When my brother and I were in college he convinced me in the spring of our freshman year to take a welding and metal fabrication class. He said he wanted to learn how to make his own bike frame. I’m pretty sure we were attending the only Ivy League school to offer metal fabrication.
My brother never did make a bike frame but we did learn some incredibly valuable skills and lessons through this course, not the least of which was that welding is hard work. To this day I tell every one of my welder patients that I have great respect for their craft.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this course however, was a lifelong friendship that we developed with the professor Tom Cook: 25 years and counting.
Tom is one of a kind.
A former Army Ranger, Tom served multiple tours in Viet Nam. He is about 6’4’’ and has piercing blue eyes and a mustache like Wilford Brimley. At 72 years old he’s got the strength and endurance to put most men half his age to shame.
He can make, fix and rebuild just about any machine you’ve ever seen or heard of. He is the definition of a guy you want by your side in a crisis, a real life McGyver. Tom is also a humble gentleman who looks out for young children and the elderly. He routinely helps the 80 and up crowd in town.
Even more than the welding skills we learned from Tom in college, we learned tremendous life lessons.
In one of his classes he led with this phrase: The 7 P’s:
Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance
When it comes to completing a project, the 7’s P’s never fail.
When it comes to crisis, I would add 3 more P’s: Precautionary Principle in Pandemic.
Hands down, you have to prepare before crisis hits for many reasons that we highlight in this blog.
What about the precautionary principle?
Stated simply the precautionary principle advises policy makers to act with extreme care in types of risks when evidence is lacking and taking certain actions may lead to extreme harm to large numbers of individuals. In other words there are situations when you simply do not have the time or freedom to garner evidence to make an informed decision in certain types of situations. You need a guiding principle instead.
National governments and international governing bodies often invoke the precautionary principle when setting environmental policy as the implications for bad choices can cause mass harm. In recent times Nassim Taleb has been a fierce advocate of the precautionary principle as a guide for action during pandemic.
In a pandemic uncertainty and risks often multiply at an alarmingly rapid rate. Taking (or not taking) even small actions on a large scale can lead to devastatingly different outcomes depending on the action.
Example: Let’s look at the decision to wear a face mask in the outbreak.
Early in the crisis various agencies in the US had advised regular citizens against wearing masks in public in contradistinction to general practice in most Asian countries. Their argument was that there was no evidence that masks would protect the general public.
This showed a questionable understanding of risk and for that matter evidence. If a mask conveyed even a small protective benefit and no extra risk, why didn’t these agencies promote the practice early? Were 1.4 billion Chinese citizens wrong? What about the fact that early in a pandemic there is a lag between when you must take action and when the “evidence” comes to light.
if one is uncertain of how to act in this case, the precautionary principle would be a good guide. Taking an overly aggressive/ risk averse approach in situations is warranted in cases like pandemic. The medical literature is thankfully coming around to the idea as well. See the link here.
In other words wear the mask. There’s virtually no downside and there may be plenty of upside.