Over the past several months, in the context of business strategic and tactical planning, the most common question I’ve been fielding has been, “So, Gustavo, what comes next?”
My simplest answer is, prepare for cycles of “suppress and lift.”
“Suppress and lift” is not a term I created. It comes from a prescient opinion piece by Dr. Gabriel Leung, an epidemiologist from the University of Hong Kong, published by The New York Times in April.
As Leung explains, the pandemic will die out only when at least half the world develops immunity to Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This can occur in one of two ways:
- Half the world’s population has been naturally infected and recovered.
- The development of a vaccine.
Leung details how the first option would be a humanitarian catastrophe because of the number of deaths. The second option is at least one or two years away.
So he suggests that we should prepare for cycles of “suppress and lift”: the imposing and lifting of social constraints in a way that balances virus control and economic needs.
Remember, Leung communicated this back in April. The evidence has proven him to be spot on.
For example, consider countries that controlled the virus early – China, South Korea, Singapore, Germany, etc. Some areas of those countries lifted social constraints too early. When they did, the virus re-established itself, which led to another period of suppress.
In our own country, we see infection rates soaring in states that lifted social constraints early – like Florida and Georgia – compared with states that initially had high infection rates and waited to lift restraints, such as New York.
What Does All of This Mean for Business?
As leaders in business, we must prepare for cycles of suppress and lift. That means we can no longer operate with a single business model. We now need TWO: one for periods of suppress and a second for periods of lift.
To do this successfully, we must understand:
- Suppress and lift will not be a national policy. It will be regional, statewide or even local. So it is critical to understand what is going on in areas where your clients live and do business. For example, if you have clients in New York, they may soon be experiencing a period of lift. If you have clients in Miami, they may soon be experiencing a period of suppress.
- When you see a period of lift coming in a geographic area where you do business, you can pull out the “lift” business plan. When you see a period of suppress coming to an area, pull out the “suppress” business plan. This requires companies and their leaders to invest in flexibility and agility.
- These concepts fly in the face of the efficiencies that so many companies have based their previous operations upon. Lean or “just in time” manufacturing is based on efficiency, timing and everything running effectively. We are all far from that today. Today, during periods of suppress, my clients in manufacturing are building inventory – specifically for the items they predict will be in high demand during a period of lift. When a period of lift comes, they are turning around shipments much more quickly than they could when that item needed to be manufactured. In service industries, periods of suppress mean finding areas for improvement so that when they experience a period of lift, they, too, can work much more efficiently.
- Above all else, listen to the scientists (not the politicians) who are reporting the infection numbers. The Centers for Disease Control and Johns Hopkins University are great places to start.
As my favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Tweeted on April 25, “Every disaster movie begins with a scientist being ignored.”
Let’s all NOT be part of a disaster movie!
I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note.
Let’s keep cultivating our culture, together!