St. Patrick’s Day (tomorrow – 3/17) has always been a big holiday for us because it’s also my dad’s birthday.
This year we are celebrating it remotely. We are doing a Zoom call together at 6pm MT to have a birthday cake, sing happy birthday, and hang out as a family from three different locations (my parents, my brother’s family, and us.)
I’m an incredibly strong proponent of immediate social distancing. My last three blog posts have been about this and initiatives that I – and my partners at Foundry – are advocating:
- LeadBoldly to #StoptheSpread of COVID-19
- Take Spring Break At Home For Two Weeks Starting Now
- Joint Statement by Colorado High-Tech Companies on COVID-19
Bars and restaurants are shutting down around the country, but there are many communities, cities, and states that have not mandated this yet. While the impact on local business of this type of a shutdown, even for a few weeks, will be dramatic, it’s imperative that we aggressively social distance to slow the spread of COVID-19.
So, celebrate St. Patrick’s day tomorrow, but do it at home with your loved ones. Better yet, organize a distributed St. Patrick’s day via video (Zoom, Skype, Hangouts) with a bunch of your friends. But stay at home, be safe, and help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Following is a poem titled Pandemic written by Lynn Ungar on 3/11/20. Thanks to Joanna Rupp at the University of Chicago for sending it to me.
I like to read poetry out loud. It slows me down enough to relish the words. Lynn, I don’t know you, but you wrote a beautiful poem that hopefully helps a lot of us in this moment.
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20
A coalition of 250 CEOs and leaders (and growing by the hour) are asking our fellow business and civic leaders around America to #LeadBoldly and #StoptheSpread of COVID-19.
We as leaders are doing the following, and asking other leaders to join us:
- Immediately change our organization’s policies to “work from home” for all employees where possible, including leaders.
- Do everything we can to support our frontline workforce, our first responders and our healthcare workers, as they show up for work and fight this on the frontlines.
- Ask our employees to stop hosting or attending voluntary/social public events of ANY size
- Free up time on our calendars to support our state and local communities as we move through this crisis
We’re encouraging all of our employees, our friends, and our families to:
- Stop hosting or attending ALL voluntary/social public events of ANY size
- Stop patronizing bars, restaurants, and gyms. That said, please do what you can otherwise to support small businesses and their employees during this tough time — buy gift cards from local restaurants to use later this year, support small online retailers, etc. (More to follow on specific initiatives to support small businesses — please send us your suggestions).
- Provide support for frontline workers, first responders and healthcare workers, as they fight this on the frontlines
- Treat one another kindly in the stressful time
If you are a business or civic leader, I encourage you to join this initiative to LeadBoldly to #StoptheSpread of COVID-19
By this point, I expect everyone who reads this blog is extremely familiar with the phrases “flatten the curve” and “social distancing.” If not, read Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now right now.
In the US, many schools are having spring break for a week sometime in the next two weeks. Ironically, it’s convenient timing for taking action that could dramatically flatten the curve.
What if we decided, as a nation, to take Spring Break at Home for the next two weeks. If you haven’t canceled your spring break trip, cancel it. Stay home with your family. Spend time together. If you’ve already taken spring break, extend the concept of it through the end of the month.
But, do it at home. In your house. With social distancing.
If you have a job where you can work from home (WFH), do it and don’t take the time off. Your company probably needs you more than ever right now. If you do take time off, figure out things that you and your family can do to help your local community. There are many people who can’t take time off, or will be suddenly unemployed hourly workers. Know that they will be impacted significantly.
Most of the US is a few weeks behind Seattle. Greg Gottesman wrote an excellent post the other day about A COVID-19 Response for Those WFH. Pay a lot of attention to your local businesses, which are a key thing that makes your city special to you. They are all going to be under massive distress with social distancing. Consider how you can help them during spring break. And know that if we don’t get ahead of this, we will likely end up in a situation like where France has had to close all restaurants, cafes, cinemas and clubs due to coronavirus, which seems like an extraordinary decision for a country and culture that loves to be out in public together.
If you are not involved with organizations like your local community foundation, explore that as part of your spring break. Community members who find themselves at the intersection of being most vulnerable to the virus and most impacted by inequity will need real help right now. Front-line caregivers will be under incredible stress. Find things to help (like we have in Boulder with the Covid-19 Response Fund) and contribute in some way to help keep your entire community healthy.
I talked to a new friend from Seoul yesterday and asked how he personally navigated through things. He said that he shifted from “thinking about himself to thinking about everyone else.” Whenever he thought about himself, he just got anxious and stressed. When he thought about everyone else, it motivated him to take action.
It sucks to cancel a family trip. It stinks to stop going out to your favorite restaurant. It’s a bummer that the sports events in the US were canceled (although I view it as incredibly leadership by our professional sports organizations.)
