[March 22, 2020] When disasters strike, there is often confusion, distorted information, and sometimes panic. Stupidity is also one of the inevitable results. Friday morning, I watched New York Gov. Cuomo lay out his plan – a good plan – to slow the spread of the Coronavirus in his state. Most of what he said made sense, but some of it was profoundly stupid.
“I want to be able to say to the people of New York — I did everything we could do,” Cuomo said. “And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.” – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo1
I would have hoped that Gov. Cuomo had been a little more self-aware, or at least one of his advisers had stepped in to intervene. When a leader’s decisions affect the lives of millions of people, everything you do or don’t do has enormous consequences. Gov. Cuomo’s decision to shut down non-essential businesses in his state and force people into self-isolation and his explanation why, will cost the lives of many.
There is robust social science that links business downturns to suicide, drug addictions, and other social maladies.
“Mr. Tony Giuliano, [policy manager for the Mental Health Foundation Scotland] who has been in self-isolation himself after returning from visiting family in Italy, said: ‘The mental health implications are huge, and unfortunately they are being a bit side-stepped.’” – from the London Times2
The real question here is, “What are non-essential businesses?” Every leader should ask themselves what the criteria for “essential” are in this case.
“I work in the trucking industry. We have been given an Hours of Service waiver for ‘essential’ deliveries, but no-one will tell us what that means. Food? Clothing? Paper Products? Fuel? Ice Cream? No-one knows, and no-one wants to be on the record giving a straight answer.” – unknown trucker
One reader harked back to his days in the military. When he saw similar behavior, soldiers referred to this as an “MSU moment” (making shi* up). Decision-making is not always easy. Explaining your decision is also not easy but it is also not trivial. Take great care to insure unintended consequences don’t overcome thoughtful decisions.
At least the cast of Saturday Night Live is still working.