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The Law Of False Linearity

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

Shutdowns will continue. The virus will spread forever. Deaths will continue increasing at the same rate. The economy will continue to struggle. Layoffs will continue. The future is clear, and it's not pretty!

Sales will keep rising. Homes always increase in value. The Stockmarket will continue to climb. Wages will keep going up. Goods will keep getting cheaper. Medicine and technology will continue to advance. The future is clear, and it looks great!

Welcome to what I like to call, The Law Of False Linearity. If you're human, which I assume you are if you're reading this blog, then you've likely fallen victim to this law. I know I have, and it's a lesson I work tirelessly to incorporate into my thinking. So, let's put a definition around The Law Of False Linearity.

The Law Of False Linearity: When the future appears to be on a relatively straight trajectory, despite all past evidence to the contrary that history travels on a straight line.

Where do we see The Law Of False Linearity making an appearance in today's world, and how can we protect ourselves and our organizations from falling into its trap? Let's look at 3 prime examples.

  • More pandemics are coming in the future. It is true that there will be future pandemics, but the odds that we will see one immediately following the Coronavirus pandemic are slim.

  • While it's great to incorporate all of the learnings you can into preparing for the impact of future pandemics, the low likelihood of immediately having another pandemic means we need to understand and look for application of the learnings from Coronavirus to help navigate other business interruptions that could impact your business in the meantime. Using a Business Impact Analysis approach can ensure that your business learnings can be applied across multiple types of business interruptions, making your business stronger and more efficient.

  • Shaking hands will be a custom of the past. One of the most common person-to-person interactions across the world. Yet with the spread of the coronavirus, this custom that is often taken for granted was suddenly viewed suspiciously. There was certainly a reduction, practically an elimination, in the number of people shaking hands during the pandemic.

  • But such greeting customs tend to be so ingrained in cultures that their long term elimination is highly unlikely. As heard immunity grows in the global population, such greeting customs will begin to make a comeback, as physical greetings, like shaking hands and hugs, are an outward example of basic human needs for physical interaction with our fellow humans. Looking forward, be cognizant of other's preference for shaking hands or similar greetings, while providing the means necessary for people to feel comfortable with physical interaction, such as hand washing stations, hand sanitizer, and generally clean facilities.

  • The economy will be ruined from the shutdowns. We've seen record levels of unemployment filings with the shutdowns driven by coronavirus fears. Current business models have been crushed. Education models, from kindergarten through doctoral programs, are in flux.

  • Yet we're seeing incredible levels of innovation, with people and organizations modifying their practices with unprecedented speed. Portions of the economy are being reinvented before our eyes, with key industries showing record profits. New and innovative businesses are springing up all over the USA and the world, as previously hidden market opportunities are uncovered from the disruption of traditional business. And perhaps most importantly, the shutdowns were driven by government decisions, not from collapses in industries or markets, meaning that as the shutdowns ease and people return to an interactive world, growth will happen far faster due to pent up market demand and desire for change.

In summary, I want to emphasize that our shared tendency to see linear futures, despite chaotic pasts, can be used as a tool for positive change, and to prepare individuals and organizations to be prepared for any interruption, no matter what the direct cause is. We can use our visions of a linear future to prepare for when that linear path inevitably heads off in a different direction.

Perhaps the simplest way to incorporate The Law Of False Linearity into your operations is when it seems there is a consensus in the general population about what the future holds, pull your key stakeholders together and challenge each other with the following question, "Is our business prepared for what happens when the general consensus changes?"

In other words, as Warren Buffett said, "Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's swimming naked," so make sure you have on pants for when the tide changes.

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