Covid 19 – Discourse for innovation and lessons learned

Author: Manu Steens

Roughly the last 5 months our country has been under the spell of Covid 19. All kinds of things happened, and as in every war (but now against an invisible enemy) we get to know people from their most beautiful and ugliest sides.

To curb the pandemic in our country, measures were taken during the first wave of the disease. But the virus spreads quickly and smoothly over the results we have achieved. Today we can roughly say that we are at the beginning of the second wave, sooner than we originally thought it would occur. Has it been for nothing then? Or can we learn what we need to do from the past?

The first lesson we identify is that the lock down had an effect. But was the way this happened optimal? Are other formulas possible? And should we pretend to start from the same initial situation during the second wave, or is the experience of the population important if the given signal is strong and clear enough?

A second lesson we can see is that there is likely to be a shift in the target audience of the disease. It is no longer especially the elderly in the retirement homes that are the target of the virus, but more and more the younger people. A question that arises here is whether this is because of the so-called super spreaders , and possibly because of edge workers , of which I spoke in the previous blog. The population would then be split into two groups: the common man and the risk-seekers. The common man will let his actions be guided by the measures taken by the government, not so the risk-seeking edge workers . Punishment does nothing to them. Perhaps one can teach them how to do the things they want to do safely rather than make them renounce it, for example through punishment . Because the latter does not work. But then the question arises: how can we teach them to do it safely, because (for example) safe partying is actually a very useful concept for the whole of society. For example: do events need to be adjusted, or is a new concept of events needed? Like the virtual neighborhood party was one.

So we can still identify some lessons. The question is whether we should identify the lessons through a “wild brainstorming” and “ implement quick actions ” or whether we can use an existing framework to make the necessary change (from the lessons identified ) work.

Such a framework exists (Timothy L. Sellnow , The SAGE handbook of risk communication , Chapter 20: ‘ Crisis communication ‘ and references therein ) . To maintain a discourse with an impact on innovation and improvement, an organization must want to learn from each crisis (the lessons identified ), reflect on ethical responsibility and liability, develop a forward-looking vision, and present that vision rhetorically. This may also apply to society in the current crisis.

A society that engages for renewal will then want to change and improve as a result of the crisis. After all, the lessons identified only make sense of the crisis if we turn it into lessons learned . Only when these lessons become part of society do they penetrate their culture and change the way decisions are made. But if the memory of the society regarding these lessons fades over time, eg. because euphoria after the first (small) victory , then this society is again vulnerable to the same crisis.

We saw the latter after the measures were lifted: many people seemed to think that the crisis was over, and the lessons learned quickly “faded”. Result: the R-value quickly rose back to around value 1, according to one source its calculation method just below (0.98) , according to another just above (1.1).

That is why reflecting on ethical responsibility is paramount: a thorough handling of innovation has a strong value orientation . Ethical violations can be things like stinginess, hubris , injustice, context-sensitive rudeness (such as shouting at someone that causes aerosols to spread widely) that are more likely to contribute to a crisis. A society which has a values-structure that is not centered around any of its citizens , has it harder to get into a new normal. It is as if citizens feel as if something is not right, they are tired of it more quickly , which is why some of them will be opposed to it all. To permanently motivate them, purity of spirit and authenticity in the positioning by the policymakers is important. It provides self-protection for the leaders. So making concessions through social or other pressure is not always a good idea. There is a real chance that this will return to the decision-makers like a boomerang afterwards .

A foreseeing vision is important to avoid this boomerang: in the aftermath of the crisis, people are quickly tempted into a “blame, shame and denial game”. That never leads to a solution, it is only a waste of energy, time and resources and it only leads to a deviation from the goal. A foreseeing vision is needed to shift the focus to building a more resilient society that can deliver again its mission with respect to itself, as well as any citizen facing any other citizen. Good communication is central to frame this vision. After all, the fact is that there is no real script in a crisis. Plenty of plans exist, but any pre-made plan is worthless. Over and over again, one has to discover how the crisis at hand ‘works’. Moreover, “The devil is in the details” is true time and again. That is why there should be no one to throw the first stone. After all, casting the first stone does not make a positive contribution to the development of an ethical responsibility. But working out a vision well can help you parry those stones.

This vision must be presented rhetorically: commitment and vision can take the form needed to put the society back on track. After all, the rhetorical activities create a reality of their own for the citizens , to inspire them to remain loyal to themselves and each other during the crisis, and to rebuild society better than it was before. The message must be about all the previous things: the lessons learned, the value structure and the hope for the future.

