“Without a structured approach to ordering the world, the world will impose its views on us. The fact is some things are more important than others, some things are easily verifiable…Simple processes help us sort the mess and prioritize.” – from “Risk and Context in the Forest Industry”
The coronavirus presents two specific risks to most of us. One, we transmit the virus to someone vulnerable (older, ill, immunocompromised). Two, we or someone we love gets sick or injured in some other way and can’t access the health care system because it’s overwhelmed. These risks highlight the interconnected nature of the situation. Our individual choices affect others.
Given the risks, how do we contemplate a path forward? At work, we normally develop plans based on scenarios that specify factors to watch and how we’re watching them. We do this all the time in forestry. However, it’s hard to build scenarios when you don’t know where to start.
We know what we don’t know.
This is a numbers game. And the numbers will get worse before they get better. It’s simply the math we learned in forestry. Trees planted years ago give us the forests we have today. Volumes can strike in massive waves. We call this “a wall of wood” or “the pig in the python”.
With the coronavirus, the spreading that occurred silently weeks ago gives us the infections we have today. We don’t know the infection rate, which makes it difficult to know the pervasiveness, speed and, ultimately, decline of the coronavirus. What tells us we can return to normal? When we have smog alerts or forest fires or car crashes or hurricanes or food poisoning, we have metrics and indicators that signal “all clear!” Why? Because we have data.
The bed bugs are there. We know this. Now we’re lifting the sheets to find them and count them so we can nuke ‘em.
We don’t know what’s knowable.
It does not matter if this situation is better or worse than people think, thought or said; it just is. And currently, we don’t know what “is” is. We can’t yet touch the bottom of the pool because we don’t know how deep the water is. We need data, and data requires testing. Each and every failure to deliver, offer, conduct, collect and communicate the results of a test reflects a small crime and failing in this battle.
Anything short of complete, ruthless transparency obscures our ability to know what is knowable, develop plans and support each other. From here, we can chart a path for our teams and help people make decisions for their local situations.
We know what to do.
In forestry, we have a systematic approach that applies generally to situations requiring clarity for making decisions. We focus attention and energy on three areas.
- Understand the local situation. Situations vary by region and city, so focus effort appropriately.
- Ultimately, the most important thing is that we do our best to help each other (and everyone we interact with) stay healthy, sane and resilient.
- Question the data. As in forestry, everything here is a sample. Trustworthy sources include:
- Know what’s knowable. Check in with neighbors, read the local paper and follow the simple practices that we know work well.
With a clear sense of where we are and how things work, it’s easier to organize our teams and get moving. Then each day or week, we can check our scorecard – like we do each Monday at Forisk – and confirm we’re making progress on the right things. This gives purpose to our work and confidence in the process with an eye towards the future.