Covid Consequences

The Ten Dilemmas Every Country Must Face

At the Transcend Strategy Group, we take dilemmas very seriously, and believe they offer a short cut to deeper understanding and insight about complex and difficult situations. In 2004, we wrote The Power of the 2 x 2 Matrix, a primer on dialectical thinking and problem-solving, and we have been putting those lessons to use in courses and with clients ever since.

Dilemmas are challenges comprised of two competing interests which are inextricably connected. We want our food to be tasty and it also needs to be safe and healthy. In making career choices, we seek meaningful work and we want to earn a good salary. Any situation with sufficient complexity and uncertainty can be and often is a dilemma. Viewing an issue as a dilemma enriches our perspective and focuses us on the dynamic nature of the situation. Rather than choosing one or the other of the key dimensions at play, our task shifts to retaining or achieving some of each through careful and creative integration. How can we produce food that is nutritious and tasty? What job options offer both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards?

Grappling with COVID-19 has focused everyone’s attention on the primary challenge of saving lives and preventing further spread of the disease. The long-term success in addressing this threat however, includes considering and planning for other important factors, some economic and pragmatic, and others more moral in nature.

In this piece, we’d like to share our take on the most important dilemmas facing leaders around the world (note, dilemmas are not listed in any order).In subsequent writing, we will take a run at modeling each of these dilemmas more fully, and exploring implications and advice that arises from the analysis.

We offer this in the spirit of dialogue, and would love to hear readers’ thoughts on what the biggest dilemmas are and how they need to be managed.

#1 – The economic dilemma – Save lives versus protect jobs and the economy

As countries begin to see results from aggressive social distancing, pressures mount to lift restrictions and return to a state where gatherings of all kinds, both work and play, are again the norm.We value our health, and we also need to work and feel productive. Headlines today herald experiments with lowering restrictions in parts of Europe, China, Brazil, and some US states. Reopening economies may prove to be as much an art as a science, as leaders strive for the perfect balancing of these two essential needs.

#2 – The personal freedom dilemma – empowering governments to take necessary action versus preserving personal freedom and democracy

Crises sometimes require extraordinary measures. In the face of emergencies, governments need to be able to act decisively and quickly. We all get that. In some countries, like China and Israel, this has led to an acceptance of behaviour-tracking technologies that seriously encroach on personal freedom. The danger lies in emergency measures becoming the new normal once the threat has receded. The question then becomes, safety and efficiency at what price?

#3 – The whose self-interest matters more dilemma – local interests versus broader, shared interests

In times of danger, it’s natural for us to want to protect our families and loved ones. The ability to defend and pursue ones’ self-interest is fundamental to democratic and free market models. But balance is also necessary for the larger system to work and stay healthy. Without such balance, we risk distortions in the distribution of benefits and power that eventually undermine the system’s viability.Fighting an infectious disease presents an even greater challenge, since each of our individual vulnerabilities depends so heavily on the success of others. This suggests sometimes choosing global actions over local needs, never an easy choice.

#4 – The compliance dilemma – voluntary compliance versus laws and penalties

Governments are asking their citizens to help defeat the virus by dramatically altering their lifestyles: self-isolate, work from home, segregate your kids, and more. This works well when people choose to cooperate, but what do you do when they don’t buy in? What happens in parts of the world where a robust publicly funded safety net is not available, and people decide that breaking distancing rules is safer than conforming with them?

#5 – The rapid cure dilemma – speedy cure versus tested, reliable & safe cure

It is exceedingly difficult and rare for leaders around the world to agree on matters of importance, and yet, there is near universal consensus that a return to “normal” will not happen until there is an effective vaccine. This is creating great incentive for creative research, and there are promising signs. We know from disasters like thalidomide in the 1950’s the potential human cost of unintended consequences. Yet, there is tremendous pressure, from fearful populaces to Presidents, to advance the timetable any way we can.

#6 – The care-giver risk dilemma – Put medical staff at risk (to attend to the sick) vs. protect them at the cost of more people suffering and dying

We are asking a great deal from those in professions that put workers at personal risk of contracting the disease. This is especially true for medical staff in hospitals and care providers in seniors’ facilities. To make the matter worse, these health care staff often find themselves working for low wages and under dangerous conditions. How much exposure can we fairly expect, and what does, society, owe these people in return?

#7 – The framing dilemma – reassure and encourage people versus scare and threaten them

People are turning to prime ministers, presidents and premiers for guidance and support. In most countries, there are regular briefings being delivered on the radio and online, keeping citizens updated on progress and plans. At these briefings, leaders get to frame the situation as under control, tenuous, threatening, or even more dire. The goal is two-fold; to reassure people and to elicit their compliance. They need to take the situation seriously, but not panic.

