Sometimes, when we sit down to compile our quarterly reading list, it can be a challenge to remember the significant political and economic events that occurred in the past three months. The second quarter of 2020 was most decidedly not one of those quarters. If anything, the last quarter brings to mind the words of Vladimir Lenin who said, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”
In the space of a couple of weeks in mid-March 2020, our world experienced an event whose reverberations will be with us for the foreseeable future. COVID-19 cases began to explode in Europe and North America, and societies were forced to make a series of unprecedented and consequential decisions. Many economies across the western world were shut down overnight, companies shifted to untested ‘work from home’ models, and governments began to enforce social distancing guidelines.
The impacts of the crisis have been immense and have affected every facet of our society. As of mid-June, there have been over 8 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 430,000 deaths as a result of the disease worldwide. Unemployment rates have gone from record lows to record highs in the space of a few months in North America, and governments have experimented with economic policies that would have been politically untenable before the crisis.
The stock market has also been on a wild ride throughout all of this. After hitting an all-time high on February 19, the S&P 500 experienced its fastest 30% drop on record (22 days). It eventually hit bottom (?) at -34% on the back of the massive monetary stimulus programs put into place by key central banks. Since then, the stock market has defied the economy (and most market observers) to post its largest-ever 50 day rally (up over 40%).
In the midst of all this, a video surfaced of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, dying after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes. The video has sparked outrage in the U.S. (and globally), and has led to massive protests calling for fundamental changes to the way our society treats its minority groups.
The murder of George Floyd was only the latest tragic case of a black person dying in a horrific way in recent years. Floyd’s death follows the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and many more. It is worth noting that the reason you’re able to recognize the names in the previous sentence, is only because their deaths happened to be recorded on video. The true question is how many other minority citizens have died similar deaths without us knowing about it? It is also important to remember that while the above examples are from the United States, Canada, and many other countries in the world have their own issues with racism and human rights.
While this has been an incredibly difficult quarter on so many fronts, crises can also be important times for society to reevaluate its values, priorities and relationships and build something better for the future. We have done that before and can do it again.
Now on to the content. Throughout all of the tumult of the past quarter, we (like most of you) have consumed many articles, books and videos. Below are some of the ones that stood out. This quarter the articles are mostly focused on our current problems, but cover everything from the historic implications of the crisis, to how to cope with the grief so many of us are feeling, and what the next 18 months might look like.
I hope you enjoy the below selection of content and are doing your best to stay safe and healthy.
Trevor Noah on George Floyd, Amy Cooper & Racism in Society
Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show, released this video recorded into his phone in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. Noah touches on the white privilege in our society, his thoughts on the protests, and his reaction to those who criticize the way the protests have unfolded. As someone who grew up mixed race in apartheid-era South Africa, Noah knows first-hand the downsides of a society that is tiered and unequal. The whole video is worth watching, but the following line stuck with me; “If you kill a white person, especially in America, there is a whole lot more justice that is coming your way than if you killed some black body in a black neighbourhood.”
Making History: How a Pandemic Took the World by Surprise
Writing in The Globe and Mail, Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan provides a great over-arching historical perspective on COVID-19. Her story of how we got to this point, how we are coping with the disease, and what the post COVID-19 world might look like, is well worth your time.
This is How to Boost Your Intellectual Humility
In this short (120 second) video, author Daniel Pink outlines four questions (from Warren Berger) that we can all ask ourselves as a way to measure our intellectual humility. I think we can all agree that the world would be a far better place if we all focused on improving this part of ourselves. Here are two of the questions: (1) Do I think more like a Soldier (seeking to defend positions) or a Scout (seeking to explore new territory)? (2) Would I rather be right or would I rather understand? You’ll have to watch the video to find out what #3 and (my favorite) #4 are.
The Next Outbreak? We’re Not Ready (Bill Gates’ 2015 TED Talk)
Bill Gates is not the only one who warned the world about the dangers of a 21st century pandemic, but he was certainly one of the most high profile voices to warn of this particular threat over the past decade. In this prescient TED Talk from 2015, Gates discusses how lucky the world was to avoid a larger scale Ebola outbreak in 2014, and what we should be doing to prepare for the inevitably of future pandemics. Unfortunately, we didn’t listen.
That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief
COVID-19 has shaken our world and put previously unimaginable death tallies on the front pages of our major newspapers (see this shocking New York Times front page from last month). For many, this has led to a set of confused feelings as people struggle to cope with our changed circumstances. “That discomfort you are feeling is [actually] grief,” says David Kessler, the world’s foremost expert on grief. In this article for Harvard Business Review, Kessler talks about COVID-19 grief and how we can get better at dealing with it.
Coolest Things I Learned in 2019
Auren Hoffman (summation.net) included this piece by David Perelli is his Five Reading Links for May 2020 email. The article is simply a summary of the most interesting things Perelli learned last year, but it is well worth a read. It covers the benefits of writing, the previous popularity of smoking, the biggest bet ever made in an American casino, the value of media franchises and much more.
Infectious Disease Expert: We’re only in the Second Inning of the Pandemic
As cities and regions across North America begin to relax guidelines and reopen their economies, it is important to remember that ultimately defeating COVID-19 is going to be a long process. In this interview with CNN’s Peter Bergen, infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm lays out the pessimistic case of what the next 18 months might look like.
Five Lessons from History
This article from Northwood Reading List-favourite Morgan Housel is from the halcyon days of 2019, but the lessons in it are timeless. Using several different historical time periods as his canvas, Housel attempts to draw five lessons from history that remain relevant today.
Where’s Waldo – Coronavirus Edition
Because it’s important to try to find humour in these trying times.
The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake
This article came out pre-COVID (“PC”), but I think it is worth highlighting for its unique take on the nuclear family. David Brooks has long been one of my favourite writers and thinkers, and I found this piece in The Atlantic to be a fascinating history of the nuclear family, and a critique of its impact on society.
Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now
This is a long read, but a good one, from the early days of the COVID-19 crisis. When Tomas Pueyo, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, published this article on Medium on March 10th, he could not have imagined that 40 million people would read it by the end of the month. Pueyo was sounding the alarm about Coronavirus just as the rest of the World was waking up to the threat. Three months later, it is fascinating to go back and reread the first article that made many of us realize the magnitude of the problem.
As lifelong learners, we at Northwood are always interested in reading material that broadens our horizons, challenges our thinking and provides all-important context for the decisions we make.
We’d also be interested in hearing what you’ve been reading lately. If you’ve come across any particularly insightful articles or books, please feel free to send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to the many people who have already shared their ideas.
All the best,