Perception has once again beaten Data & this time it can be dangerous

“The virus has weakened into ineffective forms. It’s not so potent now.” I heard these conversations at a grocery store last week. Few more followed near my society gate. “It is getting washed away with the monsoon rains. I might have already got it”.

Figment of imagination! Reasons for justification! As I pressed the brown button of our dilapidated lift using a grey toothpick, I reflected on the dilemma being faced by our country in covid era.

People are disregarding data. Disregarding the trend. Disregarding the precautionary steps to be taken.

You don’t even need to dig deeper to unearth what is happening. Interestingly, 5 forces are playing altogether in the current context:

First: Factual- India is now seeing the fastest growth in covid cases in the World. The last 1 million rise has been the fastest on the globe. Yes, the recovery rate hasn’t dipped. But, the spread is here for everyone to see.

Second: Factual- The Indian economy has to open up for people to survive. There is no second thought to it. We have seen it slipping down the valley and incredible efforts would be needed to get it back up there, from here. So the workforce has to get out in a careful and guarded way.

The inference from the above 2 points clearly lays down the path undertaken- Unlock with strict adherence to rules for people to follow. 3 simple instructions as people join back the economic bandwagon.

1. Wear a mask always in the right way

2. Sanitize and wash your hands regularly.

3. Maintain social distancing & avoid large gatherings.

In a rational world, you would expect the above to be followed with minor slip ups. Of course, in a populous country like India, the efficacy of it has to be strictly monitored given the structural challenges associated.

We get that. But what has transpired out is something drastically different. And that is contributed by 3 more emotional factors which are playing around.

Third: Strategic- Indian media has suddenly turned the volume ‘low’ on covid related news. The front page, the major debates and prime time have deserted the covid news. The share of voice has dipped. The first stepping stone of influencing the minds of readers and viewers is to show less. The lesser they see any aspect thematically, the lower its importance becomes.

Fourth: Behavioral- Covid fatigue has set in among the people in metro cities. A sudden sense of ennui has caught up with majority. They were aware, they were following the safety guards but suddenly they have abandoned the “extra care” and “vigilance”. They are fatigued and tired following it again and again. Boredom has set in. The recent changes in behavior are competing with age old habits of meeting, celebrating and expressing to the fullest. And there is nothing forceful to keep them in check.

Fifth: Behavioral- We do get influenced by what we see around. We witness a nonchalant shrug to all the rules on the road and are subconsciously impacted. The risk is nowhere to be seen. Seeing is half of believing. And then we follow gradually. Herd mentality! And slowly, we start terming people who do follow the norms as random and idiosyncratic.

Human mind tends to shrug off the importance of an aspect unless there is a force to keep it intact.

The 5 forces are playing altogether in a very interesting way.

On one side you have Data- rising covid cases and slipping economy. The inference and outcome generated is pretty obvious. On the other side you have perceptions being built- driven by how media is selectively driving its strategic objectives coupled with covid fatigue and herd mentality.

And perceptions triumph data!

As a society, we need to turn on the intensity of letting people know that we are NOT following the care and vigilance and the impact it is creating. Match data to experiences! Impose fines and punishments for NOT following rules. In a country as populous as India, adherence and discipline in a quick time can only result through ‘risk-reward’ propositions. Fear of losing something is the first and most effective gear in this case. We have to pull it ON and execute it flawlessly. And finally, the media should brave itself to show us their responsible side. Maybe they can make some interesting TRP worthy content of saving lives and rebuilding the country, both at the same time.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. But we need to take control as citizens.

We need to overturn the 3 non-data factors playing and we may see a change, which the nation actually wants to see and experience now.

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Adrit Mishra

When statistics & management insights transcends into philosophical, introspective & poetic ones