Who stole my antibodies? – No jobs on a dead planet – SDGs doing more harm than good – Hope is not a plan – Band-wagon to nowhere.
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Who stole my antibodies? – No jobs on a dead planet – SDGs doing more harm than good – Hope is not a plan – Social media band-wagon to nowhere.

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I am sorry for the radio silence in recent months.

London is recovering from lockdown. By June the morning air was more diesel than dawn; evening drinkers blocked my runs through Portobello. The silence that filled our streets in April is today just the fanfare of a speeding Tesla

As the capital’s R number jumps for joy, I look at our recovery from this first wave of COVID-19.

Do forward the e-mail to other people if you find it useful. If not, you may unsubscribe here. Thank you for your support – Quentin.

P.S. Subscribe on my website if someone forwarded this e-mail to you.

Value of social distancing

The virus itself remains untameable, and long-term recovery far from simple. While many people are starting to relax, plans for social distancing are a priority in most industries.

Six months on, we understand little about how the virus works. Based on a July study of 60,000 people in Spain, The Lancet says that an approach to herd immunity through natural infection is highly unethical and also unachievable. Despite that country’s devastation – 19 out of 20 people are still seronegative for SARS-CoV-2. Around one-third of cases show no symptoms.

This month, King’s College London found steep drops in patients’ antibody levels three months after infection. This hammers another nail in the coffin of the dangerous concept of herd immunity, says Prof Jonathan Heeney of Cambridge. With similar findings from China it may be foolish to rely on ‘immunity passports’ or even a vaccine.
How immunity to COVID wanes
Still, there are more than 140 teams racing to create a vaccine for COVID. Most are at the pre-clinical stage, where give the vaccine to animals to see if it triggers an immune response. Three are at the stage of large-scale efficacy trials. Here is a summary of the most advanced contenders.

In early June The Lancet recorded a podcast on physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection. Different masks offer various levels of protection; the evidence is in favour of social distancing, with two metres as a minimum. Each metre brings a twofold increase in the relative protection of staying apart.

Still, the science of masking is far from clear – some (but not all) experts fear that the use of this protection may encourage a false and dangerous sense of security.

Amid all this equivocal science, Paul Embery asks why impose on law on masks when out shopping, especially as the curve in our country has already flattened. Will this ‘misguided mission’ reduce coronavirus cases and help save the economy?

Earth versus economy

The destruction caused by the virus has only added to the debate about economic growth versus well-being and the environment. Our binary thinking of ‘A or B’ is the real obstacle, I fear.

Thanks to COVID, hopes that economic growth would bankroll green investment and development may no longer be realistic. Losses caused by pandemic mean that two-thirds of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) may not be met. The solution? Decouple growth and development, according to Nature.

The SDGs may even cause more harm than good. Prof James Watson of Queensland has found that work on the goals is hardly helping and may harm the environment. Watson’s call to rethink socioeconomic development will be unwelcome to governments, companies, and citizens struggling to recover from COVID.

Last month scientists issued a warning on affluence. We hear this rhetoric from the fervent Left, eager to tear down the capitalist system. But Prof Julia Steinberger et al. set out a coherent challenge to over-consumption and our current lifestyles. The call for ‘well-being’ (versus GDP) economics is outlined in this open-access paper.

All the same, a Nature-led coronavirus recovery could create US$10tn a year and 400 million jobs, according to the World Economic Forum. Unilever CEO Alan Hope is right that there will be no jobs or prosperity on a dead planet. I remain convinced that business – with adjustments – is an asset rather than a liability.

Separately, WEF outlines a path forward, with how to build resilience though a circular economy. We can move beyond growth that depends on endless extraction and use of natural resources. Circular business models will help us solve major problems and create up to US$4.5 trillion in economic opportunity.
Circular economy model

Tests of strategy and leadership

Companies, of course, have to overcome the disruption of COVID, and then create value over the long term. We have to avoid knee-jerk reactions in the first that will scupper the second.

Businesses that have taken pains to do the right thing by people are coming out of the COVID crisis in better shape. Judgment of employees, customers, and shareholders continues to be ruthless, but here are 10 simple ways companies can treat people well in tough times.

(By the way, I have created and seen useful results from a survey that looks at what lessons can be learned from how the company responded to the pandemic. This dummy report gives a sense of the data you receive. Do reply to this e-mail if you would like to run this internally.)

Hope is not a plan (a phrase I took from the government’s recovery strategy) – disruption caused by COVID will force companies to rethink their business models, corporate strategies, and day-to-day operations. Teams can navigate this punishing ground by making plans for wildly untameable outcomes.
Oxford Street deserted during lockdown
To find value beyond the disruption of COVID requires imagination and persistence, because the economic slowdown and uncertainty will test every company. I outline 16 simple (one-line) management actions – to position strategy, leadership, practice, and dialogue to create value for the economy, society, and the environment.

Finally, in recent months companies have found themselves in trouble for virtue signalling. With COVID recovery and other high-profile imperatives, responses have to be genuine – teams cannot jump on the band-wagon simply because something is trending on social media. (This dialogue is a new writing format – any feedback welcome.)

Thank you for reaching the end. If you have any thoughts please do reply to this message. Feel free also to pass this e-mail on to others you think might like it – Quentin.
Marble Brook Limited
12 Hay Hill, London, W1J 8NR, United Kingdom
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