Shareholder Value vs. Keeping Ourselves Healthy
Shareholder Value vs. Keeping Ourselves Healthy By Fons Trompenaars

In the first three blogs in this series (here, here and here), we shared our hypothesis that societies and individuals are more resilient to cope with the COVID-19 crisis when they reconcile opposing values like rules vs. exceptions, short-term vs. long-term, and being in control vs. being emotional. In this blog, we concentrate on the specific vs. diffuse orientations, and how the joining of both can lead to better results.

If we read the headlines, we conclude that the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) has indicated that it wants to try to complete the Dutch league season after the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) announced that all countries should try to complete their seasons, even if several months late. That is not a good decision, according to Marc Overmars, director of football for the Amsterdamsche Football Club Ajax.

“Why is it currently about money and not about public health?” Overmars asked in an interview with De Telegraaf, a popular Dutch Newspaper. “I had hoped that the KNVB would make an independent decision, but they are hiding behind UEFA instead.”

Overmars indicated that clubs in the Netherlands are not as dependent on TV money as clubs from the top leagues. Like these clubs, UEFA also benefits financially from having the competitions played out.

“I am currently comparing UEFA and the KNVB with US President Donald Trump a week ago: the economy is more important than the coronavirus,” said Overmars. “Hello! More than a hundred people die every day in the Netherlands from the consequences of the coronavirus.”

He emphasizes that his position has nothing to do with the fact that the team from Amsterdam is now at the top of the Dutch league. “Playing is just irresponsible now. Money should never prevail over health. That is what I liked of the Canadian Olympic Committee that immediately said it would not go to Tokyo for similar reasons.”

Health vs. Economy

May we add to this Health vs. Economy dilemma the fact that our overworked health professionals (a big applause for them) keep on working to save thousands of patients every day whilst taking incredible risks. At the same time, we have tremendous budget cuts to make care possible for large numbers.

It is a dilemma we should take very seriously. It is a human dilemma where again we see that cultures approach it differently.

On the one hand, we have specific cultures that focus on issues – in this case the economy with a caricature called shareholder value (the value of people who never share). We exaggerate the problems of the health issues if you compare it to the normal number of deaths. It is well expressed by the following graph.

On the other extreme, we find the diffuse cultures who tend to look at the big picture like health and all its stakeholders. We see clearly that the economy, though important, is specific, and health in the broadest sense of the word is diffuse. And like all dilemmas, we need both.

However, it is interesting to see that some cultures and their leaders start with the economic argument such as “we will be back to normal at Easter” and indeed we might have some casualties. Other leaders would say, “Priority number 1 is health, number 2 is health and number 3 is health, and then we worry about the economy.”

Bringing together the extremes

We believe that coronavirus resilience is best found in those cultures that bring both extremes together. In the Netherlands, for example, we find that once we have dealt with the basics of the health issue by social distancing and hygiene, we will keep controlled freedoms, which allows the economy to continue. And within irreconcilable areas such as the hotel, bars and restaurants, we support them by credit facilities and social securities.

The dilemma looks like this:

According to popular author Leon de Winter, the curve should obviously flatten, but since we have no idea of ​​the population rate that has been infected but shows no symptoms, it cannot be determined whether it makes sense to maintain the “intelligent lockdown” for months, with the possible consequence of the destruction of our economic existence.

Should we accept economic devastation because it prevents the destruction of human lives? Can’t we protect people and the economy at the same time?

Using explicit and tacit knowledge

Quite another dilemma that has clearly revealed itself during the coronavirus crisis is the need for both explicit and tacit knowledge. In a crisis we need both.

Tacit knowledge (as opposed to formal, codified or explicit knowledge) is the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. The term “tacit knowledge” is attributed to distinguished physical chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi in Personal Knowledge, a 1958 book of his published lectures.

In his later work The Tacit Dimension, he made the assertion that “we can know more than we can tell.” He states not only that there is knowledge that cannot be adequately articulated by verbal means, but also that all knowledge is rooted in tacit knowledge. Tacit or implicit knowledge involves learning and skill, but not in a way that can be written down.

Explicit or codified knowledge is knowledge that can be easily identified, accessed and shared. It is embedded in the human mind through experience, including insights and intuition.

Crisis management teams use explicit and tacit knowledge to create mental models. We have observed that many coronavirus crisis management teams can use their expertise to identify indicators and recognize patterns that allow them to choose a course of action that they consider will achieve the best outcome. And they often complain that they are lacking specific, codifiable data.

