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Scanning: The Pandemic and Its Implications SoC1161 June 2020

Author: Martin Schwirn (Send us feedback.)

The emergence of the coronavirus and coronavirus disease 2019 (covid-19) and the occurrence of the covid-19 pandemic and the resulting economic slowdown were not unforeseeable; People either ignored or simply brushed aside the warning signs during the decade of substantial and continuous growth since the Great Recession. April 2020's SoC1154 — Life after the Time of Coronavirus dispels the myth that the emergence and spread of the coronavirus is a black swan—a term that Nassim Taleb uses in his 2007 book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable to refer to an unpredictable large-magnitude event that has major consequences. Business scholars Max Bazerman and Michael Watkins provide a term that is much more suitable for use in describing the rise and spread of the coronavirus: predictable surprise. In their 2004 book Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming and How to Prevent Them, Drs. Bazerman and Watkins define a predictable surprise as an event (or set of events) that surprises a person or group even though that person or group was aware of all the information necessary to anticipate the event and its consequences. And in their 2015 book Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner come to the conclusion that many events that people consider black swans are actually gray swans and that black swans are not nearly as wildly unpredictable as many people assume they are.

The purpose of Scan™ is to capture dynamic interactions in clients' external environment.

Two particularly prominent strands of developments and warning signs should have raised concerns about the possibility that a pandemic could occur. First, several disease outbreaks occurred during the past 20 years. Even casual observers will remember many of these outbreaks. From 2002 to 2004, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which the SARS coronavirus causes, affected some 29 countries. Between 2009 and 2010, swine influenza (flu)—which multiple strains of the influenza virus, including the influenza A virus subtype H1N1, cause—affected many regions of the world; the World Health Organization (Geneva, Switzerland) declared swine flu a pandemic only after hundreds of thousands of people succumbed to it. Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which the MERS coronavirus causes, broke out in 2012 (additional smaller outbreaks occurred in 2015 and 2018). And these outbreaks are only some of the most prominent flu-related outbreaks (outbreaks of Ebola-virus disease occurred between 2013 and 2016, and outbreaks of Zika-virus disease occurred between 2015 and 2016). Such outbreaks clearly are not exceptions; therefore, the emergence of a new virus in 2019 is a predictable surprise, not a black swan. Second, many experts issued warnings about the emergence of new pandemics. Most prominently, Bill Gates, cofounder of Microsoft (Redmond, Washington) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Seattle, Washington), warned about a deadly pandemic repeatedly during the past decade. In 2010, he warned that "the H1N1 flu strain got a lot of attention in 2009.... The real story is that we are lucky it wasn't worse because we were almost completely unprepared for it" ("A better response to the next pandemic," GatesNotes [blog], 18 January 2010; online). During a TED Conferences (TED Foundation; New York, New York) TED Talk in 2015, Gates underscored his concerns, explaining that "if anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it's most likely to be a highly infectious virus.... We're not ready for the next epidemic" ("The next outbreak? We're not ready," TED Conferences, 18 March 2015; online). During a radio interview in 2016, Gates spoke with Dame Sally Davies, then England's chief medical officer, and expressed the concern that "we are a bit vulnerable right now if something that spread very quickly like a, say, a flu that was quite fatal; that would be a tragedy" ("Bill Gates: We are vulnerable to flu epidemic in next decade," BBC News, 30 December 2016; online).

Government officials have also highlighted threats to the health of thousands if not millions of people and the global economy. During a pandemic-preparedness gathering at Georgetown University Medical Center (Georgetown University; Washington, DC) in January 2017, Anthony Fauci—the longtime director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (National Institutes of Health; Bethesda, Maryland) who has moved into the spotlight during the covid-19 pandemic—warned that "there is no question that there will be a challenge to the coming administration in the arena of infectious diseases" ("Global Health Experts Advise Advance Planning for Inevitable Pandemic," Georgetown University Medical Center, 12 January 2017; online). At the Biodefense Summit that the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (US Department of Health and Human Services; Washington, DC) hosted on 17 April 2019, then US National Security Council (Washington, DC) senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense Timothy Morrison made his major concerns clear. Morrison referenced The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, John M. Barry's book about the 1918 flu pandemic, explaining that "a couple of lines in here...ring true when I think about what keeps me up at night and what am I really worried about" ("Advancing Biodefense," Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, 17 April 2019; online). And in September 2019—mere months before the coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan, China—the US Council of Economic Advisers (Washington, DC) released its aptly titled Mitigating the Impact of Pandemic Influenza through Vaccine Innovation report.

Clearly, several strong signals of change existed before the coronavirus emerged. Moving forward requires looking at a potentially changed world. The covid-19 pandemic introduced new dynamics in the business, political, and societal realms, and the developments of the past three months accelerated many dynamics that had seen only weak signals of change in past years.

The purpose of Scan™ is to capture dynamic interactions among three areas in clients' external environment: commerce and competition, science and technology, and consumers and society. In the June 2020 Scan set, the Scan team presents the results of the May 2020 Scan Meeting, which focused on and revolved around developments and implications relating to the covid-19 pandemic. Strategic Synopsis 126, the result of the May 2020 Scan Meeting, presents Signals of Change and Patterns about potential developments that will play out across the areas of consideration that the Strategic Synopsis highlights every month: Infrastructure, Organization, Talent, Creation, and Marketing. Some of the developments that the June 2020 Scan set highlights are novel changes that the pandemic introduced; many other developments merely represent accelerations of developments that previous Scan discussions mention (the covid-19 pandemic merely provides the circumstances necessary to drive the adoption and diffusion of new concepts, technologies, and types of business conduct that have been a long time in the making). Please find initial alerts about such developments in the "Signals of Change related to the topic" and "Patterns related to the topic" sections at the end of each Signal of Change and Pattern.