Predictions have never been so plentiful. Amid massive uncertainty, we are all looking for something that might steer us in the right direction, towards clarity in our decisions. According to Google Trends, the search term “coronavirus predictions” was among the most searched in March, as the world scrambled into their homes amid the Great Lockdown. The trouble with trying to see beyond the haziness is that our crystal ball -the list of a million results Google spouts out as we hunt for answers- often only reflects back to us that which we know, the hope for normality. Relying on predictions and waiting for the dust to settle to “unpause” is largely futile because it assumes normality is just around the corner.
As Morgan Housel notes in his blog, “Common Enemies” the desire to predict the near future with a roadmap is nothing new. Most people want to know what might happen next. In an effort to understand our current situation through past crises, it’s become common to dig around for clues from historic moments that have caused these same waves of massive uncertainty. Thus, parallels are drawn. Even Queen Elizabeth referenced World War 2 and how swiftly normality would come during her special broadcast – only the 5th of her 68-year reign! But, the coronavirus crisis is not a traditional war, it’s not like the 1918 flu pandemic, nor is it the Great Depression. It’s certainly not 9/11 or the 2008 Great Recession.
None of the most complex and culturally significant events in history can speak to when this particular dust might settle. Essentially, “big events grow big because they’re complex, and complexity never repeats itself in its exact form.” Yet, countless news sources, pundits, and talking heads continue to emphasize that normal will return before we least expect it.
Sofa-weary fortune-tellers peer into the crystal ball and see what they hope for: that while this event is unprecedented and “unpredictable,” we will return to the lives we were so well accustomed to.
However, the post-Coronavirus world is unlikely to be like the world we have come to know. “Normality” carries the same complexity as the worst of crises because, in reality, our lives shift as quickly as the season’s pass. Social and economic changes spurred by innovation, governance, and technology result in changes that impact generations – all while we carry on with our day-to-day. So, why are we so hungrily seeking a roadmap while pausing our lives until “normality” returns?
The issue in seeking “normality” before making an important decision is that it relies on a prediction that things will shortly return to that which we were accustomed to. For example, at Zoe, we have heard from countless concerned investors who, while searching for a fiduciary financial advisor, say they are “waiting for the dust to settle” in order to determine which wealth manager is right for them. Many unconsciously put aside the short and longterm value of a financial advisor while waiting for normality to return. Ultimately, they give power to crystal ball predictions that halt actually proceeding with the financial plan and longterm goals they have always hoped to achieve.
According to Gideon Litchfield, MIT Technology Review’s editor in chief, “To stop coronavirus we will need to radically change almost everything we do: how we work, exercise, socialize, shop, manage our health, educate our kids, take care of family members.” As one of the few media sources who have explored how unlikely “normal” will be going forward, Litchfield makes clear that while (of course) we want things to return to how they were, our lives and the problem at hand are uniquely complex. Thus, it’s more than likely that this situation will take an unpredictable amount of time to calm completely.
Normality comes amid the chaos of complex changes. Before we know it, the reality of our day-to-day lives will be different from what it was before – just as has always occurred. The clarity we grasp for through predictions is closer than we think, it’s happening as we continue with our lives instead of waiting for someone to click “unpause.”
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