#8 – The affordability dilemma – exercise restraint (only spend what government can afford) versus maintain a complete safety net

Most countries are spending their way through the pandemic, shoring up households and businesses so they remain viable and can recover after restrictions are lifted. But surely, there are limits to spending, beyond which the price is simply too high to bear. What is the right balance between debt and life support? A slightly different way to define this dilemma is to assume there are limits to spending capacity, and to ask which costs government should carry, and which should be pushed out to companies and individuals.

#9 – The moral dilemma – cost containment versus equitable and fair access to medical and related assistance

COVID-19 is being felt by everyone, but arguably, not equally. The wealthy, the young and the well-housed are far better off. Providing everyone in our society equal access and quality of support is expensive, but aligns with our better values and sense of ourselves. This dilemma becomes even more acute when we widen the definition of “us” to include the whole world. How much can we afford to spend to protect the poorest and weakest, and how little can we spend and still maintain self-respect?

#10 – The looming global environmental crisis dilemma –unlimited focus on COVID versus retaining capacity for climate change

A mere four or five months ago, COVID-19 didn’t exist, and world leaders were already grappling with how to prepare for a global environmental crisis. Climate change and its disastrous effects 

are scientifically understood and accepted (97% of scientists agree), but this has led to limited capacity building and investment in preparedness. We appear to be walking into this abyss with our collective eyes wide-shut! The current pandemic can either rob countries of any surplus response capacity, or, it can be a timely wake-up call and learning moment.

OK, those are the big 10! Do you agree with our list and how we have described the dilemmas?

What have we left out? How well are your own national and local governments faring on the dilemma front? We look forward to hearing from some of you about this. And, we will be following up in the days to come with more detailed looks at what each of these dilemmas really means and how leaders and policy makers need to approach them.

Formal Versus Casual In Time And Things: An Exercise In Empathy

Consultant, author, and speaker Mimi Donaldson is an expert in training, education, and supervisory management, among many other things. She honed her skills as a Director of Educational Media and an internal trainer at Rockwell teaching presentation skills to supervisors and managers. Since 1984 she has helmed her own company, consulting clients and speaking. When one client had a problem with relations between customers and front-line staff she was called in to define the issues and then train employees. And, it is there, that she came across this map of people’s attitudes about time and things, which I’ve turned into a perceptual map, called Formal-Versus-Casual. She developed the idea behind it in an effort to teach managers and front-line personnel to show more empathy toward employees and customers, respectively. After I heard her discuss this experience in a public speaking engagement last year I knew I’d eventually write about it.
Formal Versus Casual
Her insight was that there were people who are formal about time, and those who are formal about things. And, conversely, there are people who are casual about time, and those who are casual about things. Donaldson says “Formal=Time people get to the meeting early. They always want to arrive early. Casual-Time people, on the other hand, dash in just as the speaker is beginning, at which point, really formal people may become passive-aggressive. and let out a rushed sigh sound. You know that sound? [Strong, slow exhalation of breath]. At that point a casual-time person my respond “What’s your problem?”)
In person, Donaldson’s stories about formal versus casual people are funny. But her point is that these were not merely choices. People rarely change. They may mature and become flexible in their behavior. They may have a backup style. But they are who they are. The Formal-Time manager carries a grudge against an employee who is late for meetings; but the Casual-Time employee wonders “What’s the big deal?”
Some people mix the two: Formal-About-Time, Informal-About-Things. They get to the airport on time usually, but always lose their keys. “This” says Donaldson, “is my style.” Others have a place for everything from the library card to sunglasses to parking stubs. Always the same place. They hate wasting time looking for things the same way the Casual-About-Time person hates waiting three hours in an airport. The Formal-About-Things person actually gets physically ill when the Casual-About-Things person is looking for his or her keys because it means they’ll be late, too.
Donaldson discovered that many conflicts between managers and employees and employees and customers could be ameliorated with some rules that helped imbue any situation with empathy. She taught front-line employees to say…
“I understand how frustrated you are. Especially on Christmas Eve (or insert other reason). Here’s the situation: The electric company is here and working on  it right now and the lights will be on within an hour.” Nine times out of ten, Donaldson explains, the customer will then say “Thank you.”
In effect her rule was: First, Empathize, and second, let them know you heard their complaint. Third, then say “Here’s the situation:” Not “But,” and never “However” because the brain hears those as “No.” Instead, saying “Here’s the situation” engages the left brain to hear important facts. “And, if you can, explain to them how the problem ultimately will be solved,” she adds.  “Even if ‘Here’s the situation’ means there is no budget for what the customer wants, at least he knows know that people share his feelings and they are hearing him.
Empathy Matrix

Much like a personality test, the four quadrants define a personal approach to the world.
Upper Left–Casual/Formal: The always-late person who has the details memorized but is overbooked at work.
Lower Left–Formal/Formal: Highly organized, but somewhat rigid in approach.
Lower Right–Formal/Casual: A flexible person who tries to be timely but is challenged in paying attention to details.
Upper Right–Casual/Casual: Late AND messy. This person sometimes is a subject matter expert, a procrastinating creative.

