Fear, Uncertainty and the Land of Math
According to a recent poll, 99% of Americans are aware of the coronavirus and Covid-19. This is pretty much the highest percentage of Americans that has ever been aware of anything, though 9/11 comes close.
The poll result does not mean that all of the 99% is equally aware or that they are all having the same response. There are good reasons for this.
A lot of math is involved in predicting the progress of the pandemic and many people run in the opposite direction when they see the first number. They run faster when the numbers are part of equations.
Worse, some of the numbers are estimates that can be ignored if they don’t fit in to our pre-existing mindset.
Worse still, compounding can be counterintuitive. If the cases double every three days, there will be more than 1000 (1024 to be exact) times as many cases one month later. Today, there are 5894 cases in the United States. If the number doubles every three days, there will be more than 6,000,000 cases when you file your tax return. If you are three days late, the number will be 12,000,000.
The point of this story is not to walk you through the math of epidemiology, it is to shed some light on why others might not agree with your opinion (whatever it is) on the seriousness of the situation.
The picture at the top is well known to entrepreneurs. It depicts the diffusion of innovation.
Imagine you come up with a new idea like a cell phone or email or a wearable health and fitness monitor. Do you try to sell it to everyone, or do you focus on different groups in a specific order?
Way back in the 1960’s, business school researchers learned that new ideas will first be sold to a tiny percentage of innovators, then to a larger group of early adopters and so on as shown in the chart.
If you know a Tesla owner, he is an innovator and he is part of only 2.5% of the population that always wants the newest thing. If you know someone who does not own a cellphone, he is a laggard who is in the last 16% of the population to do anything new.
Coming to grips with a pandemic is sort of the same. The seriousness of the situation needs to be “sold” to innovators, early adopters, the early majority, the late majority and the laggards in that order and with different sales techniques.
The challenge is that everyone has to get on board quickly or we won’t contain the problem. Maybe the innovators and early adopters would do well to join in the effort to convince the late majority and the laggards?
It might not be possible to mobilize such an effort, but the diffusion of innovation curve might help you to understand why others take the coronavirus more or less seriously than you do.