01 June 2021

Books of Summer

(C) McGraw-Hill Executive Library 

Here is a list of recommended business reads from Inc. Magazine.  The titles are drawn from 2020--we will wait to see what makes the list in 2021:

1. Always Day One: How the Tech Titans Plan to Stay on Top Forever

by Alex Kantrowitz

2. Billion-Dollar Brand Club: How Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker, and Other Disruptors Are Remaking What We Buy, by Lawrence Ingrassia

3. Experimentation Works: The Surprising Power of Business Experiments

by Stefan H. Thomke

4. Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolution, by Robert Chesnut

5. Lead From the Future: How to Turn Visionary Thinking Into Breakthrough Growth, by Mark W. Johnson and Josh Suskewicz

6. No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram, by Sarah Frier

7. No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer

8. When More Is Not Better: Overcoming America's Obsession with Economic Efficiency, by Roger L. Martin

9. Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber

by Susan Fowler

10. A World Without Work: Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond, by Daniel Susskind


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01 May 2021

Navigating the Suez Canal

 "Ships are safe in the harbor, but that's not what ships are for."

-John A. Shedd

An ultra-large Golden class container ship, Ever Given, became stuck in the Suez Canal on 23 March 2021 at 05:30 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).   The ship, operated by Evergreen Marine, was en route from Malaysia to the Netherlands when it ran aground after winds allegedly blew the ship off course. An investigation by Egyptian authorities, who own and operate the canal, is underway.

Ever Given container ship, stuck in the Suez Canal.
(C) University of Miami

The Ever Given, a ship as long as the Empire State Building is tall, completely blocked the canal for six days.  After being freed and refloated on 29 March, the Ever Given made way for a backlog of over 400 ships to pass through the canal.  

However, with a seizure of the Ever Given by Egyptian authorities and a pending $1 billion fine, the ship isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Time is money

Where is the Suez Canal?

The canal cuts through Egypt, linking the Mediterranean Sea in the north to the Red Sea in the south.  It's one of the world's best-known and most important waterways.  Nearly 19,000 vessels passed through the canal last year carrying 1.2 billion tons of cargo.  Around 13% of maritime trade passes through the Suez Canal, including a large proportion of the world's oil.  (Suez Canal Authority; The Wall Street Journal)

The Suez Canal.  

An alternate route goes around the Cape of Good Hope off the southern coast of Africa.  But that course adds two weeks to the same trip from Asia to Europe.  

Major sailing routes. (C) Researchgate

The backstory

The size of ships is growing faster than ports can expand. Ships' size is directly related to consumer demand.  With household spending on the rise, logistics problems are likely to get worse.

For the U.S., a certain percentage of Peleton bikes, large screen televisions, and hot tubs are now being shipped by air to avoid a backlog in the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California.  The LA port is North America's busiest while China is home to seven of the world's 10 largest container ports. (American Enterprise Institute) 

A National Retail Federation survey conducted in March before the Suez Canal blockage found that 98% of respondents said they had been impacted by port or other shipping-related delays.  More than half said congestion was adding at least three weeks to their supply chains.

The Ever Given was carrying 20,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent) containers filled with goods of nearly every kind. 

The incident

How did the ship get stuck in the first place?

The Suez Canal Authority said high wind speeds were a factor in causing the accident.  The Authority is also looking into human error and technical malfunction to see if they played a role.

"You can't steer straight if the wind is blowing sideways," said  Robert Flannery, an active pilot from New York who is familiar with this waterway.   

From the accident report, the Ever Given was moving north up the canal toward the Mediterranean Sea when it was caught in a season dust storm known as the khamsin where wind speeds can reach 40 knots or 46 mph.  Its bow then veered into the right side of the channel becoming embedded in the canal wall--and wedging the vessel across the entire width of the channel.

Convergence 

When stuck in a bad situation it's not likely you'll get out on your own.  So it was with the Ever Given cargo ship in the Suez Canal.  Let's think about what could be helpful in your next crisis:

1.  Are you on the right side of the problem?  Tugboats stationed north of Ever Given made it almost impossible to free the ship until reinforcements from elsewhere arrived at the south to pull on its stern.