Take action. And know that every bit of action you take right now can help flatten the curve.
I’ve been involved with a number of leaders in the Colorado tech community since Wednesday morning as we’ve aggressively mobilized to address the Covid-19 crisis.
Following is a joint statement that a bunch of us have signed on to. A group of us are working quickly to create more mechanisms for a coordinated response, collective action, funding for critical resources, and ideas for things to do that will have a positive impact.
Huge kudos to Bryan Leach at iBotta and Rachel Carlson at Guild Education for providing urgent and effective leadership here.
We are leaders of 35 different technology companies with headquarters or offices in the Denver and Boulder metro areas. This week, our companies stepped up efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 here in Colorado and beyond. Reflecting the spirit of collaboration that characterizes our startup community, we all came together as a group, shared best practices, and agreed to take the following decisive actions in the interest of protecting the most vulnerable members of our community:
- First, we are strongly encouraging the majority of our workers to work from home as soon as possible, leaving behind the minimum possible in-office presence.
- Second, we are restricting work travel by our employees, both domestically and internationally. We are also strongly advising our employees to be thoughtful about all personal travel, particularly where they would be congregating in larger groups.
- Third, we are moving all clients, visitors, and interviews to remote only meetings and not currently welcoming onsite visitors.
- Fourth, wherever possible we are strongly encouraging our vendors, service providers and partner businesses to take similar precautions.
- Fifth, we are each consulting with our teams to find ways of supporting our local healthcare workers by helping to purchase critical medical resources, such as additional tests and protective equipment, and supporting the work of local nonprofit organizations that are helping at-risk communities who will be severely impacted by this pandemic.
- Finally, we are calling on government officials and other business leaders to restrict large group gatherings, including in the largest entertainment venues along the Front Range.
Why are we taking these unprecedented steps? The spread of COVID-19 is past the point of containment. Without swift action, we may soon witness the failure of our healthcare system’s capacity to deal with the virus’s complications. Our healthcare system is not built to handle enormous loads of critically ill people all at once. Therefore, we urgently need to flatten the curve of disease transmission to prevent unnecessary deaths. Wuhan City had 4.3 hospital beds per thousand people. In the United States, we have 2.8. There are not enough health care providers to care for all the sick. There are fewer than 100,000 full ventilators in the US. We are already seeing this play out with tragic consequences in Italy, where the mortality rate is shockingly high, as their healthcare system has struggled to keep pace with the sudden crushing load of hospitalized patients, leading to otherwise preventable deaths.
Our actions alone will not be enough, and we cannot wait for our government agencies and elected officials to mandate these restrictions. Every hour counts. We therefore call on others in Colorado — and in other startup communities across the country — to follow our lead and implement these procedures, effective immediately.
Bryan Leach, Founder and CEO, Ibotta
Brad Feld, Partner, Foundry Group
David Brown, CEO, Techstars
Sameer Dholakia, CEO, Twilio SendGrid
Ben Wright, CEO, Velocity Global
Jake Bolling, CEO, Skupos
Bart Lorang, CEO, FullContact
Conor Swanson, Co-Founder, Code-Talent
John Levisay, Founder & CEO, Bluprint
Matt Talbot, CEO, GoSpotCheck
Joni Klippert, CEO, StackHawk
Rajat Bhargava, CEO, JumpCloud
Fred Kneip, CEO, CyberGRX
Brent Handler, CEO, Inspirato
Lee Mayer, CEO, Havenly
Brett Jurgens, CEO, Notion
Walter Knapp, CEO, Sovrn
Brian Egan, CEO, Evolve Vacation Rental
Chris Cabrera, Founder & CEO, Xactly Corporation
David Levin, Co-Founder & CEO, Four Winds Interactive
Matthew Glotzbach, CEO, Quizlet
Nick Martin, CEO, The Pro’s Closet
Seth Levine, Partner, Foundry Group
Stewart McGrath, CEO, Section
Matthew Klein, CEO, Backbone
Carm Huntress, CEO, RxRevu
Mike Gionfriddo, CTO, Pie Insurance
Paul Berberian, CEO, Sphero
Joshua Reeves, CEO, Gusto
Chris Klein, CEO, Rachio
Mark Frank, CEO, SonderMind
Pete Holst, CEO, Oblong
Rachel Carlson, CEO, Guild Education
Josh Dorsey, Managing Director, Silicon Valley Bank
Amit Shah, VP Operations, Virta Health
The following from C. S. Lewis. was on my fraternity email list this morning. It was written in 1948 after the dawn of the atomic age.
In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays
Of course, since it was a fraternity email list, it included:
Regardless, it’s important to remember the iconic Battlestar Galactica message. “All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again.”
