Ahead of the Curve

Ahead of the Curve

Ever since the pandemic has taken over and dominated our lives, everyone seems to be talking and writing about “curves.” Not just the shape of the curve, although important in the context of flattening, but also getting ahead of it.  Here are three recent headlines that demonstrate my point, “Was Your State Ahead of the Coronavirus Curve?”, “Getting Ahead of the Curve — in Hopes of Flattening the Curve”, and “How Did Germany Get Ahead of the Curve?

What does ahead of the curve even mean? I did some research.  It means, “When one is more advanced than others, or ahead of current thinking or practices.”  More research into the origins of the phrase led me to the classic Bell Curve model used to visualize data showing low, average, and above average performances.  If you are “ahead of the curve” you are on the right side of the bell shape and above average in whatever was measured.

Getting inside the Curve”, is another phrase often used by military strategist.  Getting inside the curve refers to a fighter pilot being able to maneuver into an advantageous position by getting inside the turning radius of an opposing aircraft.  A more expansive meaning is used in maneuver strategies and refers to thinking ahead of an opponent and acting in a way that gives you an advantage.

When leaders are making decisions and taking actions that effectively manage disease transmission, they are often said to have been out front of the disease or ahead of the curve in comparison to leaders that did not.  Often there is a time and speed element of decision-making and action involved as well.

The decisions we make and the actions we take are most often the result of either a formal or informal thinking process we have adopted.  The fighter pilot and strategist USAF Colonel John Boyd developed a highly effective decision-making framework to help people make decisions and to take actions in chaotic environments.  He developed the concept of OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act).  Boyd taught that effective decision-making and action in the midst of chaos and ambiguity involves a continuous process of data collection, analytics and insights, deciding on a course of action and acting quickly.  This continuous process is also used by many scientists in their process of observation, analysis/synthesis, hypothesis and test.  Whether one is ahead of the curve or behind the curve is often a result of the decision-making framework they adopted and employed.

Having formal mental and decision-making frameworks that can help us get through “unprecedented times” has never been more important.  Gut instinct is not enough, especially when dealing with unfamiliar events with little information.  None of us have all the information we need or want, but we can’t afford not to act.  We need fact based decision-making frameworks that provide clear and actionable insights,  enabling leaders to make decisions quickly and act thoughtfully, at the same time, be flexible and humble enough to quickly change based on emerging scenarios, new insights and analysis.

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