2.  Scaling up means bigger and more complex problems. Twice the thick cables with which the main tugboat pulled the container ship snapped under the tension, the first time the crew has seen such a rupture.  Do you want to grow your business?  Then be prepared for unfamiliar circumstances and obstacles of size. Without previous experience management solutions often result from trial and error.  

3.  While asking for help keep in mind that experts are no guarantee of a fix. Workers had dredged more than a million cubic feet of sand and silt beneath the 1,300-foot-long vessel.  And then the tugs took advantage of an unusually high tide to begin moving the tanker back and forth.  But instead of slipping free and gliding to the center of the canal, the Ever Given remained stuck waiting for the next high tide.   

4.  Have hope--but hold the public optimism.  The Canal Authority began letting ships in from the north after engineers calculated the Ever Given would be pulled free.  This decision just added to the problem creating an even greater traffic jam.  

5.  One last push. The ship's owner hired Smit Salvage from the Netherlands.  A backup plan which called for unloading containers to lighten the load was put in place but added weeks to the rescue mission, something the Canal Authority wanted to avoid at all costs.  Instead, they chose to go for one last push hoping to extract just enough sand and debris for the Ever Given to slide free. 

Supermoon.  (C) The Guardian

6.  An assist from E.T.   Sometimes we get a break from a third-party source to help us out of a jam.  In this instance, the rescue team received an extra-terrestrial gift--a supermoon.  That type of moon materializes when the full moon coincides with the moon's closest approach to Earth in its orbit. Scientists say supermoons make the moon appear a little brighter and closer than normal, although the difference is hard to spot with the naked eye. (space.com) 

There are only four supermoons scheduled in 2021.  Amazingly, the first one came at just the right time on 28 March and pushed the tide higher.      

7.  Ship ahoy. The Alp Guard tugboat, with the pulling power of 285 metric tons arrived, providing a significant boost.  Fighting high winds and strong currents, the tide began to ebb and the Ever Given began to finally stir.  

On 29 March at 3:05 p.m. local time, the ship was free.  



Additional sources include CNBC; USA Today; Wikipedia; BBC; Popular Mechanics; and the Maritime Executive.


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01 April 2021

The Power of a Predictable Leader

"Nor yet be overeager in pursuit of any thing; for the mercurial often happen to leave judgment behind them, and sometimes make work for repentance."

--William Penn

In a recent survey of over 1,000 executives, more than half--in different industries--said their roles had changed due to the pandemic.  Some 30 percent said their jobs have changed permanently according to Chicago-based WittKieffer who sponsored the research.  

The study raises this implication--many leaders are being asked to do work they weren't previously trained or prepared to do.  "While some are excelling in a new environment, other executives are struggling to find their place during the pandemic," the report stated.

That analysis describes how an outside force like COVID-19 causes disruptive change. 

What are organizations doing to themselves?

Destabilizing influences

Even as the economy rebounds, it's hard to blame any remaining woes on infectious disease.    

Professor Howard Stevenson, who teaches at Harvard University, says that companies were destroying necessary predictability leading up to 2020.  

"The practices that leaders are adopting to make their organizations more competitive are ignoring the human need for predictability," Stevenson observed.  "Corporations must recognize the paradox that many management tools in fact destroy what holds the organization together," he concluded.  

(C) The Telegraph

That need for predictability among associates is not a need for guarantee--it's a need for clarity and consistency.

Professor Stevenson points to the following causes of damage to employee morale and cultural glue:

--Reengineering throws out all the old procedures and rules of thumb by which an organization has operated.

--Continuous improvement programs promise only that an organization's rules will continue to change.

--Matrix management requires that two (or more) managers, who need not agree with each other, judge employees' work and determine their future in the company.

--Rightsizing sheds people, often regardless of their individual skills or performance.

In the age of Zoom Professor Stevenson adds that "nowhere is the notion of predictability more threatened than in a virtual organization which is not much of an organization at all."

Unpredictable

Mercurial describes someone whose mood or behavior is changeable and unpredictable; or who is clever, lively, and quick.  It's out of that temperament where management fads often originate.  Compulsive behavior is the opposite of being predictable.   

Apple's Steve Jobs had a mercurial style. His behavior included rapid and unpredictable change but also qualities of eloquence and ingenuity.  

