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Finding the Good in the Coronavirus

Glen Tullman

03.19.20

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"All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity," Robert Kennedy


What's good about the coronavirus? In a word nothing. But it’s here and it’s now a reality. So, what do we do? It was Winston Churchill who first said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” In the midst of this challenging time, we are seeing some very positive and new patterns of behaviors, activities, and changes in how we do business that I believe will be here long after we’ve dealt with the virus. In fact, I believe this can be a turning point for our Country in many ways.

Let’s begin by looking across the economy to see what’s really going on:

First, since the advent of coronavirus, we are seeing a new level of responsibility, caring, and community across a variety of sectors beginning with business. Many companies have stepped up and are paying hourly employees even while they cannot work. This includes a number of NBA and NHL teams, owners, and even players, who have made highly publicized decisions to pay stadium workers and hourly employees while their seasons are suspended. Countless other businesses have acted, long before being told to do so, by mandating ‘Work From Home’ policies and travel reductions along with new benefits to proactively protect their employees. Most airlines immediately waived all cancellation and rescheduling fees and froze mileage program expirations while more than a few hotels followed suit. Airbnb, after initially pausing, agreed to allowing their customers to cancel penalty free, a tough decision that many of their hosts didn’t like. Grubhub, despite meaningful cost to their bottom-line, did the right thing and waived fees for the independent local restaurants who are greatly impacted by coronavirus-related shutdowns.

We’re also seeing a renewed sense that Government is necessary and, in fact, critical in times of crisis. While leadership in Washington has spent the last few years deriding “big government” and weakening our critical institutions by questioning experts, we now see how critical these national institutions really are, especially in times of crisis, and understand that government serves many important purposes. This is reminiscent of the famous, “I don’t want the Government touching my Medicare,” line that showed how many people don’t truly understand the critical roles government plays in so many areas. They do now.

Despite this lack of leadership from Washington, we’ve seen local leaders step up in many ways. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has been a strong and vocal proponent of communicating fact-based information and proper social distancing practices. I’m particularly proud of Illinois Governor, J.B. Pritzker, who realized that if people didn’t have sick pay, they would come to work sick and spread the virus (seems obvious) and filed emergency rules allowing people who have to skip work because they have coronavirus to collect some pay, even if their job doesn’t come with paid sick leave. Governor Pritzker was later joined by frustrated Republicans, who had remained largely silent on President Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus, when he called out the President on Twitter for putting returning Americans at risk by being unprepared and having them stand in close proximity to others at the airport for hours, just what we’ve been told not to do. In the end, all of the political noise caused the President to begin to act. Other Governors realized that closing schools meant no school breakfasts or lunches and have put our kids first by continuing to make meals available in a safe way. Good government and great leaders are necessary at times like this.

But you don’t have to be a politician or business leader to take personal responsibility. Many people (including high-profile celebrities like Tom Hanks, Sophia Trudeau, wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Rudy Gobert, star player for the Utah Jazz) have gone public with their diagnoses to help educate, making it clear that there is a responsible way to act: self-quarantine and take care of yourself, as you would do with any flu.

So, now it’s our turn. We have the opportunity to demonstrate our own leadership as citizens, using this crisis to show American creativity and resiliency, and perhaps drive progress in a way that was heretofore not possible. We’ve collectively learned a few things:

  • That the health of our community is intimately tied together, so keeping everyone healthy should and must be a priority.
  • That new forms of health and care, like telehealth and consumer digital solutions that meet consumers where they are, are not only convenient, but safer and more practical than traditional office visits. We need both for very different reasons.
  • That new ways of conducting business, like remote conferencing, may reduce the need for travel to see clients and for conferences as well.
  • That education can be delivered in many ways and that technology can make higher quality education more accessible and more cost-effective than ever before. It may also encourage much more interactive learning. Notice how quickly universities transitioned to online curriculums.
  • That great businesses understand focusing on customers, clients, their employees, and their communities makes business sense. And that it takes only a few leaders to remind everyone what our true responsibilities are and what we should be doing.
  • And, last but not least, that we cannot take our good fortune, whether it be health, economy, government or our relationships, for granted, but rather, we have to work at each one.

Robin Sharma observed that, “Difficult times disrupt your conventional ways of thinking and push you to forge better habits of thought, performance, and being.” We should use our time working at home to forge new relationships, to check on those within our community who may be in need, to take the time we save from commuting or traveling to invest in those relationships, and perhaps to set a different but more thoughtful, productive, and measured course regarding how we spend our valuable time.

When we look back years from now, I believe the long-term result of coronavirus will demonstrate that we can be better in many ways . . . we can provide better healthcare for our communities and deliver it more effectively using new consumer facing digital tools like Livongo, Doctor on Demand, MDLIVE, or other services. We can provide better education delivered digitally through Khan Academy or dozens of other online learning tools. We can travel less but enjoy more face time with Zoom, Skype, or Webex and other communication tools, and most important, we can develop better, richer relationships with our kids, our partners, and our parents by taking some of that travel time we’ve saved to reinvest in our closest relationships and in our communities.

Can we turn coronavirus, as difficult and perplexing as it is, into a launching pad for the next great American leap forward? That decision is entirely up to us.

Further reading

blog

Partnering with Kaiser Permanente to Support Mental Health Through COVID-19 and Beyond

From Dr. Julia Hoffman - 04.02.20

blog

The Coronavirus Stimulus -- A Step in the Right Direction

From Leslie Krigstein - 03.30.20