Society 4.0
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Society 4.0

A Sensemaking Series

What happens post-COVID-19?

We mapped and summarised widely differing potential outcomes. What do YOU think will happen post-COVID-19?

By Norie Huddle, Michael Haupt and The Sensemaking Collective

The currently perceived possible outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic instability. Changes frequently. Last updated April 18th, 2020.

In a strange fashion, the coronavirus pandemic has done humanity a huge favor — by showing us with immense clarity the many structural weaknesses in our social and economic systems.

During the past month, as over 100 nations have put themselves on lockdown, our various delivery systems — many of which are global —have been halted or slowed down greatly, trillions of dollars have been created out of thin air mostly to save specific industries from collapsing, and a growing number of economic experts are now warning us that the world faces the potential for an economic collapse worse than that of 2007–2008, or perhaps worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Actually, the truth is that many of us have known (or at least have suspected) for decades that our social and economic systems are failing to solve basic problems adequately. But now, with the current pandemic shutdown impacting about a third of humanity, many of us are using this time—away from the myriad distractions of our normal busy lives—to consider what a massive systemic reset might look like. And, to consider what we would like this systemic reset to look like.

Both positive and negative scenarios have been popping up all over the internet—a wildly different array of “stories” about what our post-COVID-19 world might become.

We’ve first taken a step back from this range of stories to look more deeply at the process whereby stories are created and adopted, to then be turned into projects and programs and, ultimately, into new social organizations and even into entirely new civilizations.

To begin we feel it is important to make a critical distinction between “reality” and “our stories about reality.” This distinction is not frequently made in public discourse but it is a distinction that will make ALL the difference in how well different people and groups will be able to discuss our quite different perspectives (stories, narratives) and then work together collaboratively to create better and more lasting solutions to the many persistent basic problems humanity has faced over the millennia—ignorance, fear, poverty, hunger, disease and war.

Reality vs. our Stories About Reality

So, first, what IS “reality”?

ALL THAT IS. Reality is huge. Indeed, “All that is” suggests that reality is infinite and eternal, endless in time and space. After all, if we imagine an end to reality, then what’s beyond that end?

Next, in contrast, what are our “stories about reality”?

Each one of us has a unique “window” through which we look out at the world and Cosmos (and inward into ourselves) and through this “window of perception” we experience the vastness of reality. We humans are “meaning makers” who attempt to make sense of reality in an ongoing way. Thus, we walk around making up stories about “what is reality” with the objective of avoiding pain and seeking security and pleasure.

Our stories are deeply influenced by our past experiences and how we’ve processed and integrated those experiences, creating an overall framework that shapes the meaning we each give to our stories. This “sensemaking” applies to each story we create about “reality” as well as to the total integrated body of our personal stories about reality.

But here’s the rub: we humans also have a very strong tendency to believe that OUR stories about reality ARE reality. We argue over whose stories are the REAL stories. We fight over our different stories. We even kill each other over our different stories.

The core distinction that can dramatically change our lives is this: REALITY is completely different from our STORIES ABOUT REALITY. If we can begin to make this distinction, we can begin to listen better to others whose stories about reality are very different from ours. We can explore WHY they hold their stories. What events in their lives led them to embrace these stories? What are the facts that underpin their stories? For that matter, what are the facts that underpin our own stories? How do we know those facts are accurate?

A highly regarded researcher at Stanford University, Dr. John Ioannidis, has written extensively about the pervasiveness of poor scientific research—the very research that is used to justify specific programs and approaches for mitigating the current pandemic as well as, more globally, for deciding how we want to redesign our social and economic systems.

In an article from that is well worth reading, Ioannidis recommends asking the following questions about any research claims:

  • Is this something that has been seen just once, or in multiple studies?
  • Is it a small or a large study?
  • Is this a randomized experiment?
  • Who funded it?
  • Are the researchers transparent?

We believe that it is a top priority to speak the truth the best we can and to get our facts right—so that, together, we can build all of our future programs, systems and civilizations on a solid foundation.

With this objective in mind, we will present a series of articles that introduce different “stories about reality” that relate to the COVID-19 “story” as well as explore the implications of these very different stories in reshaping our future. We will also raise questions for those who have adopted each specific story or narrative, questions we would love for them to address.

As an experiment in “gathering the voices,” we would love to hear from YOU—your insights, ideas and questions for each of the different narratives presented. And, we’d love to know your vision of the future you would like to see.