The real world is not straightforward and people are complicated.  Working for an impulsive boss, which can be a difficult experience, means you have to adapt or move on. 

Predictable 

British author, Roderic Yapp, writes that if you’re working with people as part of a team, you want to be predictable. "You want to make it easy for them to meet your expectations because unpredictability is a nightmare for people trying to manage upwards," he notes.

How does one be more predictable?  He offers the following advice:

1. Deepen the relationships you have with your people. 

How can you motivate someone and improve their performance if you don’t know anything about them?  Build a deeper relationship with the person by asking them about their personal history.  What is important to them? What drives and motivates them? What do they want out of life and how can you support that aspiration. 

In the exchanges, give them a roadmap to you.

2. Remove emotion from the equation.

Do you purposefully act in a chosen and deliberate manner or are you simply reacting? The two are very different. Reactions happen quickly. 

The most common is when mistakes are made, tempers get lost and voices get raised. These behaviors lead to a climate of fear and, at best, compliance. Impertinent conduct undermines open, honest conversation and challenge. It causes those around you unnecessary stress. An unbecoming habit can result in the best people leaving. 

Acting deliberately is a choice. It involves being aware of your behavior and the impact it is having on other people. 

Gaining composure

We're all wired differently. However, remaining consistent and undisturbed inside that unique wiring is not always easy to do.  It comes naturally to some like doctors and airline pilots.  But for others, it requires practice to get there. 

While leopards can't change their spots and tigers their stripes, we're not as fixed in our frame of mind as some might think.  Maturing in attitude and behavior is a big part of professional development.  Personal growth leads to wisdom which is a desirable trait and an overlooked strength.  

Ultimately, the right kind of power, and predictability, accrues to a leader with self-control. In turn, that composure gives confidence to others when they need it the most.    



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01 March 2021

The Last Mile Strategy

"All endeavour calls for the ability to tramp the last mile, shape the last plan, endure the last hours toil."

--Henry David Thoreau

The term "last mile" or "kilometer," metaphorically speaking, is a familiar one for those in the cable television industry or supply chain management. For cable, it's all about getting service to the end-user.    

Supply chains are set up to move goods from transportation hubs to final destinations (e.g., UPS, FedEx, Amazon).

The big jab

More recently the last mile concept is being applied to getting Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and now Johnson & Johnson manufacturing plants into arms. AstraZeneca is approved in the European Union, UK, and other countries but not the U.S.

Moderna vaccine. (C) ABC News

As of this posting, more than 245 million doses have been administered across 107 countries.  The latest rate is 6.79 million doses per day. In the U.S. more Americans have now received at least one dose than having tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.  According to the Bloomberg Tracking site, 76.9 million doses have been given.  In the last week, an average of 1.82 million doses per day were administered.  

In terms of government agencies, the four stages of the vaccine process are authorization; prioritization; allocation; and distribution. After much trial and error, the last mile of the vaccine strategy, vaccination, is catching up with the first mile. 

"Complexity is the enemy of speed," someone said. However, obstacles such as accessibility to the shots, are being unraveled with real-time experience. 

Why?

Because the learning is in the doing, even tackling variants to the original coronavirus.    

Every day health care officials, along with private enterprises and volunteers, are figuring out how to turn this unparalleled collaborative venture into a workable solution.  There's a long way to go but progress, not success, is the better measuring stick. 

The last part of the last mile, jabs in arms, is up to the individual who has the final say in this emergency supply chain.  Keep that in mind the next time your organization launches anything.

Landing on Mars

NASA successfully landed its fifth robotic rover on Mars, Thursday, 18 February 2021.  Perseverance touched down at 3:55 p.m. ET.  

Launched 30 July 2020 on an Atlas V-541 rocket from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Perseverance traveled 293 million miles to reach the red planet surface of Mars.  The ability to explore other planets is made possible by the Ingenuity helicopter (drone) which is part of the mission.

Getting to Mars with help from a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and interplanetary cruise stage was one thing, but slowing down from 12,100 miles per hour to a soft 1.7 mph at landing is another.

What about the last mile?

