COVID-19 Adaptation and Planning via Neuroscience

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COVID-19 Adaptation and Planning via Neuroscience

By Dr. Gleb Tsipursky | May 14, 2020

Our society as a whole failed to prepare effectively for the coronavirus pandemic. To adapt and plan effectively for the “new abnormal” as a meeting planner, you need to understand the causes of these failures and what steps you can take to address them.

We suffer from many dangerous judgment errors that researchers in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics like myself call cognitive biases, which undermined our ability to address the pandemic. These mental blind spots result from a combination of our evolutionary background and specific structural features in how our brains are wired.

“You need to pivot for the long term by revising your strategic plans in a way that accounts for cognitive biases.”

Specifically, you need to watch out for three cognitive biases.

1. The normalcy bias causes our brains to assume things will keep going as they have been—normally—and evaluate the near-term future based on our short-term past experience. As a result, we underestimate drastically both the likelihood of a serious disruption occurring and the impact of one if it does occur.

2. When we make plans, we naturally believe that the future will go according to plan. That wrong-headed mental blind spot, the planning fallacy, results in us not preparing for contingencies and problems, both predictable ones and unknown unknowns.

3. Last but not least, we suffer from the tendency to prioritize the short-term and undercount the importance of medium- and long-term outcomes. Known as hyperbolic discounting, this cognitive bias is especially bad for evaluating the potential long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To address these cognitive biases in relation to the pandemic, you have to adopt a realistic and even pessimistic perspective. We have no way of coping with the pandemic save a combination of shutdowns and social distancing as we wait for the development of an effective vaccine. (We still don’t have an effective vaccine for the flu, as our current version is only about 50 percent effective in preventing infections.)

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Ray Dalio, who leads Bridgewater Associates and manages more than US$150 billion in investor assets, said early in the pandemic: “As with investing, I hope that you will imagine the worst-case scenario and protect yourself against it.” So what would it mean for your meeting planning if you plan for the worst, while, of course, hoping for the best?

You need to pivot for the long term by revising your strategic plans in a way that accounts for cognitive biases. By doing so, you’ll protect your meeting planning strategy from our deeply inadequate gut reactions in the face of such slow-moving train wrecks.

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash



Gleb Tsipursky
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is an internationally-renowned thought leader and speaker on future-proofing and cognitive bias risk management. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-proofing consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts, which specializes in helping forward-looking leaders avoid dangerous threats and missed opportunities. A best-selling author, he wrote Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters, The Blindspots Between Us: How to Overcome Unconscious Cognitive Bias and Build Better Relationships and Resilience: Adapt and Plan for the New Abnormal of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic.