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Picture by Kevin Ku.

Under promise, over deliver (mental shift)

Around 20 years ago, I worked as a manager for an Australian company (Servcorp). One day, we had an electricity shortage in our offices and a client came up to me, super upset, yelling, as if I had cut the cable or something. It was around 7.30am I looked outside the window and noticed that the whole neighberhood was in the dark. So I called the electricity company to find out what the situation was and they told me that all would be up and running by 9am; it was a power shortage in the neighbourhood.

Boy, was I relieved. Around 30 minutes later the CEO entered the office and asked me what I was going to communicate to the clients. So happy I had the news already, all cheery, I said that I would let them know it would be fixed by 9am. To which the CEO looked at me and said: wrong answer!

His answer quite surprised me, then he explained: you tell them it will be up and running by 10.00am so if it happens before you appear as a hero and if it happens after 9.00am you won’t have to deal with client’s frustration and impatience. He gave me a few examples of airline companies and added: the rule is: under promise, over deliver.

Why am I telling you this story? So you can practice it in your head and prepare your mind. Everywhere in Europe and probably in the US too, they have been giving a deadline for the confinement and then adding an extension and another one. Something tells me, this will happen again. Imagine if I had done that with my client at the time? This would have created havoc.

Mine is not just a gut feeling, although it was at the beginning. Just think: in China, the first case was detected beginning of November 2019 and they are still under a strict control and a loosen form of confinement (and have former experiences and medical supply) We are the first week of April 2020, 5 full months later.

In Europe, different countries are starting to think about their exit strategy. Our governments are looking at the strategy in Singapore and how to apply it to Europe but we are not there yet. And let’s not forget that Singapore or South Korea had already had the experience with SRAS. In Belgium, they don’t even agree wether we should wear a mask or not. The big underlying question of course being: if we should wear them, then do we have enough and if we have enough will it be the whole toilet paper experience again ? Austria unveiled their exit strategy, starting mid-april lasting until June but with revision every 2-3 weeks. Denmark too. But their numbers of confirmed cases and deaths are radically different and the population is required to wear masks (reminder: health is not a competence of the European Union, it is a national competence).

The UK is talking about a 6 months lockdown, in the US, the American Enterprise Institute talks about a period that could go up to 8 months, and I received yesterday a document from the Boston Consulting Group modelling John Hopkins University data where the lockdown in Belgium, where I live, could be until the first week of July. Obviously there are many variables to consider depending on where you live but one thing is sure to me: we haven’t seen the end to it yet, for the simple reason that until a serious, safe de-confinement strategy is planned, lockdown is the only way we won’t face a second wave. The ultimate safety being the vaccine.

So basically we know little. My assumption is that it will last longer than announced and the quicker we get our heads around it the better. If we assume, in our heads, that lockdown will last until let’s say July, if it happens before we will be thrilled (even though it won’t be yet back to the normal people expect). If we assume it is until the 19th of April 2020 (announced in Belgium with possible prolongation), then we will be disappointed, potentially irritated, and start displaying behaviours that are aggressive. The climate is already tense, I experienced it yesterday while getting groceries.

You can apply under promise, over deliver in your head. If I am wrong and lockdown ends on time or before another prolongation, while still ensuring our safety, I will be extremely happy to have been proven wrong. Trust me, I have a lot at stake here and extending the deadline in my head is the best way I have found to practice patience and acceptance.

« Prepare for the worst, hope for the best » is a quote attributed to Benjamin Disraeli. Austria and Denmark give me hope, but I remain cautious.

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