Once the COVID-19 dust settles, we’ll publish the lessons learned, including your voices and insights. Hopefully what we learn through this “gathering of the voices” will help us to face future crisis situations more effectively. We’ll acknowledge everyone who helps to improve the collective learning.

While our individual actions have significant impact on the eventual outcome we will create, together we can do what no one of us can do alone. We sincerely believe that COVID-10 has given us a defining moment in human history. Please help us build and shape the story that can best help us move forward to create the future we all dream of deep in our hearts and souls.


These articles in no way provide medical advice of any kind whatsoever. Please contact your health care provider if you need any medical assistance or advice. While we don’t wish to downplay the reality and severity of COVID-19, this pandemic is much more than a physical health issue — it is a test of our ability to think rationally. If you agree, please take 10 seconds to share this series with those you love.

Narratives Matter

Three friends were sailing together, each on their own sailboat: a pessimist, an optimist, and a realist.

Halfway through their journey, the wind died down and their boats stopped at sea.

The pessimist immediately thought: “It is over. I’m going to die here.” Little by little he surrendered to the situation.

The optimist, without worrying, said: “Everything is going to be all right. There is no need to be afraid. The wind will return soon and we will be able to return home.”

The realist remained quiet, observed the situation and thought: “Well, in fact, it does seem unusually calm. If it takes a long time before the wind returns, we will more than likely run out of food and water and we will not arrive back at the shore before nightfall.”

The realist stopped, observed, meditated, reflected, silenced her thoughts and observed that although there was no wind, there was a sea current flowing towards the shore. She paddled her boat towards the current, which carried her boat back to shore and she arrived safely, well before dusk.

The pessimist and the optimist are still at sea.

The moral of the story? Narratives matter.

Particularly during times of uncertainty and chaos, what matters most is the story running through our heads — our individual and collective narratives. These times call for sensible, logical realism, rather than optimism or pessimism.

“A virus can change the fate of the world; power has nothing to do with being tiny or giant. Power is something related to the power hidden within you.” — Mehmet Murat ildan

The Possible Outcomes We’ll Explore

  • No Reset: The official Coronavirus story, a return to Business-as-Usual (and Questions We Must Ask).
  • Reset 1: A decades long depression —article coming soon.
  • Reset 2: Government-issued basic incomes and significant loss of personal freedoms —article coming soon.
  • Reset 3: A grassroots-driven abundance income and a shift to thrivability for everyone — article coming soon.
  • Reset 4: A left-field option we cannot see just yet but is emerging — article coming soon.
  • Conclusion: What we can do to avoid options we don’t like and attract options we do like — article coming soon.

Why Mapping Possible Outcomes is Important

“In uncertain times, maps provide hope, confidence, and the means to move from anxiety to action.” — Deborah Ancona, MIT School of Management

A small military unit was sent on a training mission in the Swiss Alps. They did not know the terrain very well, and suddenly it began to snow. It snowed for two days. There were large drifts everywhere, and it was hard to see through the clouds and blowing snow. The men considered themselves lost. They were cold and hungry, and panic began to spread through the unit as they thought of what would become of them. But then one of them found a map in his pocket. Everyone crowded around trying to figure out where they were and how they could get out. They calmed down, located themselves, and plotted a route back to their base.

The men didn’t always hit the landmarks they thought they would, so getting back involved still more sensemaking. They got help from villagers along the way, and shifted their path when faced with obstacles. And then, when they finally got back to base camp, they discovered that the map they had been using was actually a map of the Pyrenees and not the Alps. (Adapted from a poem by Miroslav Holub, subsequently popularised by Karl Weick in his 1983 paper, Misconceptions About Managerial Productivity.)

There are at least two important morales to this tale:

1. When you’re lost, tired, cold, hungry and scared, even the wrong map can help you get moving—but if the map is wrong, you will need more information than that map to get you to your destination; and,

2. The map is not the territory—again, the “story about reality” is not the same as “reality”—but the more accurate your map is, the more effectively you can navigate the territory and the better will be your chances of reaching your destination.

Given a choice, we would all select the best map possible. Yet the soldiers in the story were able to survive using a map of an entirely different terrain because the map encouraged them to move, because they had a clear image of their destination, and because they were flexible enough to make course-correction when, as they moved forward toward their destination, they encountered new information that didn’t correspond to their map. In short, they paid more attention to the REALITY they encountered than to the map.

In sensemaking, the map is only a starting point. To get to your destination, you absolutely must pay careful attention to the actual terrain you’re traveling through and incorporate that new information into your strategy for reaching your destination. If you do this, even the wrong map is useful in sensemaking BECAUSE IT GOT YOU MOVING. However, the wrong map will NOT get you to your destination.