I’ll end with something to ponder for the weekend, which is C.S. Lewis’s punchline recast for Covid-19.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by a virus, let that virus when it comes find us doing sensible and human things, but with social distancing in the near term to slow it down—WFH, teaching remotely, reading, listening to music on our stereos, bathing the children, exercising at home, chatting to our friends over a video conference—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about viruses. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
In the midst of a crisis like the Covid-19 one that is unfolding around the world, it’s very hard to separate the signal from the noise. In the US, we are now in the thick of the aggressive expansion of infection from the virus, and we can look to a number of other countries for what they’ve done, how things have played out, and what has been effective.
While it’s easy to find experts everywhere, and Twitter allows even those most unexpert authority figure to be an expert, I’m continuously searching for signal and trying to discard or ignore the noise.
Senator Bill Frist, M.D. has a podcast called A Second Opinion. I’ve been listening to it the past few days and his guest today is the CDC’s Principal Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat. It’s short (20 minutes), calm, and clear.
Anne Schuchat, MD, is the Principal Deputy Director of CDC. She has been CDC’s principal deputy director since September 2015. She served as acting CDC director from January-July 2017 and February-March 2018. Dr. Schuchat also served as director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases from 2006-2015 and Chief of the Respiratory Diseases Branch from 1998-2005. She joined CDC as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer in 1988. Dr. Schuchat played key roles in CDC emergency responses including the 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza response, the 2003 SARS outbreak in Beijing, and the 2001 bioterrorist anthrax response. Globally, she has worked on meningitis, pneumonia and Ebola vaccine trials in West Africa, and conducted surveillance and prevention projects in South Africa.
Dr. Schuchat has serious medical credibility, so it’s worth hearing her, in basically real-time, talk about what is unfolding daily.
In the past few days, I’ve locked in on the idea of social distancing to flatten the curve. Following is a transcription of the very end of the podcast that reinforces this.
This virus is new, we are learning every day, but what we’ve learned so far is that for most people it’s going to be a mild illness if even that. But for the elderly with underlying conditions or people with severe medical conditions and the facilities and organizations who care for them, this can be devastating. And, so, we all can play a role in protecting the vulnerable people in our lives. Our parents and grandparents, our loved ones and neighbors. Help out in the community for those who are greatest risks… Don’t go out to large gatherings. Reconsider those visits to assisted living homes. Find other ways to communicate.
Remember that we are on an exponential curve right now so your action today can have an amplified action in the next few weeks.
Most people don’t understand exponential growth. It can be counterintuitive and is easily misinterpreted. Understanding it is particularly important right now around Covid-19.
The following eight-minute video is extremely well done and uses the historical Covid-19 data to help understand exponential growth.
There’s a magic number in this that we should be focusing on, but gets lost in the fog of hysteria. The math lesson starts at about 3:45.
The magic number is the growth factor, which is the change in new cases today divided by the change in new cases yesterday.
Right now we have a growth factor > 1, which is the fast-growing part of the exponential curve (the scary green part.) When the growth factor is < 1, we are on the slowing down part of the curve (red). We hit an inflection point when the growth factor = 1, which means that we are transitioning from rapid growth to slowing growth.
However, since we are dealing with the rate of change of new cases on a daily basis, the absolute number of cases obscures what is going on.
Look at the following table. The absolute number of change is scary, but if the growth factor hits 1, things are getting better.
Compare that to when the growth is 1.15 (15%). Note that the difference in the absolute numbers are not that significant, but the implication is dramatic.
When the growth factor is > 1, there may be orders of magnitude more growth ahead of us. When the growth factor is < 1, the most things with grow from there is 2x.
In addition, the growth rate from here has a huge outcome on number of cases. For example, if we are at a 15% growth rate from here (21,000 cases), in 61 days of 15% daily growth, we’ll be at over 100 million cases. But, if the growth rate decreases to 5% (a growth rate of 1.05, which is still > 1), in 61 days we’ll be at slightly over 400,000 cases.
The growth rate matters a huge amount right now. The more we can do to slow the growth rate, the better things will turn out. And, this activity is exponential, not linear, so massive change right now has an enormous impact on things.
If you want to track these numbers, the best three sites on the web that I’ve found that have these data and explanations organized are Our World in Data, Worldometer, and the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 site.
If you are looking for information on the public markets, this is not the blog you should be reading. Instead, I encourage you to go read Fred Wilson’s post Market Meltdowns or Howard Lindzon’s post Momentum Monday – A Panic For The Ages.
Rather than watch the news tonight, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Alan Lightman’s book Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine. I’ve loved Alan Lightman’s writing and the idea of a human that behaves like Alan Lightman since I read his first book Einstein’s Dreams when it came out in 1992.
