Back in 2008, I was living in the United States. And at that time, during the financial crisis, I remember people positing that the US wouldn’t be able to build another commercial office building for at least the next twenty years. That’s how bad things felt. People were panicking. But of course, that never happened. Yes, it took some time for real estate values to recover and for people to deleverage, but ultimately things did recover. New buildings were built and new ideas flourished.
In fact, I’ll never forget what a close friend of mine said to me a few years after that moment in 2008. He said to me, “you know what Brandon, the crisis was probably one of the best things to happen to me. It meant that I couldn’t find a job and I was forced to start my own company. I probably wouldn’t have done that otherwise.”
Today, we’re living through a different kind of crisis with its own set of uncertainties. Some, or perhaps many, seem to think it could lead to the demise of cities, similar to how our last crisis was supposed to lead to the demise of new office buildings (at least for a period of time). It’s easy to get caught up in narratives and headlines at times like this. And there are always ways to convince ourselves that this time might be different. Sure, we’ve had pandemics before, but previous generations didn’t have the tech that we have, right? Perhaps.
The challenge is that we’re all trying to decode how much of what’s happening today is related to (1) short-term dislocation, (2) trends that were already happening and just got accelerated, or (3) durable and long-term structural changes. My own view is that the post-mortems will reveal more of (1) and (2), as opposed to (3). And that will mean that some of us have maybe been making long-term decisions (flee the city) based on short-term dislocation (a 1-2 year health crisis).
Of course, I could be wrong. But it’s what I believe and what I have conviction around.
Headlines are designed to target what Seth Godin and others refer to as our “lizard brain.” That being the primitive part of our brain that tells us when we’re, among other things, scared, hungry, fearful, and horny. What excites the lizard brain is not a headline saying that everything will probably be just fine. What excites the lizard brain is a headline saying that everything is utterly broken and a new paradigm is now upon us — pay attention or perish.
It’s for this reason that I think it can be helpful to pause and ask yourself: “What is it that I truly believe?”