Coronavirus' lessons in home building and development leadership, among other things, are about the power of isolation, whose roots in French and Latin mean "made into an island."
As households of people, confined--more or less quarantined--to homes.
As firms, whose peers comprise a secular business community.
As a body politic.
As consumer sentiment takes a hit, and we wonder whether it can and will rebound in the next four weeks, or eight weeks, or longer, we need to look at these multiple levels of ourselves for both our separateness and our inseparability. Instincts to use both lenses seem both healthy and natural at a moment one might feel to be unbearable, while another may sense to be a mere bother.
“Consumers’ reactions to relaxing restrictions will be critical, either putting further pressure on states to reopen their economies, or exerting added pressure to extend the restrictions even if it has negative consequences for economic prospects,” said Richard Curtin, chief economist for the Surveys of Consumers, in a statement. “The risks associated with these decisions are not equally balanced, with an incorrect decision to reopen having serious repercussions.”
Isolation's power can stop the spread of a lethal physiological condition, and simultaneously speed the spread of epidemic economic collapse.
Isolation's power can concentrate sky-is-falling pain and anguish in geographical compartments and pockets. Meanwhile, isolation can, largely, spare other places even a glancing impact, to the point people in those places may wonder what all the fuss is about.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan writes so eloquently about difference and its ennobling, poignant, life-affirming beauty--and how distinct it is from isolation that it's hard to know where to cut off her words:
'The subject now is state and regional reopening. We’re fighting about who’s going too early or moving too slowly, which is understandable, as we’re all interrelated and germs don’t respect state lines. But we should try hard not to be harsh in our judgments as each state chooses different times and ways. Opening is what we all want to do. We’ve got to be patient with each other, observe with good faith, hope lifting restrictions succeeds but be quick to point out—and admit—danger areas and failures.
'No one is certain what to do. Everyone’s acting on insufficient information. No plan will come without cost. A lot will become clear in retrospect. The bias should be opening as soon as possible as safely as possible. Don’t sacrifice safe for soon. Have a solid, sophisticated, mature definition of “safe.”
'What will hurt us is secretly rooting for disaster for those who don’t share our priors. Everyone is trying to live. It doesn’t help to be a Northerner who looks down on Southerners, or a securely employed professional in a national corporation who has no clue what it means when a small-town business crashes. People who can work remotely probably don’t feel the same urgency to reopen as those who must be physically present, in retail and at diner counters.
'Conspiracy nuts who think the virus was a hoax to bring down Donald Trump will always be with us. So will grim leftists who take pleasure in every death of a guy who called the threat overblown.
'But we’re too quick to categorize, and ungenerous in our categorizations. Everybody isn’t only the role they’re playing at the moment. They came from something—us. Hate that young guy with the smart mouth in the MAGA hat honking his horn in the demonstration in Austin? In another time and a different struggle he was Audie Murphy, the guy who jumps on the tank, starts shooting, and saves every life in the convoy. Hate the scientist in rimless glasses repeating his endless warnings on TV? He’s Jonas Salk, who saved our children. We’re all more than what we seem. We all require some give.
'We forget we are 50 different states with different histories, ways and attitudes, even different cultures. New Jersey isn’t Wyoming; Colorado isn’t Arkansas. This used to be called “regional differences.” We can’t tamp them all down, and we don’t want to. So people will do things at different speeds in different ways. The thing is to watch, judge fairly and move to countermand what proves dangerous.'
"Everybody isn't only the role they're playing at the moment," Noonan writes.
Isolation's power can mess with, and potentially bury, the sharp truth and wisdom in her words.
Isolation is, per this new McKinsey & Co. analysis, also good post-COVID-19 strategic planning:
Even before COVID-19 hit, there were signs of unease, expressed in calls for protectionism and more restrictive immigration and visa policies. In these ways, people sought, in effect, to create more distance from those unlike themselves.
Such attitudes were far from universal, of course. But to deal with the pandemic, governments around the world have imposed restrictions on people and goods of a severity not seen for decades. According to one study, more than three billion people live in countries whose borders are now totally closed to nonresidents; 93 percent live in countries that have imposed new limits on entry, because of the coronavirus. If a modern-day Hannibal wanted to cross the Alps peacefully, his elephants would be turned away. Eventually, the tourists will come back and the borders will reopen, but it is certainly possible that the previous status quo will not return.
Indeed, for businesses, the prospect of more border restrictions; a greater preference for local over global products and services; the need for resilience across supply chains driving a move to bring sourcing closer to end markets (see element 2, “Resilience AND efficiency”); and perhaps renewed resistance to globalization, are all possible second-order consequences of the actions being taken now to cope with the coronavirus. Technology continues to shrink physical distance, but in other ways, it could be set for a return.
The power of isolation is that it connects--probably thanks to releases of cortisol into our brains and collective minds--with the profound impulse toward safety, toward belonging.
The leadership lesson in this is to recognize the deep-seated force at work among team members, among business and operational partners, among lenders and investors, and among customers to quarantine, to isolate, to safeguard, and to belong somewhere like home.
When nobody really knows the answers to all the questions, signal, noise, and a hybrid of both may wind up being all we have to work with, to accept, and to believe in as essential aural threads in our glorious social fabric. Noonan says it well:
"What effort, patience and creativity it will take to reach safe haven. How much easier it will be if we see ourselves not as separate ships but members of the most brilliant, raucous and varied armada."