Nobody really knows and we’ll have to predict anyway

4 minute read


What’s temporary and what’s not? Nobody really knows and we’ll have to predict anyway

Summary of summaries

The past few weeks I’ve summarised talks by business experts on how they’re coping with the current crisis. I’ve finally cleared my backlog of talks (and am slightly burnt out from writing so often) and we’ll be going back to the regular weekly schedule of random interesting topics [1].

Before that, let’s do a recap of what we covered, which included opinions from:

  1. COOs Michelle Zatlyn, Cloudflare and Lexi Reese, Gusto
  2. CMOs Janine Pelosi, Zoom and Meagen Eisenberg, TripActions
  3. CFOs Elena Gomez, Zendesk and Kelly Steckelberg, Zoom
  4. Venture capitalists Josh Wolfe (warning, 5k words) and Fred Wilson
  5. Education expert Megan O’Connor and food industry experts Jacquelyn Howard, Bill Strassburg, Øisten Thorsen, Catherine Tubb

Common themes from the experts

Nobody really knows what’s going to happen. Given the intersection of so many different layers such as biology, economics, sociology, we’re having a hard enough time figuring out first order impacts. Let alone the delayed second order or more impacts.

But, everyone wants predictions. Whether it’s based on gut feel or scenario planning (see: nicely dressed up gut feel), everyone is looking for a framework to use in order to make decisions. We know predictions are going to be wrong but have to use them anyway, since there’s no other choice.

People are tracking actual outcomes more closely. Since the situation is changing so quickly, there’s a higher need to shorten feedback loops in order to go back to predicting and deciding.

Tactics that worked before might have temporarily stopped working. The pullback in spend in most categories implies that your sales and marketing spend should go further now, as competition has fallen. But typical channels you make sales in may also be closed.

Companies want to focus on customers and employees even more. Whether this is PR or reality remains to be seen. I do agree C level execs should listen to sales and customer service calls to learn. I’m more cynical on companies caring about employees [2].

And one key way of doing so is by increasing communications. There’s a legitimate concern that customers and employees will start to switch off if they don’t hear from you enough. The tone of communications matters to most people though, as seen by how Gal Gadot is ridiculed but John krasinski and the Hamilton cast are applauded [3].

Going virtual has reduced barriers and increased accessibility. People are able to attend online events and interact directly with famous people they’d have less chance of doing so before [4].

Going virtual has also increased the scale at which you can provide an experience. Marginal cost of serving an attendee is low. The problem now is how special of an experience it is.

Companies are slowly rethinking usage of office and school space. The longer this drags on, the more people are planning for a drastically different in person experience.

People are also claiming to be rethinking efficiency vs resiliency. More people are saying that we’ve over optimised for efficiency and hence have no redundancy, leading to a brittle economy. They now claim to want to move back.

Public opinion is like a pendulum. It’s hard to sustain a mood for long, whether that’s clapping for your healthcare workers or feeling solidarity in lockdowns.

Three additional questions from me

The big question now that everyone wants to know is what sticks and what doesn’t? I’m doubtful that this is the end of in person social experiences. We’re all tolerating this with the shared assumption that everything is temporary, and we’ll soon be back to grinding on someone’s sweaty body in a dingy club in Brooklyn. Activities that have a social component at their core will remain intact. I think we’re going to be back to large scale crowded experiences by 2021 summer at 60% probability.

Some other areas that people think are likely to change are healthcare, education, and real estate.

I’ve no expertise in healthcare so will reserve comment, though it does seem some legislation is being relaxed.

Education seems likely to change for some institutions, depending on what value they were providing before. Were they just a certificate factory? A skills center? A social status building daycare club?

It seems likely that growth in urbanisation % will slow, and I still think the % growth will be positive. Young people still want to go to hubs of similarly aged peers, and have activities to do there, such as the dingy clubs in Brooklyn.

Which groups will increase in status and which will decrease in status? Tyler Cowen has some predictions here. The effects of status changes aren’t immediate, but will be impactful over the long term. For example, on the margin, someone might be more inclined to study medicine now, which will have an effect on the system only years later.

What actions can someone take to set themselves up for the better? Beyond the regular “learn to code”, “network”, “create things”, is there any new opportunity or tool that people can take advantage of? The direct access to things mentioned above seems useful.


  1. I’m thinking of doing a summary of a talk about the search for alien life and whales, just to give some indication of how random
  2. I’m not saying don’t be an employee, but that you should keep in mind the tradeoffs, per Nassim Taleb
  3. I’m much less critical of Gal than the public seems to be. Sure, it’s slightly tone deaf, but really not the biggest problem we have.
  4. Not to downplay the lack of internet infrastructure that many lower income groups lack though, which is a big problem.
  5. I’d bump that higher the longer we go out. In 3 years I think we’ll all be back in large gatherings

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