The Attributer’s Blog – Adaptive

In the past months, as everybody has witnessed and experienced first-hand, our lives – the way we love, work, live, communicate, commute, to name a few, have changed. Change for some has been a little, for others change has been 180 degrees. Work has stopped for some, for others business has thrived.

Nicholas Taleb wrote, in his 2001 book Fooled by Randomness, about Black Swan events, “high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology”. At first glance the Attributer saw a resemblance between the black swan concept “They don’t exist, don’t take them into account” and COVID-19, but then quickly realized that COVID-19 is more in the line of a White Swan[1]. COVID-19 is a pandemic and we have experienced pandemics before.

The 1918 flu pandemic (variously tagged Spanish, Brazilian, German, Bolshevik, and Naples) swept, via sea and rail transportation systems, aided and abetted by government denials and press censorship, around the world in four waves between 1918 and 1920. Approximately a third of the world’s population, 500 million people, were infected and an estimated 17 to 50 million people killed, making it one of the worst pandemics in human history.[2]

While comparisons between the 1918 flu and COVID-19 are complex, transatlantic travel between Europe and North America took, icebergs aside, about 5 days in 1918, while air travel has shortened that travel time to about 10 hours, if not less.

With our advanced technology we can quickly identify what is going on and perhaps even what can be done against it, to at least contain it as much as possible. But are we capable adapting quickly to a virus that spreads so fast? Every pandemic has required that we ADAPT to deal with the complex set of challenges presented by fast-spreading viruses.

The definition of the Attribute Adaptive: Make our lives fit and suitable to new situations.

In some areas people are resisting to adapt to a new way of living. And another thing we see is the resistance from domains willing to adapt because they have a big impact when they would need to change their ways.

What we’ve seen is, for instance, finance domains taking decisions and setting policies around ‘Adaptive’ to avoid too much negative impact to purely financial attributes in their domains. Political domains are doing the same thing by focussing on purely political attributes.

This is a shame, because adapting to a virus like COVID19 and defining the policies for adapting should be done by those who are the subject matter experts and can work on managing the risks as much as possible, for example health domains. And who are the subject matter experts with regards to adapt? It’s you. And your family, and friends. And their family and their friends. Humans in our society. And doctors, nurses and perhaps a minister of health. Of course, there will be conflicts. Some people believe life should continue as it was before COVID19. Others want to go in lockdown.

Perhaps our adaptive approach would be more effective and efficient if health domains set policies because their focus would be on saving lives, and probably also on reducing the spread of the virus to avoid a denial-of-service on the healthcare system in every country.

Perhaps we can say both groups are elements within a bigger domain, a domain that also takes care of healthcare support. Wouldn’t it then be, that if those who do not comply to the Attribute Adaptive, by not wearing facial masks, keeping social distance, and staying at home as much as possible, would not claim support from that domain’s healthcare?  Letting the wrong risk owners make decisions leaves us unable to adapt against the virus, but to those risk owners’ domains and risks.

The real challenge here is systemic risk, the cross-domain risks that we become aware of in a higher-level view, and accountability for, aggregated risks. Having a top-down look at what is happening and who is the real owner of such domain can help us to adapt and deal with the challenges of this new situation.

Take Care & Stay Safe.


[2]  Rosenwald MS (7 April 2020). “History’s deadliest pandemics, from ancient Rome to modern America”. Washington Post. Archived from the original on 7 April 2020. Retrieved 11 April 2020.

The Attributer

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