Peter Nixey
Published in

Peter Nixey

Covid-19: how are you going to react?

Wherever you stand on the debate of the seriousness of Covid-19, one thing’s certain. This is one of the most significant global events that we have lived through. News, social media, stockpiling; there are a lot of influences bearing down on us right now.

And while we all like to think we’re processing all this rationally I don’t think we realise how deeply our response curves are already pre-determined. I don’t think we ever give full credit to how much we will respond emotionally and then simply pick the news stories that support our chosen perspective.

Are you a panicker or a nay-sayer? Are you hoarding or ignoring? Do you believe it’ll blow over by the summer haunt us for years?

We like to think these positions are driven by reading, discussion and logic. We think we’re making rational, indepenent decisions. But we’re not that far evolved from our primal ancestors and just as we automatically yank our hands back from a hot saucepan, so our response to this, while slower is probably going to be just as instinctual.

We evolved into monkeys 55 million years but only learned to talk 150,000 years ago. If evolution was a school with humans in sixth form and monkeys in kindergarten then we only started chatting with classmates two weeks ago. Up until then it was all whoops and grunts.

In the entirety of our troupe-based, monkey existence, we only started wearing clothes and discussing Love Island at a party two weeks ago. The whole of the rest of our schooling was spent picking nits off each other.

We sit at the privileged end of hundreds of millions of years of uninterrupted, dynastic survival during which time our ancestors were selected and reselected again for their ability not to die before having children.

So when the guard-monkeys start banging their chests and running round the the camp perimeter our first thought probably isn’t to assemble an emergency debate club. We’re more likely to reach around, crap in our hand and keep a wary eye on the entrance.

Our behaviour is far less conscious than we like to admit. Even in a world as logical as tech, years of startups have taught me that the most important decisions people make are made emotionally. They’re only ever justified rationally.

Whether it’s starting a company, joining a company or investing in a company, people make a decisions on the basis of emotion and then assemble a rationale of facts post-hoc to justify it. They make the decisions early, instincually (and usually on the basis of what their peers are doing).

Our response to Covid-19 is going to be just as emotional only superficially as rational. If you’re not sure what your instincts are, it might be useful to think on how you reacted to the last global frenzy which was the Bitcoin bubble.

Seeing it up close it was clear that so much of what people believed about Bitcoin was driven by what they wanted to believe. They assumed their outlook and then used whatever news they had at to hand to justify it.

I’d never really experienced mob mentality up close before. But as Bitcoin’s infamy grew you saw people dividing between camps:

  1. This is the future of finance. Invest all you can to get as rich as possible
  2. This is a bubble. You will lose all your money and would be insane to participate

The reality was that both parties were correct. They were both right but they were right at different times. And they were also both wrong at different times too. But the majority of people took one opinion and stuck with it.

Most people were more attached to their principles than they were to their principal. They cared more about being right than they cared about losing their money. Both on the way up and on the way back down.

Bitcoin taught me that most people want what they believe to be true, more than they want to believe what is true.

And it also taught me that people don’t like living in the grey areas. They want things to be black or white and when they find themselves in the grey they will move to either the black or to the white. More often than not they will go to the one that has the most people on it.

For all of their articulate arguments, very few people in the groups I was part of were trading on the basis of logical analysis. They were going with their gut and what the rest of the group was doing.

And I think the same is true with Covid-19. Right now, the early adopters are stressed that the late majority isn’t moving faster. And the late majority are stressed by the early adopters trying to change their way of life and tell them they’re wrong. It proves not to be a big deal then the early adopters won’t in fact be early adopters but will look like panickers and hysteria-mongers by the time it dies down. If it is as big as people fear then the late majority will be blamed for making it worse.

But it’s worth understanding and appreciating that each individual’s perspective is going to be heavily influenced by where they lie on the adopter-spectrum and and what their friends are thinking.

As for me — I know that my natural instinct is always to pessimistically expect things to change. I am always inclined to believe a health scare will become a health crisis and like a stopped clock I will occasionally be correct.

So I know that my natural instincts with Covid-19 are to assume it’ll be worse than it probably will be but also to react quicker than most others to it. I need to trust my speed but also correct for my pessimism and over-reaction.

As we each process the news and the warnings I think it’s valuable to be aware of how we are influenced by a crowd and where we are on the adopter spectrum. And to maybe tweak our reactions accordingly.

Just like a stopped clock, everyone’s strategy will be right at some point, the key is adopting a dynamic strategies which, like moving clock hands, tell you the right thing earlier and for longer.



Founder and CEO of Rails and Angular developer, product guy, former Part Time Partner at Entprepreneur first and YC Alum.

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