Perseverance landing on Mars. (C) NASA

The rover’s landing featured the typical “seven minutes of terror” that NASA engineers describe in any spacecraft attempt to land on Mars. That’s the time it takes to enter the Martian atmosphere and descend to the surface, and it’s named as such because it takes 11 minutes for any communication to travel from the rover back to Earth--meaning the time delay requires that the spacecraft and rover perform the landing autonomously.

Row, row, row your boat

News reports confirm that Jasmine Harrison from the UK is now the youngest woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

It took 70 days, three hours, and 48 minutes to row across the Atlantic Ocean--a 3,000-mile journey from the Canary Islands of the northwest coast of Africa to the Caribbean Island of Antigua.  

At 21, Ms. Harrison is the youngest woman ever to row solo across an ocean. Her boat is 23 feet long, weighs about a ton, and includes a small cabin and a bunker that she slept in.

Navigating on her iPad or phone, which broke during the trip, was easy because she was heading straight west, she says.

Jasmine Harrison crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
(C) The Times

It wasn’t all smooth sailing: Harrison capsized twice. The first time, a rough wave hit the side of the boat, sending her overboard until another wave flung her back on deck. She says this experience didn’t shake her.

And the last mile?

Two days before she completed the journey, a bigger wave sent her flying into the cabin seat. Harrison hurt her head, lower back, and her elbow--which made it difficult to bend her arm to row.

"At that point, I was kind of glad about the capsize because it made me want to actually then finish," she says. "I was ready to finish and ready to say goodbye to the ocean." 

The end game

 When it comes to a last-mile strategy for businesses or nonprofits--

  • Avoid false starts.  They ripple through a system all the way to the end.
  • Don't celebrate too soon.  Outcomes become clearer only as we get near that last mile.
  • Identify a point person to be responsible for last-mile execution. To paraphrase, a successful launch has many sponsors but poor results are an orphan. 
  • Build flexibility into the organizational culture since it's better to bend than break.  
  • Use positive and negative feedback from frontline workers and consumers to make adjustments in the strategy. 
  • What emerges is often better than what's planned. A healthy ego can live with that idea.


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01 February 2021

Remembering Whitey Ford

 "No one likes to hear it, because it's dull, but the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same - pitching."  

--Earl Weaver, Manager, Baltimore Orioles (Baseball Hall of Fame, 1996)

Nineteen sixty-one was a great year for Major League Baseball.

It was baseball's first expansion since the American League entered the major leagues.  The Los Angeles Angels played their first season in the American League while the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota and the Twins played their first major league season.

The New York Yankees (109 wins) and Detroit Tigers (101 wins) put on an exciting race for the AL pennant with Detroit holding the lead for more than half of the season.   The Yankees fought back and eventually won the pennant on the momentum of a three-game sweep of Detroit during the first weekend of September at Yankee Stadium. 

On October 1st Yankee Roger Maris became the first person with sixty-one home runs in one season, dueling with a teammate, Mickey Mantle who hit 54. 

New York went on to win the World Series defeating the Cincinnati Reds four games to one.    

A bygone era

Major League Baseball players head to spring training this month hoping for a safe season inside a global pandemic. As teams gather in Florida and Arizona, we pause to remember Yankees’ Hall-of-Fame pitcher, Edward Charles (Whitey) Ford, who passed in October of last year at the age of 91.

Ford has been called the best starting pitcher in the long history of the New York Yankees; a six-time World Series champion; and one of the best left-handers of all time.  According to sportswriters who covered the team, Ford relied on pinpoint control, mound presence, and maybe a slight trick or two.  All within a slight five-foot-ten frame.

He finished his career with a record of 236-106 and a 2.75 ERA.  Contributing to Ford's stature were 10 All-Star teams, the Cy Young Award, and World Series MVP in 1961.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974.  

Big day in Vehicle City

The news of Ford's passing brought to mind a once-in-a-lifetime meeting with the great pitcher in that magical summer of '61.  

Hall of Fame pitcher, Whitey Ford, New York Yankees.
(C) Associated Press

The unlikely encounter took place during a grand opening celebration of The Yankee Stadium Store (a discount chain) at the Northwest Shopping Center located at the corner of Clio and Pierson Roads in Flint, Michigan.  Whitey Ford was there along with All-Star teammate and catcher, Elston Howard, the first African American player on the Yankees roster. 

