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(image: Judith E. Bell CC BY)

Eisenhower and the coronavirus

In case of urgency, the unimaginable can become the feasible

Say you had two tasks competing for your attention: one is very important, the other one is very urgent. Which one would you do first? Chances are, you’ll pick the urgent one. Not only does this seem self-evident, there is even a reasonable evolutionary explanation for this. The kind of urgent situations our early ancestors were confronted with often required a swift response to ensure survival.

The upside of urgency

Imagine an individual engaged in the important task of gathering wood, suddenly encountering a sabre-tooth tiger with a gastronomic interest in them. If they decided the important activity must take precedence over running away like greased lightning, they would probably not survive long enough ensure their genes were passed on to the next generation. And so, a hierarchical sense of priority of the urgent over the important may well be, to some extent, hardwired.

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A bit of order, but aren’t we neglecting the most important?

The downside of the dominance of urgency

We may well have an ancestral tendency to favour the immediate and urgent, but we are of course capable of overriding such tendencies, and pay more attention to what is important, urgent or not. How come we then still neglect the non-urgent, but important things?

A shock to the system

And all of a sudden, it seems we are capable of making radical changes to our behaviour, at short notice. Chad Loder, a tech entrepreneur, remarked on Twitter that quite a few things, which supposedly used to be impractical or even impossible, have somehow “magically become trivially easy” in the COVID-19 world.

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Flying less is not just possible, it’s happening (source: Eurocontrol)

Creating our own sense of urgency

When things become urgent, we quickly, and without much deliberation, reconsider actions and interventions that until recently were treated as ‘unthinkable’. Many end up with a ‘how quickly can we do it’ tag.

Written by

Accidental behavioural economist in search of wisdom. Uses insights from (behavioural) economics in organization development. On Twitter as @koenfucius

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