Adapting to the New Normal (Part I)

“We were not prepared” is memorialized in wet graffiti letters upon a concrete block wall across a littered and surprisingly empty sidewalk of the inner city. It is a scene I would expect to view in a forthcoming dystopian movie trailer. Instead, it is the beginning of our future history lessons and the legacy-to-be-written for COVID-19. While technology was busy disrupting industry, Mother Nature disrupted humanity.

Like most great disrupters, it began in what appears to be a relatively innocuous form. Perhaps as originally unassuming as sending 140 characters on Twitter, a small genetic sequence has transformed our world. As a result, skies are clearer, less oil is being consumed, humans have retreated into their homes while wildlife roams free -- and humanity is scrambling like the disrupted incumbent.


Like any disrupted incumbent, we are left asking ourselves:  

  • “How did this happen?”
  • “How did we not see this coming?” 
  • “What does this mean for our future?”

These answers will only come with time, although with much certainty we can say that things will now be different.

But… How different? Will humanity fall into the same trap from its past believing that we are too big and powerful to be taken down to our knees? Or will we finally ignore the naive disillusion that this disaster was just a flash in the pan and soon enough we can continue to go about our usual ways?

Doubling down on a previous system in response to a global shift has never boded well for any incumbent. Think taxi cabs after Uber, travel agents after Kayak and movie stores after Netflix... 

Let’s be clear on paradigm shifts- we were not any more prepared for COVID-19 than we were for the 1930's Great Depression, the HIV/AIDS global epidemic, the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, the 2011 Fukushima Disaster and countless disasters in between. Similarly, titans of previous industry were no more prepared for the evolution of automobiles, the connectivity of the Internet, or pivotal technologies in between.

What humanity needs to do next may seem nearly impossible to predict. The most gifted entrepreneurs position themselves at the nexus of opportunity by “skating to where the puck will appear” as Wayne Gretzky suggested. Ergo, timing is critical, and players must be able to adapt to an ever changing playing field. However, like a Zen phrasing, there are deeper meanings beneath this wisdom. To place yourself where the puck will be, the following precepts must be internalized:

  1. The puck is always moving
  2. Accept an opponent's current position to be able to predict the next position
  3. Nimbly adjust to unexpected events as they unfold

Albeit unprepared, the global initial response to COVID-19 requires some acknowledgment. In the effort to overcome the compounding challenges of scientific complexity, faltering economies and stay-in-place orders, corporations and government administrations found ways to cut through red tape, release IP claims and open the coffers to fund new research for anyone answering the call. Through true collaboration efforts and the sharing of resources, we have achieved more in this short time of crisis than we typically would have in 3-4 years. That said, we are far from being out of the woods. 

There is much to learn from this experience and we need not only to take note, learn and adapt, but also to recognize that we are far from stabilizing this disease and many others. Going backwards to what was "normal" before isn't an option. Imagine what would have happened during this pandemic if red-tape, corporate interests and data hoarding had once again taken center stage.

Collaboration at the institutional level now needs to extend to the individual level. Just as we have rallied as nations and organizations striving together, our success in responding to COVID-19 now requires that every scientist is also empowered and enabled to contribute their expertise. Imagine what we could accomplish if every scientist wanting to make a difference in our current situation could share their knowledge and were given the ability to access, explore and interrogate COVID-19 genomic data.

Perhaps there's a better hindsight for 2020; as like-minded scientists come together around the challenges before our global community, the focus shifts to progress for humanity (and all species, for that matter) and begins to blur what were once traditional silos and artificial boundaries.

The frameworks of collaboration are flexing and adapting fluidly as the Scientific Community responds to this first global pandemic since the dawn of internet connectivity. This is what we consider a Fluid Framework, and what we believe is fundamental to the new normal. 

Everyday we learn more about the virus while new mutations and viral strains are taking hold around the world. Through these Fluid Frameworks we can adapt, innovate and collaborate globally to even the score. 

Beyond COVID-19, we have many more who are still in need of care and demand the same global collaboration. For the millions who perish each year to cancer and the children with rare diseases who might not live to see their 5th birthday, shouldn't they deserve the same energy, focus and collaboration that we've witnessed for COVID-19?

While we were not prepared for COVID-19, the lessons we are learning in global collaboration and scientific discovery will now forever define the new normal, and set an even higher bar on how we come together for the betterment of the human condition.

More to come in Part 2... and if you are software engineer, bioinformatician or scientist inspired to join this initiative to support collaboration and fluid frameworks, please continue the conversation with us

We're Hiring (email and mention this post): joinus@onramp.bio 

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