If society effectively learns of the crisis in the aftercare phase, it can have a ” fresh sense of purpose and direction ” experience. This will enable it to evolve into a new-normal situation after the crisis. The pre-crisis phase thus separates the crisis recovery and – aftercare phase from a new start with the regular risk management (whose strategies are also subject to change themselves). Policymakers must then enter into dialogue with citizens about risks and risk tolerance. This dialogue then makes them respond to change. It means that everyone in the organization is focusing on the new future again. To this end one should also speak with almost everyone . Because without internal communication , people are blind and there is a greater chance of new crises.

But this ‘change effect’ also indirectly provides a criterion for calling the end of the crisis: the crisis is over when the (necessary) change happened, and everyone there finds her place, and picks up the thread again. Note that this does not mean that the wounds are no longer there or have already fully recovered.

Why disobedience in times of Covid-19

Author: Manu Steens

Today I received an email from a colleague about fellow travelers on the train:

“It is really bad how few people in the train wear their masks correctly while they are still sitting close together on chairs / benches. What a difference with 2 weeks ago. ”

In itself this can of course be a coincidence that she is in a train wagon that is the exception. But the partygoers of June 20 in Brussels are no longer a coincidence. Are people able to deal with their regained freedom, or is there something else going on? Earlier, during the lock-down , there were also parties that gave crisis managers and police officers gray hair: the so-called (how can it be different?) Lock-down parties . This concerns people who deliberately ignore current advised behavior and consciously run risks. From now on, what I am going to write is rather speculative, because it should be investigated. So it is only a presumption.

In my opinion, the party- goers are people who are looking for a form of arousal by consciously running a risk. They score high on the SSS: the Sensation Seeking Scale (Zuckerman). The question of how the communication of the target groups should be drawn up is then relevant. Is a split according to small kids-youth-adults-elderly enough, or should we add another dimension: sensation seekers and non-sensation seekers? The reason why I find this relevant is because of the idea that not every infected person infects the same number of other people. Perhaps there is a small group of superinfectants , and this group of sensation seekers may be part of it because of their reckless behavior. The question then is: what is known about these sensation seekers?

According to Stephen Lyng , Thomas Workman and GH Morris in their article “ Edgework and Risk Communication” there are roughly two groups of sensation seekers. There are those who voluntarily engage in risky behavior despite the risks they run, and those who do so precisely because of the risks to be run. The latter are called ‘edgeworkers’ in literature . The first group is often limited to passively run risks due to e.g. incorrect nutrition, disbelief in damage from drug use, driving without a seat belt and unsafe sexual behavior. The edgeworkers, on the other hand, are of a different kind. They go for the risk through, for example, sports or leisure experiences where they consciously risk death, a disability or serious physical injury or other outcomes with a high toll. Examples are sky-diving , mountaineering without ropes, sport flying, irresponsible fast racing on the road …

The reason why they do this? There is more than one reason. For starters, they feel they have an innate talent for facing dangers, which they count as survival skills . As a result, they often also have the idea of ​​belonging to an elite. They also believe that their survival skill is not uniquely limited to their experience of a particular sport or relaxation. They believe their talent spans all possible dangers. After all, it is an innate quality. You either have that or you don’t. And they are not alone: ​​they are more often in an group (e.g. a sports club) of like-minded people where such behavior is encouraged. Their supporters therefore fully agree with them. Moreover, in their experience they sometimes have an “other world” experience, where an experience of seconds seems hours or vice versa. Or, for example, the phenomenon of car racers who get the idea that they have mental control over their vehicle, that they form a unit with it. Sometimes they lack words to tell the experience. Sometimes not. Their goal: “controlling the seemingly uncontrollable ”.

The cause why they do this? Marx- Mead ‘s approach emphasizes social forces that stimulate the search for edgework opportunities. Causes are separations between people, contradictions and conflicts in institutionally based actions. These are things you can have with a lock-down and unclear measures. Also in a social environment, characterized by ‘alienated’ activities, but also in class conflicts, oversocialization , people look for a greater personal individuality in their institutionally defined lives. They are looking for issues in which challenges such as hyper-concentration, control options and survival skills are critical in continuing their ability to live. This contrasts sharply with the perfunctory behaviors of institutionally assigned roles and routines that seem impenetrable to the creative possibilities of the usual, more mundane social individual. The institutional but necessary measures in an pandemic, after a long time with a slow evolution of the pandemic, have a very disappointing effect on these people. The edgework opportunities bring back an enchantment to the social world by experiencing the ‘rush’. So further rationalizations and its disappointing effects mean that this target group will seek alternative experiences, with all the consequences that entails.

A statement such as “have they learned nothing from the past two weeks” has no effect anymore, because it is another rationalization. Adapted communication is therefore imperative for these people. Perhaps one that works on the feeling rather than the ratio. And if the theory of superinfectants is correct, then this target group matters!

 

Knowing more? This idea sprang from reading Stephen Lyng , Thomas Workman and GH Morris in their article “Edge Work and Risk Communication” .

