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Distortion is the New Normal in the Age of Coronavirus

by | Mar 17, 2020 | Discoveries

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The sweep and scale are jarring. Your college student just got sent home to finish out the term with online classes. Your museum is closing for a few weeks. Your event was cancelled. Your retirement account isn’t what it was on March 5th.  
New themes for 2020: social distancing, self-quarantine, and elbow bumping in lieu of hugs.
Until further notice, here’s your cheat sheet. 
Distortion Index

COVID-19 distorts; it isn’t merely a disruption or displacement. Some of its consequences will alter daily life for years in unexpected ways as we see broader adoption of remote workplaces, and online learning, for example. New habits will be formed; old rituals abandoned. 
Our advice: Keep your eye on trends, disruptions, and distortions in three areas: people, the economy, and politics. Collectively, they drive your customer’s choices and inform your competitor’s actions. Each is experiencing unprecedented impacts with broad sweeps of exponential proportion. 

Impact the nature, scale and speed of change 

Sweep – local, to national and local; and the reverse, from global to hyper-local

Let’s take a closer look at three areas I’ve mentioned above:


People –  Study the overlap and interplay of “all things people”: consumer preferences, social shifts, demographic trends, and displacements due to strife, climate, and economic conditions.

Fasten Your Steatbelts.

Karla Raines, 2020

  • Impact – We feel like the earth shifted below us. There is a growing sense of uncertainty that feels destabilizing for so many, and the realities aren’t far behind. The full ramifications are unknown.


  • Sweep – The span of impact reaches from local to national and international, and back again – in one day.


  • Indicators – Heightened anxiety creates selfishness as evidenced by runs on toilet paper and abandoned self-quarantines.  We relearn hand washing.

The economy – Consider everything from the gig economy to disposable income, earnings, borrowing, and the sheer capacity to create, build, deliver, and serve.

Turbulence Ahead.

Karla Raines, 2020

  • Impact – Most likely your economic situation changed negatively in the blink of an eye. Delays, cancellations, and extended breaks will ripple through the economy for many months, most likely.


  • Sweep – Economic forces move from global to local as multinational companies pull back, and local small businesses and nonprofits feel the effects reduced demand and short supply.


  • Indicators – Leading indicators are job loss in “early warning” industries, such as conferences and air travel. This is only the beginning of a domino effect across the broader global economy.

Public policy and politics – Governments are contending with uncivil discourse, changing ideologies, displacements of people, and a fractured sense of identity.

Barf Bag.

Karla Raines, 2020

  • Impact – Democracies and other forms of government are being put to the test. Typically, public policy requires a long runway for change to occur. Governments are known for slow moves. When speed and collaboration is required, you know to expect challenges.


  • Sweep – All politics are hyper-local as cities and states become the epicenter of leadership in times of crisis. 


  • Indicators – Tweets challenge government agencies to bring urgency, transparency, and bold action.
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