The Coronavirus Crisis Is Moving Fast - Here’s How To Speed Up Your Company’s Response Time

March 27, 2020

By Adam Chapman, EyeForPharma on Mar 21, 2019

Complexity is the defining business and leadership challenge of our time. But it has never felt more urgent than this moment, with the coronavirus upending life and business as we know it. Governments are scrambling to mitigate the effects of the outbreak, and business leaders are rushing to protect their people, their customers, and their companies. For the next few weeks, we’ll be drawing on our deep knowledge base about what it takes to lead through the most complex and confounding problems, to offer you insights and advice about how to keep a steady hand on the wheel during the crisis, and how to guide your organization in its transition back to normalcy once the crisis winds down.

We have been studying complexity and helping leaders navigate it for nearly 20 years. While this crisis is absolutely unprecedented, all complex challenges – including this one – are best managed when you understand specific underlying characteristics they all exhibit, and tried-and-true ways to approach them. Today: How to accelerate the pace of sensing, absorbing, thinking, deciding and acting in face of the coronavirus outbreak and other organizational challenges.


Over New Year’s, our friends decided to take their three young daughters on a trip to Thailand. A mile from LAX, sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, they realized they were about to miss their plane. Without missing a beat, they got out of the taxi, dragged their daughters and luggage in between cars and trucks, past ‘No Pedestrians Allowed’ signs, made it to the terminal, sweaty and exhausted, and boarded their flight.

Point is, whether you’re about to miss your plane, train, class, or recital, you are able to quickly course correct. If you deconstruct your response to these situations and others like them, you are able to very quickly:

  • Sense what’s going on (this traffic isn’t going to improve any time soon)
  • Absorb the implications (at current course and speed, we’re going to miss our flight),
  • Think through your options (we could stay the course, we could pressure the driver to weave in and out of traffic, we could get out of the car and run, or we could try to book another flight)
  • Decide on one (we’re going to get out of the car and go for it), and
  • Act (let’s go now, grab the luggage, grab the kids, I’ll take the front, you take the back)

You are able to sense-absorb-think-decide-act (S.A.T.D.A) quickly because your nervous system is integrated. Your brain has immediate access to the stimulus it needs, your neurons are networked and fire rapidly back and forth, conclusions are drawn, decisions made, actions taken.

Now think about the coronavirus outbreak. While the global and local response has picked up significant speed each day, it’s taken time. It’s taken time to:

  • Sense what’s really going on (the virus is highly contagious and resilient, not overly dangerous to most people, very dangerous to some),
  • Absorb the real implications (at current course and speed, much of the world will be infected, health systems will be overwhelmed, many will die)
  • Think through various options and approaches (social distancing, herd immunity, disproportionately protect the elderly and those with underlying conditions, a combination of all three),
  • Decide which one or ones to pursue (in most cases, dramatic social distancing), and
  • Act (do it now)

It’s taken considerable time because, in contrast to your own nervous system, the world’s nervous system, your country’s nervous system, your local community’s nervous system are all fragmented. This is a universal truth that not only hinders timely responses to challenges like a coronavirus, but also many others you regularly encounter in your work lives – like, the speed and efficacy of your digital transformation or post-merger integration or behavioral health strategy or global product launch or your battle against sexual assault on campus.

The fact is, it takes a diversity of talent to address the coronavirus pandemic and other highly complex challenges. All those people are distributed. Your country’s neurons aren’t networked. Nor are your organization’s neurons. So, S.A.T.D.A. takes a very long time. For challenges with high rates of exponentiality, like the present outbreak, every hour of lost S.A.T.D.A. counts. For other exponential challenges, like post-merger integration, every week of lost S.A.T.D.A. counts. Unless S.A.T.D.A. happens fast in the coronavirus outbreak, the costs include enormous loss of life and staggering economic damage. If S.A.T.D.A takes too long in your organization, the costs include the health and viability of your organization, failure of your top priority initiatives, and delivering mediocre impact as a leader.

By now, authorities facing down the coronavirus have sprung into emergency action. Relative to a few weeks ago, things are beginning to stabilize – not back to normal, but rather around a new normal. It’s time for leaders to concertedly figure out what to do going forward. You must consider the short-term and long-term implications to your organization, its ability to serve its stakeholders, support its people, mitigate downside, and seize opportunities. And the best way to do that is to engineer quick, judicious, streamlined, and unified SATDA. Sensing the full and emerging damage, absorbing the implications and thinking about scenarios and options. Making a bunch of business decisions, or needing to make a bunch of business decisions you never planned for. And then – toughest of all – trying to get your people to unified and aligned action.

To hit the ground running:

  1. Identify the key focus areas you must address (for example, business continuity, financial matters, service, safety, employment, new opportunities, etc.)
  2. Identify a broad variety of people from across your organization, along with external experts, advisors, partners, customers, and others, who together have the information, knowledge, and expertise you need to feed decisions and plans.
  3. Assign these people to multiple focus areas and convene them remotely to discuss and debate the key focus areas.
  4. Iterate. Conduct several rounds of discussion on each of the focus areas, over days and weeks as required, and pay special attention to cross-pollination across the focus areas. They are each discreet and each interconnected. Make progress on each; insist on being explicit about the interdependencies across all of them.
  5. Create individual plans for each focus area, and roll them up into one overarching plan. Continue to tweak, change, and update the plans as relevant.

You can read more about how to quickly and consistently match the pace and complexity of your top challenges  here and here.

Original article posted in Forbes on March 27, 2020

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