Another important feature of sensemaking is that you need to have a strong vision for what your destination is, even though that vision, too, particularly if it is a “destination” for the kind of society we want to create, will be modified and will become more detailed as we learn and grow as human beings. Thomas Jefferson, author of the revolutionary document, the American Declaration of Independence, made this observation that has important meaning for us today as we look forward to improving the design of our social and economic systems:

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves ; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” —Thomas Jefferson

The COVID-19 “map” currently being promoted to the public by the mainstream media invited a lot of questions. For one thing, it is a map that is being promoted in a rather hysterical fashion which does not help us use the parts of our brain that support logical thinking and good analysis—in other words, the “millions and millions are gonna die” does not encourage a calm and thoughtful approach that will yield high quality sensemaking of the terrain we are now moving through.

Sensemaking is an emergent individual and collective activity — a process of continuously examining evidence as it is continuousy showing up. Sensemaking is the act of “patterning” information, of generating and testing “low level hypotheses” for what is the most accurate “story about reality”—making these ongoing assessments even as we move forward to take the most reasonable action we see that we can take at this time.

Sensemaking is a journey, not the destination. Sensemaking is a conscious way of beingof assessing information and then acting—sometimes tentatively and hopefully with genuine humility. After all, we may later be shown to have made really ineffective actions based on completely faulty data.

Sensemaking is not about finding the one “correct” answer that everyone should adopt or be shunned by all humanty; rather, sensemaking is about holding a continuous and mutually respectful conversation with the shared objective of the participants to find an ever greater approximation of “what is true.” Sensemaking calls for each one of us to listen carefully to each other (and to ourselves—”do I really believe what I’m saying or am I just repeating what I’ve heard on that TV show?”). Sensemaking requires us to explore honestly and authentically our underying assumptions and biases, with the willingness to change these if we see “a better way,” another assumption that better describes the terrain we’re moving through.

Thus, in its essence, sensemaking is about our collaborating to create the most accurate emerging story about reality—including collaborating to create the most inspiring story we can imagine about our desired future reality.

This is the approach we’ve taken in writing this series of different “stories” about COVID-19. Since new information is coming out daily, we’re “building this airplane as we fly it.” One of the authors of this series, who had the opportunity in the early 1980s to interview legendary inventor, Buckminster Fuller, was powerfully impacted by this piece of advice from him, “Love your mistakes. If this isn’t true, what IS true?”

In this series we will summarise a number of different “stories about reality” or “maps” of COVID-19 and show how each points toward a different set of actions….which in turn will lead to quite different potential futures.

Sensemaking of all these outcomes will help us gain greater clarity about the different stories, different players and different agendas. Sensemaking will also help us see where we lack information and perhaps, too, where information is seriously flawed. Sensemaking will also help us see even more clearly where our current social and economic systems are failing us.

And finally, we believe that sensemaking of these very different “stories about reality” related to COVID-19 will help us find our bearings during chaotic times, so that we can move forward with greater confidence, ease and grace. Working together in a collaborative spirit to create the most accurate possible map, to help us navigate the challenging terrain ahead will enable us to act more consciously, which will in turn empower us, individually and collectively, to catch the gold ring.

“From one citizen to another, I beg of you: Take a deep breath… and think deeply about what you want to put back into your life post-coronavirus. This is our chance to define a new version of normal, a rare and truly sacred (yes, sacred) opportunity to get rid of the bullshit and to only bring back what works for us… This is our chance to define — on our own terms — what this world will look like in 5, 10, 50 years. It’s the biggest chance we have ever gotten. And the best one we’ll ever get… But only if we resist the massive gaslighting that is about to come. It’s on its way. Look out.” — Julio Vincent Gambuto

Thank you for sharing your wisdom, insights and visions for the most positive future possible, that serves all beings.

This series of articles is being co-created by The Sensemaking Collective. If you’re a systems practitioner, big picture thinker or human-centered designer, please add your voice. If you’d like to receive occasional high signal-to-noise ratio sensemaking updates, subscribe here. Are you simply looking for thoughful sources of COVID-19 news and analysis? We’ve got you covered. Are you’re trying to make a difference….but feel yourself trapped at every turn? Or are you’re struggling to make sense of an increasingly chaotic and confusing world and you could do with 1-on-1 guidance, help is at hand.

Join the Sensemaking Collective at



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Michael Haupt

Michael Haupt


I cut through (and expose) ESG & sustainability greenwashing. Speaker | Writer | Social Artist | Architect of Transformation