First baseman, Norm Cash, who would become the American League’s batting champion that year with a .361 average, and pitcher Frank Lary, a two-time All-Star, known as the “Yankee Killer” for his success against the Bronx Bombers represented Detroit.

Veteran Tigers’ broadcaster, Van Patrick, who was succeeded in the 1960s by George Kell and Ernie Harwell served as master of ceremonies.

In the presence of greatness

The special guests, standing on a constructed platform in front of the new Yankee Stadium Store, attracted quite a crowd, according to the book, "Remember Flint, Michigan."  The city and its surrounding areas, located just over an hour northwest of Detroit, was a solid fan base with the Tigers broadcasts available on WTRX Flint, WKMH Detroit, and eventually a long-run on WJR Detroit.

At twelve years of age and against great odds, my goal was to maneuver from the back to the front to get as many autographs as possible.  What I hadn’t counted on was everyone wanting to do the same thing. With a smaller frame, I worked my way forward reaching the platform, only to be crushed by the crowd.  

That was my first lesson about the perils of cutting in line.

On an unusually warm day and separated from my friends, I almost passed out. Whitey Ford noticed, came over to where I was leaning, and in an act of compassion lifted me onto the platform where I could breathe fresh air. 

There I was standing in the presence of Elston Howard, Norm Cash, Frank Lary, and Whitey Ford--each with their own career achievements.

The last thing I remember before leaving the platform was a someday Hall of Fame pitcher offering to autograph my baseball. Whitey Ford's signature faded but sixty years later the memory of his kindness has only deepened in my mind.    

___________________________


In 2020 it was reported that in one 42-day span alone, five Hall of Fame members passed away: New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver; Lou Brock and ace pitcher Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals; Cincinnati Reds second baseman Joe Morgan; and New York Yankees left-hander Whitey Ford. Detroit Tigers slugger Al Kaline died in April and knuckleballer Phil Niekro passed at the end of December.  (The Wall Street Journal)  


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01 January 2021

The Core Idea

"Human history is, in essence, a history of ideas."

--H. G. Wells

Geologists estimate that 3,200 miles beneath our feet lies a “Solid Inner Core” of the Earth made up of iron whose diameter is 70% the size of the moon. (Red)     

There are three other layers of the Earth:  

-A "Liquid Outer Core" the size of Mars. (Gold)

-A "Mantle" 1,800 miles thick composed of different kinds of rock making up 84% of the Earth's total volume. (Olive)

-The layer closest to the surface is called the "Crust" also composed of rock and representing 1% of the Earth's volume. (Gray)
(C) NASA

If you cut the Earth in half, like an apple, that's what you would see: Solid Inner Core; Liquid Outer Core; Mantle; and Crust.  

With a surface as hot as the sun, the Solid Inner Core is a source of creativity, energy, and selective destruction.  Spinning faster than the Earth itself, the Solid Inner Core is leading, not following, even though hidden from view.    

What's a core idea?

Organizations, big and small, that consistently accomplish their aims do so with a simple idea that shapes and drives the enterprise.     

Take UPS, for example.  

Founded in 1907 as American Messenger Company by two teenage boys, James Casey and Claude Ryan, with a $100 loan, the business prospered by providing the best service at the lowest rates.  Cars were scarce so reliable and courteous teenagers were hired to deliver telegraph messages, pharmacy orders, and groceries to homes around the Seattle, Washington area on foot and bicycles.

That was the core idea.
More than a century later, Atlanta-based UPS partnered with FEDEX in the U.S. to ship 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to mitigate against Covid-19.  That may have been the most important pharmacy delivery of all time.      

As it lives and breathes

Clarity on the concept of a business or nonprofit comes from a critical mass of employees making the idea come alive. Those same individuals are also stewards of the organization's spirit and aspirations.  Having "culture carriers" throughout the system is an informal way of socializing new associates and advancing institutional knowledge.  

Trusted individuals who lead by example often produce better HR outcomes than formal mentoring and development programs.  Healthy working relationships, clear expectations, and comprehensible goals underpin a successful execution of strategy.  

