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What maps do we have to guide us right now?

What maps do we have to guide us right now?

“There has never been a period in history where the majority of people didn’t look dumb in hindsight.” Morgan Housel

by Erika Block
The Sticky List: Issue 2 - 4/7/20

All of us are thinking about the future as we navigate the present moment. And many have been thinking about what history might teach us.

While there aren’t any maps to guide us, you’ll find an amazingly detailed visualization of 4000 years of world power in this issue of the Sticky List, along with stories that look to history and find cause for optimism.

There’s a thoughtful argument about The Business Case for Democracy, as authoritarian leaders use the pandemic to increase their power, and another for the benefits of shifting to a permanently virtual U.S. Congress.

There’s also a piece about generosity as a sign of intelligence - and as a powerful negotiating tactic.

Speaking of intelligence, start with this mesmerizing video of thousands of starlings joining together to confuse the hawks that attack them. Part meditation, part art, part heavy metaphor.

Let me know what you think.

Stay well,



From the Ornithographies Project, inspired by artist Xavi Bou’s interest in questioning the limits of human perception.

Human Murmuration

Kristin Palm talks with Mike Kuniavsky about the potential benefits and harm of new technologies, as well as human decisions.

“When we see something happen, we want to find the single root cause of that thing. Well, in fact, in the world, most of the time there isn’t a single root cause. It’s an emergent property of a whole bunch of different things going on at the same time. So looking for that single root cause is sending you down the wrong path.

“Similarly we’re always looking at, ‘This thing happened and therefore it’s really important and therefore it happens a lot.’ We almost never think about all the things that didn’t happen at that same point. Our brains are really bad at that."

Common Enemies

Journalist turned investor, Morgan Housel writes some of the best analyses at the intersection of history, economics, psychology and business.

“Everyone wants a map. Just a simple guide to what’s going to happen next…Today’s halt in economic activity is worse than 2008. The enemy is more invisible than 9/11. Our medical knowledge far exceeds that of 1918. Policy response is now faster and deeper than in the Great Depression.None of those events offer a map of what might happen to us next. Few historic events ever do. Big events grow big because they’re complex, and complexity never repeats itself in its exact form."

But as Voltaire said, “History never repeats itself; man always does."

"Charles Fritz…spent years in America studying the psychology of disasters. His broad thesis is the opposite of what you might expect: disasters do not make societies panic. They bring them together in calm solidarity.”

Also worth reading is Housel’s History is Only Interesting Because Nothing is Inevitable.

Rebecca Solnit — Falling Together

Listen to Krista Tippet’s interview with Solnit, who writes, When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brother’s keepers. And that purposefulness and connectedness bring joy even amidst death, chaos, fear and loss,” in A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster.

In Negotiations, Givers Are Smarter Than Takers
Generosity is a sign of intelligence, and givers are the rising tide that lifts all boats.

The Business Case for Saving Democracy

As authoritarian governments around the world use COVID-19 as an excuse to increase their power, Rebecca Henderson writes about Inclusive Versus Extractive Institutions as a condition for healthy free markets.

“I’m struck by how similar the run up to the Civil War feels to our present moment: the same conviction that the other side wants to destroy the republic; the same willingness to do anything to ensure that one’s own side wins. It’s unnerving.

Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here’s How.

This survey of political and social thinkers lays out a dozen interesting possibilities for change. Ethan Zuckerman’s thoughts on permanently shifting to a virtual Congress are among the most compelling.

“Lawmakers will be closer to the voters they represent and more likely to be sensitive to local perspectives and issues. A virtual Congress is harder to lobby, as the endless parties and receptions that lobbyists throw in Washington will be harder to replicate across the whole nation.

"Party conformity also might loosen with representatives remembering local loyalties over party ties. In the long run, a virtualized Congress might help us tackle one of the great problems of the contemporary House of Representatives: reapportionment and expansion."

After virus, how will Americans' view of the world change?

"A protracted period of coronavirus anxiety and impact will almost certainly redraw — and in many cases reinforce — opinions about the wider world’s role in American lives," writes Ted Anthony.

"Throughout its 244-year existence, America’s relationship with the rest of the world has been marked by the tension between working together with other nations, or going it alone as a land of “rugged individualists.”

"One side effect of the virus era may actually stimulate globalization. Stripped of their ability to travel or meet in person, humans have doubled down on virtual communication more fundamentally than ever. That means the person two doors down presents in the same way as the one two continents away — as a pixelated image on a screen."

Visualizing the 4,000 Year History of Global Power

"Today’s infographic, created all the way back in 1931 by a man named John B. Sparks, maps the ebb and flow of global power going all the way back to 2,000 B.C. on one coherent timeline."

from Visual Capitalist

End Notes

  • Are you making tough decisions as a business or community leader? Would you benefit from feedback on your stakeholder communications? I’m holding open office hours (gratis) for anyone who needs a sounding board, an outside perspective, or communications coaching. Please share this invitation, or schedule a video chat if this could help you.
  • If you like what you’re reading, please consider forwarding the Sticky List to your people!

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