The 80/20 solution is what we need now
To put it mildly, these are volatile times. While previous generations have seen worse, the massive changes that many Americans are experiencing with their daily routines and personal finances are significant and unsettling. Many people are asking themselves whether the advice they are receiving — to drastically reduce social interaction, per the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and President Trump — is valid. The reality? That advice is probably imperative to reducing the human and financial cost of COVID-19.
Are these solutions perfect? Perhaps not. But that does not mean we should ignore them. The Marine Corps often refers to the concept of an 80/20 (or even 60/40) solution. This means that, under the gun, one should move quickly to implement the solution, whether it be 80 percent or 60 percent perfected, that most likely addresses most of the problem. You accept the imperfection of the solution, and anticipate that you can improve it as you go.
If, for example, an enemy suddenly shifts their tactics to deploying unmanned, roadside bombs, you quickly up-armor your vehicles to survive the blasts. You later figure out how to stop the devices from detonating, and later still, develop advanced strategies for eliminating those who build and emplace the bombs.
In business, the ability to get an attractive, albeit imperfect, product to market quickly can make all the difference between survival and failure. With significant questions around its viability, Apple launched its innovative but imperfect iPhone in 2007, which Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer predicted would be an abysmal failure. Steve Jobs already knew the improvements he wanted to make in future versions of the iPhone, but understood that he needed to move a product to market before he could fine-tune its application. Long story short: It worked out pretty well.
Conversely, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) early attempts to repress information about the coronavirus provides a case study in how not to react to a threat. The Chinese government is partly responsible for this global pandemic, along with the ensuing volatility that has touched so many lives around the world, through their inability and unwillingness to accept an imperfect solution that would have allowed them to quickly implement the best steps available. The CCP can now attempt to cover its tracks, but had Chinese officials moved swiftly to implement an 80/20 or 60/40 solution, instead of trying to muzzle the now-deceased Dr. Li Wenliang, you might not be reading these words today.
From combat to business to everyday life, when suddenly faced with a stark challenge, the odds of success almost invariably improve by quickly addressing that challenge, even if imperfectly. And, even if our first attempt at a solution is imperfect, we learn from the application of that solution and can modify and perfect our answers accordingly.
In the case of fighting a pandemic, the sooner we slow the transmission of a virus, the better. Beyond washing your hands and being careful about coughing and sneezing, keeping distance between ourselves is one of the most effective things we can do right now to increase the speed of America’s return to normalcy.
To that point, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the case that by “hunkering down,” Americans can slow the rate of transmission and lower the curve of those infected by COVID-19. Although “hunkering down” may sound like a simplistic approach, it clearly is the right approach — whether or not you are at high risk to experience the most severe symptoms of COVID-19.
It is appropriate to be concerned for the plight of businesses and employees affected by closures, but as individuals, we can help the return to “business as usual” by slowing the rate of the virus’s transmission. Hunkering down may help to keep medical facilities from becoming overwhelmed with patients. Already, a COVID-19 vaccine is being tested, though it likely won’t come to market for a year or more.
President Trump is correct to have declared a national emergency and to advise Americans to avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more people. By doing so, he is advocating for proactive steps that ultimately will save long-term pain for the American people and return us to greater physical and economic health in a shorter period of time.
The prospect of facing down extreme volatility or unforeseen challenges often appears daunting. Today, parents struggle to take care of kids who are unexpectedly at home because schools are closed. These parents may be working from home temporarily, and worrying about their employers’ financial health. Many millions of Americans are watching their savings dwindle as the markets fluctuate, while worrying about the physical health of their loved ones.
Instead of feeling incapacitated, we can each make a solid contribution towards an imperfect, yet effective, solution. By practicing good hygiene and proactively ensuring that we limit unnecessary social interaction, we can help to lessen the impact of this pandemic and return to normal life as soon as possible.
Kevin Nicholson is president and CEO of No Better Friend Corp., a conservative public policy group in Wisconsin. He is a combat veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps (Iraq, 2007 and Afghanistan, 2008-2009) and was a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2018. Follow him on Twitter @KevinMNicholson.