• Timothy Shih

The Side Effects of 2020

“The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.” – John F. Kennedy

2020, what a year.

When asked to predict the future, my consistent response is in the spirit of this quote from JFK. It’s never the answer people want to hear, but it is the truest answer I can deliver. I believe a pandemic of COVID-19’s scale will leave a lasting impact on our individual lives, our societies, and our countries. It will color the lens of our collective worldview for a generation.

I also expect experts to have wildly diverging views, estimates and predictions of what those lasting impacts will be. I do not expect anyone to be 100% right. Massive systems such as the global economy, the behavior of people, and the geopolitical interplay of governments are simply too complex to predict with any strong degree of certainty.

This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered a global crisis. We’ve had world wars, pandemics and recessions. In 2001, we experienced the dot com bubble, tech stocks collapsed, unemployment increased and property values dropped. In 2008, financial markets collapsed resulting in massive foreclosures and, once again, large drops in property values. Today, we are experiencing unprecedented global unemployment, economic slowdown, and global supply chain disruption. And these are just the impacts we can measure and see.

There is a concept in computer science known as a “side effect”. Put simply it refers to the changes (sometimes unanticipated) made to a larger system when a function (or program) is called repeatedly. Understanding and predicting the impact of a side effect requires contextual knowledge of the entire system and its historical record. COVID-19 has run its program innumerable times, with the world as its system. What are its side effects?

When thinking about this, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with uncertainty and negativity. Pause and take a breath.

As Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

Our approach is always to identify the opportunities in any given environment. This is the beauty of our active investing framework. By constantly assessing the situation, obtaining information, and singularly asking ourselves “what is the opportunity here”, we are able to focus on delivering value to our investors and clients. Everything else is just noise.

JFK’s full quote is more profound than the truncated, often quipped version above:

Every area of trouble gives out a ray of hope--and the one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.”

The addition of this “ray of hope” changes the contextual meaning dramatically. Just because something is uncertain, just because change happened, doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it, grow from it, and yes, benefit from it.

There are stories about this generation of humans, in this time, confronting this situation. I believe in these stories. My wife told me of the construction worker building the new Wuhan hospital at the beginning of the pandemic who donated his entire salary to buy decent food for the medical professionals working the front line. The stories of medical professionals in New York improvising equipment in order to stay alive to keep the fight alive. The stories about the doctors in Italy that must choose who lives and who dies. The stories about husbands losing wives and wives losing husbands. The stories about children losing parents and grandparents. The stories of entire families being lost. Suffering of this magnitude has to be life-changing, and has to be transformative for those who survive, otherwise their lives and loss have all been in vain. I encourage each of you to reflect on what this means for you, your family, and your life in the post pandemic world. Are there things we take for granted that we should appreciate? Are there things we felt entitled to but are no longer there? Have you been helped or helped in ways that mean something to you?

I believe in the strength, resilience and ability of humankind.

I see people adapting, adjusting, and evolving.

I believe that for some of us, this moment is a pause.

For others, it is a struggle. And for some few, it is an opportunity.

Opportunity to change the rules, make a difference, reinvent (or invent), or reflect (and appreciate), whether for our business, our families, or our fellow women (and men). I wish you all the best in these extraordinary times.

CEO of OneWorld Group, Tim Shih