Lightman is an astrophysicist, novelist, essayist, and educator. He’s been foundational at MIT around all of their creative writing endeavors and is currently Professor of the Practice of the Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
I don’t know him, but when I think about evolving human journeys, his appeals to me as much as his writing does.
The book starts out strong with a chapter titled “Longing for Absolutes in a Relative World.” For a taste, I loved this paragraph:
On the one hand, such an onslaught of discovery presents a cause for celebration. In fact, the wonders of Einstein’s relativity and the idea of the Big Bang were the engines that propelled me into science decades ago. Is it not a testament to our minds that we little human beings with our limited sensory apparatus and brief lifespans, stuck on our one planet in space, have been able to uncover so much of the workings of nature? On the other hand, we have found no physical evidence for the Absolutes. And just the opposite. All of the new findings suggest that we live in a world of multiplicities, relativities, change, and impermanence. In the physical realm, nothing persists. Nothing lasts. Nothing is indivisible. Even the subatomic particles found in the twentieth century are now thought to be made of even smaller “strings” of energy, in a continuing regression of subatomic Russian dolls. Nothing is a whole. Nothing is indestructible. Nothing is still. If the physical world were a novel, with the business of examining evil and good, it would not have the clear lines of Dickens but the shadowy ambiguities of Dostoevsky.
If you open up any news based website, you are going to get efforts of describing the world in the clear lines of Dickens. Just remember that we are living in the shadowy ambiguities of Dostoevsky. I’m going to happily carry that one around for a while.
Lightman has a long rant on something he calls the Central Doctrine of Science.
Without ever hearing it spoken out loud, we budding scientists simply embraced a principle I call the Central Doctrine of Science: All properties and events in the physical universe are governed by laws, and those laws hold true at every time and place in the universe.
He then unfolds this, using the concept of Absolutes and Relatives, and takes us into an endless, parallel universe of mostly empty space.
I’ve been reading plenty of “things to read after you are 50 about the meaning of life”, which feels like a cliche even as I type it. It’s not the only stuff I’ve been reading (e.g. over the weekend, I finished Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights) but I look forward to gobbling down Lightman’s In Praise of Wasting Time soon.
If you accept that the rest of 2020 will be insane, that a year is a tiny portion of the 13.8 billion years since the big bang, that no one really knows what happened before the big bang, that there might be an infinite number of parallel universes, and that most of everything is just empty space, things might be a little less stressful today. Or not …
I was at a dinner event last night in Denver where, predictably, coronavirus (which I’ve been trying to call Covid-19, but everyone seems to default back to coronavirus) came up.
I’ve tried to avoid being “that person” who has a strong opinion because so much is changing so quickly. Instead, I’ve tried to have a “clear opinion” based on what I currently know and how it’s impacting my world. I was particularly sensitized to this since, at a board meeting earlier in the day where it came up, someone asked me directly, “How do you think coronavirus will impact things?” A few minutes later I realized I was stuck in exactly the kind of rant that I was trying to avoid.
Over the past year, as Ian Hathaway and I worked on our upcoming book The Startup Community Way, I’ve thought a lot about complex systems. We based our conceptual framework on the theory of complex adaptive systems (which we’ve shorted to complex systems in the book for ease of reading) and it has been a really enjoyable intellectual rabbit hole to go down with Ian.
How Covid-19 is playing out is a classic example of a complex system. One of the key attributes that we discuss is contagion – both positive and negative. And, with Covid-19, we are seeing negative contagion at multiple different levels, most notably biological and economic. But, there are several others including one I’ll label hysteria.
Here’s an example. When a large technology company in a city shuts down its offices, cancels all travel, and insists everyone works remotely from home, other large technology companies around the world and other companies in the city pay attention to this. Suddenly, there is a conversation going on everywhere that is the equivalent of “should we do the same thing?” The emotional cadence of this conversation is high, so companies over-index on trying to figure out the right answer, where there isn’t really one given the nature of a complex system. Rational thinking generally aligns with “we’ll do whatever the CDC is suggesting we do”, but anyone who either doesn’t trust the government or authority figures won’t be satisfied with this. They will become more agitated (negative contagion on hysteria), which will generate more conversations and potential actions. Regardless of the actions, the cost of the conversations will be high, generate more uncertainty and agitation, and the negative contagion will continue.
I’m not suggesting that Covid-19 is no big deal. I’m not asserting that companies shouldn’t shut down offices or people shouldn’t work for home. Rather, I’m giving an example of negative contagion on a dimension (hysteria) that is appearing in complex systems that I’m involved in.
Intellectually, it’s fascinating. Emotionally, it’s challenging.