According to the Australian crisis resilience documentation, accomplished crisis management teams develop and consider multiple options. This involves understanding, and interpreting, what the situation means to the organization and includes the ongoing development of plausible options to address the immediate situation and implications for the future.

The process of transforming diffuse, tacit knowledge into explicit or specifiable knowledge is known as codification, articulation, or specification. We believe that all propositional knowledge (knowledge that) is ultimately reducible to practical knowledge (knowledge how). It comes close to psychologist Kurt Lewin’s statement that there is nothing as practical as a good theory.

We owe it to Ikujiro Nonaka’s model of organizational knowledge creation, where he proposes that tacit knowledge can be converted to explicit knowledge. In that model, tacit knowledge is presented variously as uncodifiable (“tacit aspects of knowledge are those that cannot be codified”) and codifiable (“transforming tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge is known as codification”). This ambiguity is common in the knowledge management literature.

Through our Corona Resilience app, we conducted a survey where we asked more than 500 users from various countries to respond to statements representing opposing ideas. Responses were given on a sliding scale from “Agree” to “Disagree”. Let’s see how 11 nations scored on the following two statements:

  • We collect input from our specialists in virology and immunology.
  • We encourage all disciplines in the crisis management team to speak up and voice any concerns, raise alternatives and make suggestions.

Here are those results:

In a series of articles and TV programs, Jaap Goudsmit, professor of epidemiology and infectious diseases at Harvard, emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary research. In the search for coronavirus treatments, there are too many researchers doing work in their own discipline. This is quite okay but what is troublesome is that it leads to ivory towers separated by big canals.

We need all kinds of disciplines, from the standard ones of virology and immunology to anthropology and economics. This interdisciplinary research, according to this highly praised academic, will be the only way to master the cure for COVID-19.

In this dialogue between disciplines, we will see that diffuse tacit knowledge is reconciled with specific explicit knowledge. The Australian government suggests that in that process, leaders of crisis teams should therefore actively model curiosity by asking and encouraging many questions as this creates a necessity for the crisis management team to discuss any concerns and generate options. Moreover, they are encouraged to train staff in the knowledge and skills needed to build, maintain and retrieve psychological safety.

Specific groups for diffuse solutions

Another interesting reconciliation of the diffuse health vs. specific economy dilemma is offered by the David Katz, former director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, one of the research centers of the official Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Have our authorities, and related scientific modelers, carefully consider the proposal by Katz?

He proposes to divide society into groups defined by their sensitivity to COVID-19. For each group applies: “social distancing; personal sanitation.” He wants to draw sharp boundaries between healthy and unhealthy people.

In the first instance – healthy people – Katz wants to make four groups:

  1. The most vulnerable group concerns the 75+ age group with existing serious conditions. This group also includes people with a chronic disease of any age. He wants to separate these people strictly from society, including from his own family, and from visiting schools, gatherings – total quarantine. These are the people most at risk of dying.
  2. The second group concerns healthcare personnel. This must be tested continuously and also adhere to social distancing, but it does have room for maneuver.
  3. The third group concerns 60- to 74-year-olds with mild disorders. They must be shielded from the high-risk group and must be careful all the time.
  4. The least risk is for people who are younger than 60 and in good health. Katz wants to restore their freedom with the inexorable conditions of avoiding dealing with the high-risk group and maintaining social distance and washing hands.

So we should not be treating the whole society as if it were over-75s with underlying diseases, while, we think, Dr. Katz can distinguish between the groups based on their susceptibility to this disease.

Certainly, the “intelligent lockdown” has been a good decision, but it is now necessary to develop a scenario that points the way to restoration of normality before societies die an economic death. Can we analyze the dangers for healthy people under 60? If their hazard profile is similar to that of existing severe flu waves, we can remove additional restrictions for this group and then there is light at the end of the tunnel by the reconciliation of specific groups for diffuse solutions.

Free Self-Test: the Corona Resilience Test App

There are more aspects to Corona Resilience than simply assessment of specific versus diffuse orientations that our national institutions stimulate. Use the Corona Resilience app to explore our integrated approach based on our extensive research and consulting practice in how to test your resilience against the virus. This app enables you to quickly assess your individual and your society’s Corona Resilience Profile and gives you some personalized feedback and explanation of our methodology.

Click here to download the app.