COVID-19 #4: Flatten the curve optimism/roller coaster

Update since I wrote the note below on Friday evening: This turned out to be a false dawn. In fact, it turned out to be a calm before a storm – we followed a low of 7 as today’s report had 68 new cases.

As I’ve been writing a post a week over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons I’ve learnt so far. And, the biggest one is that there is no “normal” for this sort of thing.

All leaders can do is act quickly, decisively, and clearly (Tomas Pueyo continues to make an important case for decisive action). But, it is important to remember that there’s no playbook for this sort of thing. All we can do is pay attention to the signs and data, act as early as possible, and hope for a bit of luck.

Here’s to that. Stay safe, stay optimistic. We’re living through a period that is undoubtedly going to be an important point in our history as a species. And, we’ll get through this.

While it is very helpful from a productivity standpoint to avoid news websites/Twitter (see Seth’s powerful post on the topic) save for a few mins every day, one Twitter stream I’ve been monitoring at least twice everyday has been from our local county.

Every day, county officials – who’ve been working tirelessly to help those in need while implementing a strong and important cross-county shelter-at-home directive – share an update on the number of cases.

While I wish we had more data and transparency around total numbers tested, the early signs from efforts to flatten the curve are encouraging. As you can see from this graph, the number of new cases has been trending downward over the past 3 days.

As symptoms only show after 5-7 days, this is hopefully a result of major companies enforcing work-from-home 2 weeks ago. And, if so, this underscores why the tougher shelter-in-place/school closures were important steps to take this week.

The true test, again in the absence of testing data, will be if the change in the new case rate continues to remain at these levels (or decreases) in a week as we’ll see the full impact of the shut down.

If these trends continue, it would be really really really positive and will hopefully help further underscore the importance of acting early. Fingers crossed.

Previous posts: #1#2, #3

No one can explain why planes stay up in the air

Scientific American has a fascinating, albeit geeky, article with a story that lives up to the title – “No one can explain why planes stay up in the air.”

There are two classical theories that attempt to explain why planes stay up in the air. But, they each have their drawbacks and don’t provide complete explanations.

Even with multiple modern attempts, scientists acknowledge we don’t yet have a one line answer that does justice.

I found myself chuckling as I read the article as I was reminded of a Rory Sutherland idea from Alchemy – Just because it makes sense doesn’t mean it should work. And, just because it works doesn’t mean it makes sense. :-)

Science is fascinating.

Replace social distance with physical distance and social closeness

Let’s replace “social distance” with “physical distance and social closeness.”

Adam Gazzaley, a Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at UCSF, made a great point about replacing “social distance” with the more accurate “physical distance” as our go to term for our efforts to flatten the Coronavirus curve.

At a time when feelings of loneliness and a lack of community have spiked – especially among the elderly – we need to combine physical distance with social closeness more than ever before.

What this means for us: make the time to give friends who’re working by themselves a call from time to time, send a quick check in text to anyone who crosses our mind, send lots of positive notes to our teams, and over communicate.

In times like this, all of us have plenty of reasons to be wrapped up in our own problems. So, it is also okay if we don’t have the time. But, perhaps, every time we hear the word “social distance,” we can begin to flip that to “physical distance and social closeness” in our mind.

Powerful things happen when we change language.


The word I’m thinking most about right now as I release version 31 is focus.

I hesitate to call it a learning because it isn’t yet a part of how I operate – at least not to the degree I’d like for it to be. And, since to know and not to do is not to learn, I still think of my notes on focus as reminders to myself.

As the years pass, I’ve become more aware of the fact that the time and energy I have on this planet are finite. And, with that awareness comes the real need to thoughtfully spend time on the things that matter. That’s where learning to focus is a game changer – by pushing me to be aware of the priorities at any given moment, it elevates the signal and dulls the noise.

The second word I’m thinking about is gratitude. In this very disruptive and turbulent time, my heart goes out to the many many incredible people who are on the front lines in hospitals and grocery stores risking illness to ensure we’re able to deal effectively with a global pandemic.

Many of these folks are forced to do so because the lack of pay check would affect their sustenance.

Thanks to large doses of luck at critical moments and a lot of privilege, I am able to spend time on my work and family without worrying about my health, getting food on the table, or having money in the bank. Instead, I get to deal with all sorts of first world problems while working in a job that was the stuff of dreams not too long ago.

I also have the privilege of writing on this blog – and sharing in this journey with you.

A friend asked me recently as to who I speak to when I need a pep talk.

“I write” – I wrote back.

That’s not entirely true. Thanks to you, these notes often become conversations. And, as I’ve gotten to exchange notes with many of you over the course of many years, there’s a sense of friendship and community that comes with many association of writing here.

So, I just want to say thank you. For being there. I hope you are staying safe.. and well.

I also want to express my gratitude to the many many people who helped me learn, grow, love, and laugh over the years. And, also to the universe for working its magic along the way.

In sum, much to do – with more focus. :-) Much to be grateful for.

Here’s to making it meaningful, making it count.

(Past birthday notes: 30, 29282726252423)

2 drivers to developing and mastering a skill

I’ve observed only two leading indicators of someone developing and then mastering a skill –

i) Obsession: Obsession is driven by a combination of a) an intrinsic desire to get better at the craft and b) commitment. I’ve found intrinsic aptitude to be highly correlated to obsession and that obsession makes it easy to put in the hours required to hone our skills. Long hours don’t feel long when you are obsessed about something.

ii) A willingness to adapt based on quality feedback: The quicker the response to quality feedback, the steeper the learning curve.

Applies to developing our skills in building products, playing a sport, or even parenting kids.

What you see and what you get

I woke up yesterday to a weather forecast that predicted rain for most of the next week.

Great, I thought. The one outlet I was relying on during the Coronavirus lockdown was to go out on hikes over the weekend. This is going to suck.

And it did – in my head at least.

My attitude through most of the day would have received a C. I plodded through the day, reacted to a few things, and made my way to the end.

What we see is what we get.

Luckily for our kids, they have another parent who embodied exemplary attitude and managed to see the situation as a puzzle that could be solved with some creativity and thoughtfulness.

I could have chosen to see what she saw, of course. I could have also chosen to see so many other things I took for granted – good health, shelter, reliable electricity and water, job security, and so many other gifts that I’ve been bestowed with.

If I’d seen all of that, I would have earned a day full of gratitude and opportunity.

What we see is what we get.

It wasn’t to be.

But, I have an opportunity to start afresh today.

So, here’s to that.