Systems Thinking and Pareto for COVID-19

This will maybe, hopefully, sort of be short. These thoughts are too long for a post, but fit this format ok. I’ve noticed a couple things about the response to the virus:

  • Most folks are focused on a single component or segment of the virus’ impact and,
  • Most people are focused only on solutions that are absolute or are meant to defeat the virus

I’m not going to provide data to back these anecdotal comments. The data right now around COVID is uncertain and driven by multiple groups with their own agenda, so I’ll stay out of that. Needless to say, this is what I conclude based on observation.

So let’s talk about point 1. Most people that I observe are focused on the weeds of this pandemic/virus – number of cases, number of hospitalizations, number of deaths, loss of jobs, downturn of the economy and the data behind that, impact on religious gathering, peaceful protest, speech, etc. But are we taking a systems view of this issue? It seems like we are trying to optimize segments or single bottlenecks while not looking at the big picture – how we adapt and adjust the entire system to prepare for more of this kind of variable without destroying what we have done as a people.

Now point 2. Enter the Pareto Principle. Effectively (and oversimplified), the Pareto Principle states that 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes. It could also be said that 80% of outcomes come from 20% of the investment. There is another piece to this. It also says that the last 20% of outcomes require the remaining 80% (or more) of the investment.

Have you walked into a store recently and look for “COVID Symptom Relief” over the counter meds? What about the stories and reports about all ways we are investigating and pouring funding into solutions other than vaccines? Nope. We are not really focused on treatment but rather eradication. Vaccines are the “100%” which will require everything we have and may not show the outcome we desire. On the flip side, we are working with PPE, but is that even the least investment?

I don’t know if we can eradicate this thing, but I do know that if keep looking at small segments, we keep trying to pour 100% of the funding into the last 20% of the outcomes, that we risk not adapting to meet the upcoming threats to our health.

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