Also noted in the research is that the core and identity have an interdependent relationship. Combined, they're central, enduring, and distinguish the enterprise from its peers. (Albert and Whetten, 1985)  For identity to be clear the core must be clear--especially as it's reinterpreted and reimagined for an emerging workplace and world.  

It's the serious qualities of a firm, such as wisdom and good judgment, which resist bad change and accept good change.  Absent honesty and moral courage in an organization's leadership, anything goes.   

Rethinking the core
"... no humanly constructed core idea or business endures forever in its original form."
The data in consulting libraries show that organizations often fail to take advantage of the full potential of their main business.  Not getting enough from what it already does the next move is to abandon the core and start chasing after someone else's ideas.     

Eventually, someone holds up a mirror and discovers those borrowed ideas don't fit. Only in retrospect does management then see the error of its ways. For some, it's too late while others are fortunate to get another chance.

Writing in Scientific American, Claude J. Allgre and Stephen H. Schneider remind us that the Earth and its atmosphere are continuously altered.  "Plate tectonics shift the continents, raise mountains, and move the ocean floor.  Such constant change has characterized Earth since its beginning some 4.5 billion years ago." 

In a similar pattern, no humanly constructed core idea or business endures forever in its original form.  

Why?  

Over time the assumptions on which the organization has been built (environment, mission, capabilities) and is being run no longer fit reality. ("Theory of the Business" by Peter F. Drucker)

As a management practice UPS periodically updated its assumptions, building on a stable core with a disruptive edge.  From bicycles to drones and back to bicycles.  Delivering messages to managing sophisticated supply chains. Over 5,000 independently owned The UPS Stores franchised by the corporate parent in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada.

The company spans 114 years but keeps the aging process at bay by holding to its original values of reliability and high ethical standards while staying close to customers.

Is this a good time to revisit your assumptions and where the core business should go next?

Management writer, Dr. Chris Zook, who studies core structures offers strategic questions--

1.  How do you know when your core needs to change in some fundamental way?

2.  How do you determine what the new core should be?

3.  How do you go about measuring the vitality which remains--is the energy exhausted or does it still have legs?

4.  How profitable are your customers, and how loyal?  

Remaking commerce

One reason makeovers have a high rate of failure, some say as much as 70% (McKinsey & Company), is that businesses tend to travel great distances seeking success in unfamiliar territory (Microsoft and Nokia). Those in the 30% who succeed stay close to home (Disney and Pixar).  

What do they discover?

Hidden assets.

"The real question," says Dr. Zook, "is how to open management's eyes to the hidden assets in its market. How to mine the treasure that's within their reach."    

Planning ahead

Coronavirus is doing something to your employees and customers.  The full impact remains to be seen.  In the meantime, here are additional questions to consider as you think about the future--

o  What's your core idea and business?
o  What's worth keeping in the core?
o  What needs changing or remaking?
o  Are current customers aging out?
o  Where will you find new customers? 



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·       

01 December 2020

2020 Vision

"I try to find the good in every day with what we have been handed although it's sometimes hard to do."

--Rebecca J. Kurzon, M.D. 

As the last page of the current calendar is on display, how should we go about assessing the unimaginable year 2020?  A period in which a deadly global virus continues attacking vulnerable populations and those who are undisciplined in their social behavior.   

Yes, Covid-19 fatigue is setting in with social distancing, wearing a mask in public (often below the nose), and hand-washing practiced less than nine months ago.  The weather becomes a factor in some locations forcing individuals inside with less exposure to sunshine and fresh air.  

How to assess?

Perhaps with the distance of time, we'll see the past twelve months as an epochal moment when businesses, governments, and educational institutions discovered they aren't in control after all.  That a collective arrogance, what Jim Collins calls "a hubris born of success," came up against an uncontrollable force destabilizing our social systems and economic structures.

Essayist Eric Weiner observed, "The pandemic has made a mockery of our grand plans.  Graduations, weddings, job prospects--poof, gone, rolling back down the hill like Sisyphus's boulder."    

Thankfully there was help when we needed it.  Our attention moved away from captains of industry and celebrities to the doctors, nurses, EMT personnel, grocery clerks, truck drivers, and delivery workers that kept society functioning during the early days of the pandemic--and still do. 

