...That We Should Learn Before It’s Too Late

One of the best ways to do better in the future is to learn from past mistakes–preferably someone else’s mistake. When you make a mistake and then make the same mistake again, it’s pretty clear that you didn’t learn from your prior error.

Like the old adage: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

One of the four cornerstones of a good decision-making process can stop this vicious cycle and save you from repeating mistakes (and making yourself crazy!) In the four-point framework for decision making, this is what we call Pattern Recognition. In Pattern Recognition, we examine past events to help predict what is likely to happen in the future.

So, what has this got to do with Ebola?


Remember Ebola–the deadly West African virus that, in 2014, had millions of Americans fearing a rapidly spreading epidemic was imminent? The plight in Western Africa had been international news for some time, but when healthcare workers came back to the United States with actual or possible cases of Ebola, we didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, Ebola was a hot topic and huge concern.

Ebola is a highly contagious disease. In October 2014, The New Yorker published an in-depth article on Ebola, highlighting a promising possible treatment called ZMapp. Unfortunately, the supply of these treatments had been exhausted, and only 20–80 new ZMapp treatments could be made each month.

The possible outcome of this shortage could have been catastrophic if the disease hit a congested urban area. The amount of people with Ebola would vastly exceed the available treatments, which would lead to widespread deaths, panic, and social outrage over how people were chosen to receive the limited amount of medicine.

Thankfully, a major outbreak did not happen. No one in the United States who had not been to West Africa died of the disease. This is great from a human standpoint, but there is a reason it’s not all good news.

No Pain=No Gain

With the exception of the isolated families who were directly impacted, there was no pain. From the position of preventing a worse future outcome by making some important decisions, no pain in this case meant no analysis of the past to better plan for the future.

No one launched initiatives to construct state-of-the art isolation centers. No one established protocols on how to quarantine possible patients carrying a deadly disease while ensuring that these people, who are almost always healthcare workers, are treated with dignity and respect while they are quarantined.

Not using past experience to plan for the future will set us up to be just as unprepared for the next crisis as we were last time. And as we know from Pattern Recognition and Probabilities, it is nearly guaranteed that there will be another crisis. If we are not prepared, the next crisis could be catastrophic.

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Yulia KonovnitsynaComment