Tone And Ideology May Determine Candidate Viability

Writing about 2020 Democratic candidates on the FiveThirtyEight web site in January, Nathaniel Rakich makes the observation that “Really, party divisions unfold along two dimensions: ideology (progressive vs. moderate) and tone (establishment vs. anti-establishment).  One of his points is that this is a far better predictor of primary success than strict ideology.

Voters are in an anti-establishment mood, in the United States and in other countries. And, voters are often willing to vote for a candidate who may not agree with them on all positions if they are more in tune emotionally with the candidate’s tone. At least three times in the late twentieth century anti-establishment candidates played a role in election outcomes. In 1968 third-party candidate George Wallace’s rabid campaign message struck a chord in southern and blue-collar midwestern states, and probably denied victory to Democrat Hubert Humphrey. In 1980 Reagan ran as a strong anti-government outsider and defeated Jimmy Carter, who also had run as an outsider in 1976. In 1992, Ross Perot fired up nearly 20 percent of voters in his independent quest for the Presidency, damaging the campaign of George H.W. Bush and helping to elect Bill Clinton.

In 2020 Democrats will reprise elements of the Republican primary campaign of 2016 with perhaps two dozen candidates fighting for voter attention. Candidates ranging from John Delaney and Howard Schulz to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders will represent a wide range of ideologies and tones

The dilemma for candidates is that the path to victory in politics is to build a big coalition; there is power in numbers. Trump won a victory in 2016 that was surprising—perhaps even to him—based on animating and aligning many different interest groups, from Reagan Democrats to pro-lifers, and Tea Party anti-tax voters.

Establishment Democratic candidates next year must answer the question of whether they can adjust their tone to appeal to anti-establishment voters while bringing the moderate and traditional establishment voters along with them; or whether they will suffer the fate that befell Republican establishment politicians in the runup to the 2016 election.

Blatant And Critical Closes The Sale

“You will never reach your goal if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” Winston Churchill

The Blatant-Critical Matrix is a model taught by Mark Skok, a principal at North Bridge Venture Partners. He specializes in working with tech startups selling software into enterprise markets. The matrix is a tool used to help entrepreneurs focus, to help them strip away the barking dogs that cloud their market vision. Though his particular focus is enterprise software startups, the concepts of the matrix can easily apply to other markets and be useful in planning exercises.

The following is based on a lecture Mr. Skok gave at Harvard. The article version is available here.

Enterprise markets differ from consumer markets in key ways. Product features typically are driven by specific technical needs of customers. Cost considerations are crucial. And, issues that are important to consumers, such as color, packaging, and some of the warmer, fuzzier brand attributes are less important in the enterprise world.

Mr. Skok says software startups need to ask two question of their solution. The first is “Is it BLAC and white?” “BLAC” is an acronym which asks if your solution addresses customer needs that are Blatant and Critical. “White” is shorthand for “Does your solution address a market white space?” a gap in the market that is not served well by current offerings. Let’s discuss what these mean.

The Axes
Vertical Axis: Visibility. Blatant problems are ones that are obvious to the client. Latent problems are unknown or unacknowledged. Latent problems may well be worth solving, but they require educating the customer about the value of solutions. For a startup software business, that education requirement greatly lengthens the time from first contact to adoption, adding costs most startups can ill afford.

Horizontal Axis: Customer Need. Critical problems are important and relevant. They affect business outcomes. People’s careers can be made (or broken) by how such problems are addressed. The customer needs for these problems to be solved now.

Aspirational needs are those that meet customer needs for success and social status or prestige. Meeting these needs are not germane to today’s enterprise results. Skok makes the point that Aspirational solutions are crucial in consumer markets where enormous profits come from identifying the unexpressed needs and ambitions of customers. Consumers may not have known they needed cat videos, disappearing photos, or a device carrying 50,000 songs in their pocket, but creating such products unlocked huge markets and profits.

The Matrix
Upper left: Blatant/Aspirational. The problem is obvious but not critical. For example, a firm may want to transition its solution to a new interface that addresses future computing trends. But the company may be averse to solving that problem in its current budget. Customers are not ready to pay more for that solution yet.

Lower left: Latent/Aspirational: In a sense, this quadrant represents the unknown/unknowns. The market may harbor emerging challenges that have not yet coalesced into a problem for companies or end-customers. These require education and imaginative products in order to build a fire under the prospect.

Lower right: Latent/Critical. Unforeseen crises and future challenges reside in the latent/critical corner. These are problems that will hurt results but are not currently in the customer’s frame of reference.