An undesirable appointment

There are two types of appointments.  The first you initiate by calling your doctor or dentist.  Or scheduling your car or truck to be serviced.  This is a routine of life.  

The other is like meeting up with someone or something not previously planned. Think loss of employment or a death in the family.


On 13 March 2020 U.S. President Donald J. Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic to be a national emergency.  Other leaders issued similar declarations for their respective countries.  

Was that type of action something new?  No. Former President, Barack Obama, used that same presidential authority for the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009.  

Covid-19 is an appointment not of our choosing.

A paradoxical season

Consider the following:

o  An economic turnaround is underway.  The total U.S. nonfarm payroll rose by 245,000 in November and the unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent from a record high 14.7 percent in April of this year. However, the pace of improvement in the labor markets has moderated in recent months.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, notable job gains occurred 
in transportation and warehousing, professional and business services, and health care. 

Employment declined in government and retail trade.  

o  Industry experts say that restaurants, hotels, and airlines are years away from a full recovery.  The National Restaurant Association estimates 100,000 restaurants closing this year.  Dining and travel depend heavily on capacity and consumers being confident of their safety.

o  The Wall Street Journal reported that with new cases rising again more livelihoods will likely be damaged.  The losses are most acute among service-sector businesses--especially smaller ones.  Many have failed and in the next several months more will follow.  Jobs won't be there for millions when the upsurge ends. 

o  The U.S. housing market is literally on fire as home sales rose to a 14-year high in October.  This trend is driven by low mortgage rates and an abrupt shift in living preferences.

o  Targeted not blanketed lockdowns may be the directive of choice for government officials over the next several months to avoid further disruption and damage to the economy.  

Medical updates
It's one thing to die from a disease, an accident, or old age.  However, it's another thing to be scared to death.  Follow the recommended precautions and pay attention to reliable sources of information about Covid-19. 
o  A vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna could be available within weeks or months instead of years.  Yet its success depends on how many are willing to be vaccinated.  For example, in the 2018-2019 flu season, 62 percent of children six months to 17 years got the flu shot.  Among adults 45 percent got vaccines. (USA Facts)  Will those percentages improve for the coronavirus vaccine?  

Vaccinations, not vaccines, save lives. 

o  The likelihood that a coronavirus infection will prove fatal has dropped by nearly a third since April due to improved treatment, researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) reported. In the United States, COVID-19 now kills about 0.6% of people infected with the virus, compared with around 0.9% early in the pandemic, stated IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray.

While strained at times for help and equipment, doctors and medical staff are more knowledgeable about coronavirus and treatments including the use of blood thinners and oxygen support.  Hospital stays are shorter which is more good news.  (Reuters)

o  It's one thing to die from a disease, an accident, or old age.  However, it's another thing to be scared to death.  Follow the recommended precautions and pay attention to reliable sources of information about Covid-19. 

Education

o  Remote learning for children, teens, and college students is uneven when it comes to quality and results.  
The average student could begin the next school year having lost as much as a third of the expected progress from the previous year in reading and half of the expected progress in math, according to a working paper from NWEA, a nonprofit organization, and scholars at Brown University and the University of Virginia.

It's a burden for middle and lower-income households to supervise their kids' online education.    

The rich are different

o  Are we all in this together? In the spring of this year, New York City's population decreased around five percent with residents leaving the wealthier zip codes of Manhattan. (New York Times)  Higher-income households have greater resources to manage residential options, online schooling, and home offices. 

Increasing resolve

So how do we endure the unendurable?  How do we find certainty in an uncertain universe?  If we crave a return to normal, how do we then define normal?  What does courage look like today? 

It's important to ask the right questions as there are no easy answers.

How we see something, including our self-awareness, determines how we're likely to respond to the coronavirus.

During our annual eye exam in November, I asked Dr. Kurzon (quoted above) how she was doing.  A consummate professional my ophthalmologist responded not with some tired refrain but with optimism and realism--"I try to find the good ... it's sometimes hard to do."   
 
Dr. Kurzon's words are encouraging.  They remind us that while infection can be contagious so can compassion and decency.

As the instructor explained to a young leadership class, "Every conquest prepares us for the next conflict, endowing us with all the needful equipment."

May that counsel prove true in the unwanted appointment with Covid-19.  



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