Life Beyond COVID-19

February 25, 2021
Skeletal reconstruction of a tyrannosaurus rex.
Photo by Jon Butterworth on Unsplash

Watching our MUSC teams across the enterprise rise, repeatedly, to the ever-changing and coming challenges related to living through a global pandemic has been a remarkable experience. It’s even more remarkable when you remember that all of these individuals, while doing their respective parts to fulfill the vision and mission of the institution, have been facing the added layers of stress, frustration and worry in the daily cadence of life, along with everyone else.

COVID-19 has impacted our lives in many dramatic ways, forcing apparent changes in our daily routines, and also precipitating ongoing changes, positive and negative, that we do not yet fully understand.

I connected this thought recently with a book I was reading called “Digital Transformation,” written by Thomas Siebel. Without going too far down a rabbit hole, his discussion was about how some version of “punctuated equilibrium” is happening in our society and economy as a result of the digital age.

What is “punctuated equilibrium”? The theory was initially put forward by American paleontologists Niles Eldredge (1943-) and Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) as it applies to evolution. Simply put, they suggested that gradual change doesn't happen. A long period of “normal” is disrupted by a dramatic shift. Think mass extinction of the dinosaurs after 165 million years because of some cataclysmic event, followed by the rise of mammals.

The concept of punctuated equilibrium also appears to have meaning for us. To paraphrase Siebel, when science and technology meet social and economic systems‚ you tend to see punctuated equilibrium-like events. Something that has long been the norm (horses for transportation) suddenly changes because of an alignment of circumstances (invention of the combustible engine, industrial age technologies, and innovators like Henry Ford). And then when the smoke clears, something has dramatically changed (the automobile replaces the horse). Some examples of “punctuated” drivers of dramatic change in our world have included the discovery of fire‚ the industrial age, the Gutenberg Press‚ the steam engine‚ electricity‚ the microprocessor and the Internet. To quote Siebel, “Each of these innovations collided with a society that had been in a period of relative long-term stasis and then all hell broke loose.” In the business world, there is a tipping point, or pressure, that precipitated transformative change that required an ability to innovatively respond to survive… or not (think Kodak and digital photography).

We are on the front end of a “punctuation point” in health care. Unsustainable costs, poor access, inequitable delivery, redundancy, hyper competition, lack of transparency- all point to the need for transformational changes. COVID-19 is just another tipping point pressure. If this is true, then the honest question is: are we in a position to pivot and evolve, or will we become a fossil artifact to be discovered and labeled by some future economic paleontologist (Tyrannosaurus MUSC Rex)?