Exponential Government: Extreme Adaptability

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Exponential Challenges Call for Extreme Adaptability in Leadership

Curtailing the Coronavirus: How Exponential Government Will Make an Impact

“The pandemic is accelerating,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference. “It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for second 100,000 cases, and just four days for the third 100,000 cases.”

In a state where citizens are ordered to shelter in place, a country looking down the barrel of the second recession in the last decade, and a world where over a thousand people perish each day from COVID-19, government leaders are responsible for navigating and mitigating one of the greatest peacetime crises in history.

Many people are comparing the coronavirus pandemic to the global influenza pandemic of 1918. But in 2020, we have different options to respond to this crisis—better healthcare, better microbiologists, and, vitally, better tech. Government leaders who use technology to its greatest advantage will be the ones who bring their constituents through this emergency with minimum fallout. How? Extreme adaptability.

Episode 4 in a 7-Part Series on Thriving in the Age of Exponential Growth

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Warren Buffet famously said, “It's only when the tide goes out that you learn who has been swimming naked.” National emergencies shine a light on our leaders, spotlighting those who are decisive and resilient and exposing the rest. When conditions change at a relentless pace and multiple health and economic systems threaten to collapse, people embodying the exponential leadership traits are more important than ever.

Right now, exponential leaders are advocating for their citizens, using data to visualize short-term and long-term effects, aiming for the best-case scenario while preparing for the worst, and understanding that the key to solving any of these challenges is agility.

As Ismail put it: “As a business scales and its activities morph, so too must its management...Constant learning is critical to staying on the exponential curve.” Scaling. Morphing. Constant learning. There's a clear parallel between building your organization and navigating a crisis. So let's look at how exponential government leaders are fighting this pandemic--not just on the emerging tech front, but on the human front, too.

Leveraging Emerging Tech

Around the world, tech is on the front lines of the battle to contain the coronavirus. It makes sense—if person-to-person contact spreads infection, preventing person-to-person contact is the best defense, whether that’s a camera checking the temperature of employees arriving for work before they walk in, or a drone delivering supplies to someone in quarantine.

Governments worldwide are rapidly implementing tech in creative and iterative ways as the need for distancing scales and people’s daily activities must change to follow suit. (One example: The WHO joined TikTok in an effort to cut through coronavirus misinformation online!) Some of the most impactful technologies being used in the face of the crisis include the following:

In Taiwan, where cases are shockingly low given the country’s proximity to China:

  • Temperature monitors in airports, set up after the 2003 SARS outbreak, detect anyone with a fever. Incoming passengers can also scan a QR code and report their travel history and health symptoms online; the data goes straight to Taiwan CDC.
  • Anyone coming from areas badly affected by the coronavirus are put under mandatory 14-day home quarantine, even if they are not sick, and are tracked using location sharing on their mobile phone.
  • The government requested television and radio stations broadcast hourly public service announcements on how the virus is spread, the importance of washing hands properly, and when to wear a mask.

In North America:

  • Canadian company BlueDot’s AI early-warning system identified the outbreak early and notified its customers about the new form of coronavirus at the end of December, days before either the U.S. CDC or the WHO sent out official notices. Built for governments and hospitals, the system uses natural-language processing and machine learning to track over 100 infectious diseases by analyzing about 100,000 articles in 65 languages every day.
  • Near Seattle, a robot helped doctors treat a man diagnosed with novel coronavirus. The robot, which carried a stethoscope, helped the patient communicate with medical staff while limiting their exposure to the illness.
  • School districts and educational institutions are moving toward online instruction at a dizzying pace – though the digital divide complicates making online instruction available to all. MediaAMP, a digital content management service built at the University of Washington (now a sister division to Direct Technology), is providing technology to K-12 schools for free to help with online instruction.
  • San Francisco-based biotech company Metabiota, which works with the U.S. intelligence community and the Department of Defense, determined which countries had the highest risk of seeing the new virus next, over a week before cases in those countries were actually reported. Metabiota uses natural-language processing to evaluate online reports about a potential disease, along with flight data and other information, for their modeling.
  • Telehealth companies such as 98point6 (another Direct Techology sister company) use a combination of AI and video calling to help physicians screen and diagnose patients over a mobile app, order tests, and prescribe medications. This helps relieve the burden on physical facilities and limit contact and viral community spread.
  • In just seven days, an impromptu Facebook group of 300+ engineers and medical researchers banded together to design and produce an open-source ventilator using 3D-printed materials and other easy-to-access items, according to


