things have changed. COVID-19 has forever changed the experience of being a consumer, employees, citizen, human. Expect to see behavior change at scale for some time to come.

What will have changed in the way we think? How will that affect the way we design, communicate, build and run the experiences that people need and want? The answers to these questions will lie in the way people react and how individuals, families and social groups—all sources of creative innovation—hack new ways to live.

An essential first step is to understand the likely implications of COVID-19 on human experience and then start to respond, today.

The erosion of confidence will make trust way more important than ever before. This will necessitate a trust multiplier—action that, to be effective, rebuilds trust quickly and credibly. Focus will be on confidence-building through every channel. Justifiable optimism will sell well. All of this may change the nature of what we regard as premium products and services.

The enforced shift during the worst of the pandemic to virtual working, consuming and socializing will fuel a massive and further shift to virtual activity for anything. It will affect ways of communicating across learning, working, transacting and consuming. The impact hits everyone.

Working remotely has never been tested in a scale at which it has done so today. Adoption of digital by those yet to do so will be accelerated and a reduction of the obstacles to going virtual for any sort of experience will be required. Winners will be those who test and explore all of the associated creative possibilities. Anything that can be done virtually, will be.

As for me, working remotely has given me additional time to think about what I already knew. “Is our president this stupid?” I ask myself during every single one of his press briefings. Cheeto Benito’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which he once dismissed as a hoax, has been fiercely criticised at home as woefully inadequate to the point of irresponsibility.

Yet also thanks largely to Trump, a parallel disaster is unfolding across the world: the ruination of America’s reputation as a safe, trustworthy, competent international leader and partner. We are now the “shithole country. “Call it the Trump double-whammy. Diplomatically speaking, the US is on life support. Trump’s ineptitude and dishonesty in handling the pandemic, which has left foreign observers as well as Americans gasping in disbelief, is proving a bridge too far.

Erratic behaviour, tolerated in the past, is now seen as downright dangerous. It’s long been plain, at least to many in my household, that the toddler could not be trusted. Now he is seen as a threat. It is not just about failed leadership. It’s about openly hostile, reckless actions.

Let’s be honest, Trump could start a trade war based on silly, debunked 18th-century concepts of economics and get away with it, because the U.S. economy was strong. He could walk away from a critical climate pact, because global warming happens slowly. He could discard a denuclearization treaty with Iran with no backup plan, because nuclear threats take time to reemerge. Most people really didn’t notice or care.

But now, in the face of a global health threat that is immediate and all around us—and requires, more than anything, a coordinated global response—Trump finds that his errors are flying back in his face like clown pies almost every time he opens his mouth. All the defining attributes of his presidency—his “America First” arrogance, his us-versus-them pettiness toward the rest of the world, his obvious desire for American self-isolation—are suddenly working against him. Trump had very little credibility before; it appears to be all but shot now. 

It is in instances of trouble, problems and even more so – crisis, that the true nature and customer-centricity of organizations (and politicians) is shown. 

Finally, to truly understand human behavior you need to look beyond the rational and into the emotional, subconscious and behavioral biases that drive our behavior and perceptions. Most behavioral biases arise in the fast-thinking areas of the brain. The same that are responsible for our emotions. Emergency news coverage round-the-clock of the Coronavirus pandemic triggers the emotion of fear and has put us into survival mode. Thus, feeling we must do something quickly we don’t act as economists making a cost-benefit analysis of each product group (if we ever do) but give in to a panic buying impulse.

We still rationalize all this as we see others doing the same. However, following the crowd is another cognitive bias – social proofing or better yet, the great psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation. It’s the same principle that marketers use customer reviews, stats, celebrity endorsements and influencers to trigger.

One thing is for sure,

“The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul.”

– Victor Hugo.

  • Rolando Lopez

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