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One Man’s Meat Is Another Man’s Poison

Tom Feinson
© Angelina Bambina |

If I was to say the word “vulture” what would spring to mind? I would predict images of parasitic, ugly creatures feasting on rotting carcasses, there may be even a slight tightening of the stomach and an unpleasant taste in the mouth. The human comparison is that of ruthless unpleasant people who prey on the weak.

However, I learnt this weekend that the generally accepted view is wrong. As a family, we went to a Falconry show and Jenny, our falconer, explained to us the unique role of vultures and the positive impact they have on maintaining the ecological health of the world. In simple terms, these bird's help stops the spread of disease by eating carrion. A vulture’s stomach acid is significantly stronger and more corrosive than that of other animals or birds. This allows these scavengers to feed on carcasses that may be infected with dangerous bacteria such as botulism, cholera, anthrax and rabies without harming themselves and preventing the spread of disease.

To put this into context, when vulture populations crashed in India as a result of feeding on the remains of animals that were treated with the veterinary drug diclofenac the impacts nearly caused a public health catastrophe. The feral dog population leapt from 7 million to 29 million over an 11-year period and caused an additional 38.5 million additional dog bites. It’s believed as a result of these bites that deaths from rabies increased by nearly 50,000 in that time costing the Indian government $34 billion to fight the spread of the disease. 

The moral of the story? Be careful about making predictions. At the start of this article, you probably weren’t thinking that vultures are eco-warriors, but perhaps I have changed your perception.  Similarly, as negotiators we are required to challenge our perceptions, plan for the unexpected, find the positive in amongst the negative and generally live with uncertainty,

Which, rather inelegantly, brings me to Coronavirus and the uncertainty or dare I say it ‘hyper-uncertainty’ that it brings.

I don’t wish to make light of what is clearly an appalling, and for many, a desperate situation. However, the simple fact, despite a dizzying amount of uncertainty, is that we have to keep going, What’s the alternative?

A procurement director said to me this week; “We’re in supply chain, dealing with problems, uncertainty, the unexpected is what we do”.

As negotiators, it’s our job to mitigate the risk and optimise the opportunity of uncertainty. By that I don’t mean be a vulture. Well actually I do; the one that stops the spread of disease not the one that ruthlessly preys on the weak.

I suspect businesses around the world are accelerating NPD (We’ve definitely brought forward the launch of our virtual negotiation training and advisory programme), introducing new processes, looking at the world differently both from a short- and long-term perspective, necessity is the mother of invention.

There can be unexpected positive consequences even from the most appalling situations. The Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918/19 claimed 50 million lives or 2.5% of the global population. At the time healthcare was fragmented, in industrialised countries, most doctors either worked for themselves or were funded by charities or religious institutions, as a result, there was not a coordinated response to the pandemic. The 1920s saw many governments embrace the idea of socialised medicine - healthcare for all, free at the point of delivery. Russia was the first country to put in place a centralized public healthcare system, which it funded via a state-run insurance scheme, but Germany, France and the UK eventually followed suit all of these nations took steps to consolidate healthcare, and to expand access to it, in the post-flu years. As a direct result of the pandemic, many countries reconfigured their health ministries to include public health leaders and the forerunner of what is now the WHO was formed to help coordinate public health at an international level.

Will there be any positives to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic? The answer is probably Yes. Working practices and global travel may change for good with the subsequent ecological benefits. My prediction is what was I saying about making predictions?


If you would like to know more about managing uncertainty why not download our “Negotiating in Uncertain Times” eBook.

Tom Feinson
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