The Coronavirus: Did We Somehow Deserve This?

I travel a lot for work. Last year I think I flew almost 300,000 miles, and while it takes a toll on my sleep, it’s energizing, educational, and lets me go out and serve my clients.

And as I travel I’ve always been amazed by how many people I see in airports. Almost all the planes have been full, the airports are bustling, and people are all on the go.

Suddenly all this has stopped. The Coronavirus has arrived.

This week four of the most important industry conferences in our profession were canceled. Many of the staff in our company have decided to stay home. My kids are working from home. My wife wants me to hang around the house. And almost every big company I talk with is halting travel plans.

Today I met with the head of recruiting from Hilton and she told me “all hiring is on hold.” Earlier this week I talked with the head of L&D and she told me “the hotel vacancies are higher than we imagined.” And just now I read that United, JetBlue, and most of the other airlines are canceling flights.

Listen, I get it. Nobody wants to spread the virus, catch the virus, or be responsible for making someone else’s life difficult. And getting sick is terrible: think of the lives lost and terrible experiences people are having in quarantine or lockdown.

And I fully understand that some businesses and many families are going to suffer, so I’m as frightened as you are.

But maybe something else is going on.

Maybe this is a cosmic message. A message that it’s just time to slow down.

Over the last ten years we’ve seen a frantic, almost frenetic pace of business. Companies have been hiring, growing, and spending money like never before. The roads are jammed, our cities are overcrowded, and the cost of housing is out of control. Where I live it’s almost impossible to live on $100,000 a year, and cities like Richmond and West Oakland, which used to be poor, are now so expensive many young people can’t afford to live there.

And global warming has arrived. We’ve dumped tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere without even thinking about it. When I go to India or China I can “see the air,” and nobody even notices it.

Here in California, we’ve had fires, floods, and power outages – and many of my friends are stockpiling food. I’ve even considered buying a generator just so I don’t have to stop my life when PG&E shuts things off.

And we have homelessness, income inequality, and too much economic injustice in our society. The middle class has been hurt and people in small cities or low skills are being left behind. This focus on growth, growth, growth, just has to stop.

For many years I’ve felt that “rapid growth is dangerous.”

I’ve worked for quite a few fast-growing companies, and in every case, I’ve noticed that it’s hard. It’s hard on people, hard on customers, and hard on families. Why do we have to grow so fast?  For what purpose?  Usually, it’s to beat out a competitor or to satisfy an investor. But is it really necessary?  I’ve always felt that taking care of customers and employees is our #1 goal – not growth for its own sake.

Well, I think the Coronavirus is teaching us a lesson. Maybe it’s just time to slow down.

We can travel a little less. We can spend more time with our families. We can go for a walk and get out of our cars. And we can think about making our cities, our towns, and our environment a little nicer.

You know what I’m talking about. I don’t care if the stock market goes down for a while – it hasn’t had a correction for almost 11 years, we’re just overdue. This virus may be here for a reason. Someone is giving us a message.

Yes, we’ll get past this – and let’s hope nobody else gets hurt in the process. But aside from worrying about our own health and wellness, let’s also think about the big message.  It’s time to slow down and take care of each other. We’ll all be better off if we do.

PS. Here’s Dr. Ian Lipkin’s excellent video discussion of the virus.

PPS. Here is a list of the “slowdown” in Tech events already happening.

PPPS. I’m really astounded and disappointed at how many tech companies have pounced on this crisis to try to sell me their virtual work, collaboration, or video conferencing tools.