Upper right: Blatant/Critical. These are the problems that are affecting financial performance now. Skok says these are the only problems most software startups should try to solve. It’s not enough to identify the Blatant/Critical problem. Solutions that succeed in the market must offer a performance gain great than the cost of changing software in the client company. In Skok’s view customers need a 10x gain in costs, time, and competitive advantage in order to justify the cost and pain of changing solutions. He offers a complete methodology for that analysis.

This strategic matrix actually recalls some earlier models in other domains, such as Stephen Covey’s highly influential urgency and importance matrix. Covey’s work on the tradeoffs between tasks that are important (similar to blatant), versus those that are merely urgent (critical) sent many a manager on a lifelong quest to optimize his or her time.

The Republican Party Power Versus Principle Problem

“I never believed in costly frontal attacks either in war or in politics, if there were a way round.” –Lloyd George

David Lloyd George, was famous for his political flexibility. He changed positions on major issues during his career and was willing to compromise with a shifting cast of political partners in order to gain strategic advantage. And, he was very successful. He was England’s Prime Minster from 1916-22 and perhaps the UK’s most influential 20th century politician.

In the battle between holding fast to principles or occasionally bending one’s beliefs in order to acquire power, you could say that Lloyd George bent. His career points to a crucial political dilemma, one that challenges all parties and candidates, and especially today’s Republicans. It’s the dilemma of power versus principle. Strong principles are a virtue but a party that cannot gain power cannot enact its principles into laws.

Voices inside and outside the Republican party are now saying it needs to be a bit more like Lloyd George. It needs to moderate its positions–or take new ones–on a wide range of issues such as women’s rights, gay marriage, immigration, guns, regulations, and budget tradeoffs. They fear that principled intransigence on these issues may alienate women, minorities, young people, and recent immigrants. They want an inclusive “big tent” party. Without those voters the party risks becoming too white, too old, too male, and too rural to lead in the future. Rand Paul recently said “I think Republicans will not win again in my lifetime for the presidency unless they become a new GOP, a new Republican Party,” during a speech in which he advocated an end to the war on drugs.

The Battle Rejoined
The tension between power and principle, and between Republican pragmatists and conservative true believers , has gone on since at least the end of World War II. Republican Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford and Bush I are generally considered more pragmatic, appealing to the middle of the political electorate. Reagan and Bush II are generally the icons of those who argue for more principled party positions and less compromise.

A political party needs principles, and a vigorous vision, but it also needs to win elections. Lloyd George avoided head-on ideological assaults on his opponents, dismaying fans of unyielding principles. But by the time his career was over, his liberal welfare state vision for Britain, as well as numerous other legislative and foreign policy initiatives, had become reality.

Fig. 1 Power versus principle.

Examining Power Versus Principle
Power: The ability to affect the course of political events or more specifically, the degree to which a party can elect enough people to make key parts of its platform into law.

Principle: The fundamental truths that serve as a political party’s foundation. The degree to which a political party (or candidate) adheres consistently to a set of inviolate principles and positions.

Upper left: Power without principle. Political parties and individuals are prone to pursuing and using power for it’s own sake, ultimately undermining their voter support and themselves. Richard Nixon took positions as an antiwar candidate in 1968, when he had zero plans for ending the conflict in Vietnam. By the end of his term in office his administration was exposed as unprincipled, and even criminal.

Lower Left: Low Principle, Low Power. Parties whose platform is unclear or that latch on to a galvanizing issue without a strong underlying philosophy may last for an election or two but will soon fade. George Wallace, who tapped into anger over racial integration in the US in the 1960s, was such a candidate.

Lower Right: High Principles, Low Power. Presidential candidates Barry Goldwater (R-1964) and George McGovern (D-1972) both suffered landslide defeats at the hands of pragmatic candidates who were seen as less extreme and more centrist in their views.

Upper Right: High Power, High Principles. Parties that win consistently do not merely reflect the midpoint of the electorate. They redefine it. They reposition the middle. This is what Reagan did in the 1980s and what Roosevelt did in the 1930s. They had great skills at working with others and sometimes compromising, but they also had a distinct vision, embedded in core principles, that drove their base of supporters. As with Lloyd George, their skill was reaching out to enough voters in the middle to gain effective power, while keeping true to a set of core principles that animated their most loyal supporters. By doing so, they reset the boundaries of the political middle for decades after they were in office.


Archetypally, power versus principle is often described as a contest between means and ends. Do the ends (power) justify the means (watering down the party’s core principles)? Conservatives such as Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) say no. They believe that by holding fast to principles they will succeed like Reagan rather than fail like Goldwater. Republican primary voters in the next election will provide the answer.

Want More Info?
Here are two interesting debates on this issue.
1. GOP Must Seize The Center
2. PBS commentary from David Brooks and Mark Shields