Racism and risk management

Author: Manu Steens

Corona has dominated the news for a long time, but now it’s back: racism. The situation in the USA with the death of George Floyd brings the old problem of racism back to life. In this case, the individual situation developed into a national problem to which even high-ranking officials, such as the president, do not seem to have a good response. Meanwhile, there were riots in the EU. France brought back memories of an earlier situation.

But also in the personal sphere of many immigrants, on an individual level, people are confronted with racism of several types such as physical and verbal harassment. The question that then arises is, how great is the risk.

When the subject is raised in the private sphere, it is easier for victims to talk about it in a limited circle of confidants. These testimonies can be very detailed. These conversations are necessary to know the situation well, to assess the risk. The question is then, first of all, how do you estimate such a risk? One possible way to get a feeling for the possible risk is to estimate the possible impact when it is realised. A measure for such a systemic risk is, briefly, the “gap” between the needs and the possible answers provided by the system. In this case, the needs of the migrants who experience racism here, and the solutions provided by society to these needs. If the gap is large, the potential impact in the event of an accident is very large. An easier example of a totally different type of risk is the electricity supply in the USA. The demand side has become very complex, with all kinds of (types of) customers, small and large, while the supply side delivers with a simple and outdated technical infrastructure. So if something happens to electricity in the USA that is serious, the impact will be huge. The solution to such asymmetric risks is to reduce or to eliminate the ‘gap’ between the demand side and the supply side. So we should be able to make the same reasoning for racism, we hope.

The fact that racism is a big problem has been clear in recent days. And apparently, in many places in the world, the layer of varnish of civilized behavior over a rough surface is wafer-thin, and dares to peel off.

But racism has been made illegal. That was one of the system’s solutions. Is that a solution to the verbal harassment that can mentally ruin a human being? Move to the actors in the situation: person x wants to bully person y. Person y appeals to the legislation and sues person x. Person x digs himself into the mental trenches, where he considers himself safer. The case goes to court, and causes further polarization of person x and y and their supporters. Result: the situation has only been good for the lawyers. As a migrant, can you approach it differently? Are “other measures” possible to say it in risk management terms.

Imagine: you are a migrant in a country, you work, you want to integrate, and you are confronted with situations like this. The problem turns out to be huge, as the world shows. So in order to find a good solution, the solution has to be something other than something that triggers further polarisation. But what exactly is the migrant’s possible situation? This is where the concept of “tribes” comes into play. People have a cortex that is hardwired for an “inner tribe” of about 150 people. These are people you know, who know you, for whom you stop to have a chat on the street.

When a migrant comes here, he/she leaves behind a “tribe” and is isolated here in the first instance. It is in human nature to form a “tribe”. That takes time, and therefore at the same time, a migrant is also more vulnerable than a “local”.

How is a “tribe” a solution? A “tribe” can be a solution for the psychological resistance of the migrant. So at the same time we know that it will only be a partial solution. He/she leaves behind a “tribe” and that is a serious price he/she pays. Especially when you know that part of the psychological well-being of the human being comes from being loved in just that “tribe”. So it is best for the migrant to create a new “tribe” in a selective way, by choosing people who also choose him/her. This is called reciprocity. A second psychological reinforcing factor is to use this technique of “tribes” in a conscious way. This can be done by seeing the bullies as from a “different tribe”. They don’t belong there themselves. Because tribes can be competitive when terrain is to be divided. This can be about the most fertile land, but also about more/less chances of passing exams, for example. After all, the results and chances of passing exams are statistically normally distributed and can be influenced.

There are some characteristics of this solution: it is a solution on an individual level and not on a political level. It takes time to implement, and it takes a dose of luck to meet the right people for the “tribe”, people of good will with an implicit outstretched hand. In the best case, this new tribe is multicultural. And it takes an iron will of the migrant not to isolate themselves nor to permanently withdraw in complaints.

Whether the “gap” can then be narrowed further with a political “push”, “pull” or any kind of measure, is not discussed here. Finding solutions, using both types of measures at the right time, is the work of governments all over the world. This requires the nudging of behavior on a large scale. This is on an individual level, and not on an individual level, and for more types of racist-risks.  The news shows that it’s time. The news also seems to indicate that it is possible, when a policeman kneels together with demonstrators, demonstrators protect a lost policeman and bring him back to his unit, soldiers dance the macarena together with demonstrators…. There is hope because there are people of very good will. But the risk is great.

Teleworking where it can

Author: Manu Steens

In the press conference of 3 June (https://www.info-coronavirus.be/en/news/nsc-0306/), measures for the reduction of the lock-down were given by the NSC (National Security Council) under the direction of Prime Minister Wilmès. A measure in which there is reasonable resentment among some employers is: “Working from home is recommended where possible”.

