I am a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell (and not just because he is Canadian and also went to the University of Toronto). Last week he kicked off a new Munk Dialogues series focused on the world after COVID19. (The next Munk Dialogue will be with Fareed Zakaria on Wednesday, April 15 from 8 PM to 9PM Toronto time.)
In case you’re not familiar with the Munk Debates, they are normally a biannual event held here in Toronto. Their mission is to help people rediscover the “art of public debate” and they do that by convening some of the world’s brightest and most creative thinkers. Right now they are doing that online.
In this Q&A with Gladwell, they touch on a lot of the topics that we are all debating right now on Zoom calls with our colleagues and friends. When will we get back to “normal?” What will change forever? Is working from home the new normal? Will people still want to go for Mandarin buffet? I won’t spoil it for all of you, but I did want to mention three points that I found myself agreeing with (I guess that is partially spoiling it).
The first is his analogy to weak link sports such as soccer. Here you’re only as good as your weakest player. This is in contrast to strong link sports such as basketball. In this case, you’re only as good as your best player. If you want to win a championship, you get someone like Kawhi Leonard. Gladwell argues that this pandemic has further exposed us as a complex weak link society. We don’t even have the basic PPE and testing in place to fight this virus.
The second is about whether this will create a more permanent shift to working from home. I have said before on the blog that I think it’s easy to overreach at a time like this. We might think that everything will change, but we also have short memories. Gladwell takes it a step further and argues that the exact opposite will happen. This pandemic will actually set working from home back a generation. We are going to be so sick of isolating that we will race back to what we had before.
Finally, I like the point that right now is an opportunity for experimentation. This is true of all crises. It’s a lot easier to question the status quo when the status quo has already been disrupted. And we are seeing this happen at all scales, from people experimenting and learning new things at home to new companies being formed. Hopefully there will also be lasting benefits to our public health systems.
Anyway, I would encourage to watch the video. If you can’t see it embedded at the top of this post, click here.