After all, many employers want their employees to go back to work in a 100% profitable way. This is understandable and desirable, since the economy is currently very damaged by the situation. However, does this also require a 100% presence on the work floor?

The NSC’s statement is nuanced in two ways: it says “Working from home is recommended” and “where possible”. In other words, this can be interpreted as follows: “dear employers, we advise you to continue to allow telework where possible, of course you may return to work where that is not possible, decide for yourself but please use your common sense”. And it’s this common sense that’s so desperately needed right now. Because what does it mean when you, like so many other employers, take a short cut and decide “that everyone goes back to work”? Arguments are given going from “the employees want social contact with their colleagues” to the other extreme “I want to be able to ask everyone questions when I have them” or “it doesn’t work 100% profitably now”.

Above all, such a reaction as an employer is unsubtle. It is absolute. It does not take into account the people who are afraid of being infected during (public or organised) transport. Such an action is tantamount to asking employees to leave their brains at home in the morning when they leave for work and only use them at home in the evening. As an employer, you pay emotional interest on this. Emotions cannot be switched off. And going against emotions is very demotivating. It is therefore better for the organisation to allow a limited presence on the work floor. The question then is, how can you best do that? Do you have to assign everyone a day? Or two days? Etc. And then work from home for the rest of the week where possible?

Looks like this is best pretty loosely organized. People should come to work when they need to. They know best when needed: they are experts in their job and know when they need certain things from the shop floor. Also when a face-to-face meeting with colleagues is important. So the principle can be better “you are welcome at the work environment, if you consider it necessary according to your personal needs” than by order of a higher hand. Because in the latter way, it just becomes more difficult to make good and even effective arrangements and to work together. In this way, the principle of “come to work one day a week”, for example, can be flexibly implemented in consultation with their colleagues. That is why the advice is: limit the number of places on the work floor and in the meeting rooms, and have everyone reserve a place if they feel the need to work away from home that day. Moreover, important conclusions can be drawn afterwards from the numbers that emerge from this in combination with the performance numbers. E.g. how much office space do you really need, and what are the real needs to work 100% profitably. From this you can then make suggestions for improvements.

Of course, this does not apply to production halls where, for example, cars are assembled and where you need the work force. That’s why “where possible”.

Elk nadeel heb se voordeel

Every disadvantage has its advantage

Author: Manu Steens

With this statement we associate a well-known Dutch footballer: Johan Cruijff. Another version of this statement says “Never waste a good crisis”.

This statement is rigorously universal: every crisis offers opportunities. An opportunity may lie behind every risk. Is that right? We are now in the midst of a terrible crisis. In Belgium alone, there are around 9,000 corona-related deaths. How on earth can you say that there are benefits to this crisis, you will say. That is so: people who have had a corona death in their family, have lost someone dear, victims of domestic violence, GAS-fines due to lock-down-fatigued behavior… are confronted with the dark side of the disease.

But every medal has two sides. What about the positives? Are they really there?

A first advantage of this crisis is that many people work at home in large numbers for now. The “bosses” of their organization are actually forced to trust their employees, something many may only feel when the work result is presented. Others have confidence from the start, and adapted all their HR policies to allow for more teleworking in non-pandemic times. This has the advantage that in the long run people will go “to work” differently, especially less than. Less desk space will be required, provided there is some organizational talent to arrange for it. That saves money. There will be less driving in cars. This even saves in several areas: less fuel, less mileage, less maintenance, and other car-related expenses. But also less exhaust gases: the air in the cities is purer. There also is less noise from the cars,…

Due to the introduction of the lock-down, the closing of the nightlife, the number of weekend casualties fell significantly. People now get to know each other better as well.

These interventions have been going on for several months now, and people feel the needs come to the surface for which they need each other more. For which they have to apply a new way of solving problems. So new solutions arise. The first shops opened, and there was a brief fear that the garden centers would be taken by surprise. Nothing could be further from the truth. People were very disciplined. There was no question of a surprise. After that, the smaller shops opened again. Again there was no question of a surprise. That seems to indicate that many people are embarking on a new culture, one that has spontaneously occurred through the habit of “staying in your home” for two months now.

Such a cultural change can therefore be seen as an opportunity, where companies can save a lot on several aspects of employment. Hopefully, the number of traffic jams can also be permanently reduced. This also reduces the general emission of fine dust from cars. The number of accidents is decreasing. People can be less hunted at work that they can handle more at home, which saves them private time. After all, they have to travel considerably less to and from work. “With a little help of their friends”. And for suspicious executives, it can be a good experience to see that the work has continued and that his employees have continued to work. E.g. thanks to on-line meetings through an ever-improving technology called the internet. And that in the future they will do even better at home if the children can also go to school. A culture change in the organization where employees have more sliding hours can be beneficial for some professions.

In this way every disadvantage also has its advantage. Although it remains human to only want the benefits.