And in Japan:

  • AI company Bespoke, which develops multilingual AI solutions for the travel and tourism industry, created a chatbot advisor. Bebot enables passengers to ask the bot different health and virus-related queries, including symptoms, preventative measures, and treatment procedures. It also shares the latest news about the pandemic, statistics, transmission rates and government contact information. Sendai International Airport, the Tokyo Metro and Sofitel Hotels & Resorts are among Bespoke’s customers.
  • School closures have forced Japanese school systems, which have notoriously stuck to analog learning, to quickly develop and implement online learning capabilities. (Outside of government, but an interesting complement: Popular manga publishers almost immediately released hundreds of graphic novels and magazines digitally for homebound students to enjoy.)
  • Helping with distance education efforts, public broadcaster NHK launched a virus information portal in January, aiming to avoid an “infodemic” by monitoring and curating the best information from around the world about the virus. They are also using TV subchannels and websites to deliver educational and exercise programs for children seamlessly without distinction between broadcast and digital.

A trend around the world: the “constant learning” Ismail prescribes is enabled and augmented by machine learning. In the quest to adapt and stay ahead of the novel coronavirus, AI and analytics are at the junction of human experience and technical innovation. From determining the spread of the disease so officials can proactively set measures to prevent it, to banishing dangerous (even deadly) misinformation, the public sector is using machine learning and automation to assist in the fight against COVID-19.

During this crisis, we can and should also put AI to work:

  • detecting and removing COVID-19 misinformation on social media
  • acting as quality assurance in 3D printing tools for intensive healthcare
  • preliminarily diagnosing medial issues online, sanitizing infected areas
  • aiding in clinical trials of potential vaccines
  • anything else we can model, automate, or optimize as we learn more about the virus’s behavior


Managing the Human Front

Early, quick, and decisive action is the hallmark of exponential leadership in a crisis. There are already marked differences in COVID-19 cases between places whose governments jumped to get ahead of the virus and where they did not, and the gap will only grow wider over the next weeks and months.

Taiwan, as mentioned above, has risen extraordinarily to the challenge of adapting public life to a crisis. Despite (and in some ways, due to) their nearness to China, at the time of this writing fewer than 200 Taiwanese people have been infected, and only two have died—and unlike many other countries and U.S. states, they haven’t shut down daily life. That kind of success comes from agile leaders willing to scale up measures as needed to combat the virus effectively…and, moreover, a receptive population willing to cooperate with greater surveillance and structure in pursuit of the greater goal. Major points of their extreme adaptability in action:

  • Because they’re so close to China, Taiwanese officials heard about a budding virus early, and received permission to send a team of experts to the mainland on a fact-finding mission on January 12th. When the team returned, Taiwan quickly began requiring hospitals to test for and report cases so the government could identify those infected, trace their contacts, and isolate everyone involved.
  • Taiwan's CDC activated the Central Epidemic Command Center relatively early (January 20th), which rapidly produced and implemented a list of 3-4 action items per day to protect public health. The CDC also works with ministries and local governments to coordinate virus response across the nation, including allocating funds, mobilizing personnel, and advising on the disinfection of schools.
  • To ensure a steady supply of masks, the government quickly banned manufacturers from exporting them, implemented a rationing system, and set the price at just 16 cents each. It also set up new production lines and dispatched soldiers to staff factories, significantly increasing production.

Early, quick, and decisive action. It’s made a huge difference and is an example to emulate, as the Governors of California and New York have done.

Another creative way countries are spreading information about not spreading disease? Songs. Vietnam’s National Institute of Occupational & Environmental Health released what’s become a global pop hit about how to keep the virus at bay. The overground train service in Bangkok, Thailand, created a music video called “COVID-19: Dance Against the Virus.” More have cropped up in Singapore, Mexico, Ecuador, and beyond.

In the U.S., exponential leadership will be key to mitigating disaster for many millions of people in three areas: economic, health, and/or educational. Americans filed nearly a million unemployment claims last week and the week before—and those were largely before any governors rolled out statewide shelter-in-place orders. Goldman Sachs predicts another 2.25 million will do so this week. Some reports estimate up to 18% of the workforce could be laid off due to the virus. Many small businesses will fold. Recession seems inevitable. As state and federal governments consider the best options to relieve the millions facing hardship, unprecedented agility will be key to preventing or mitigating years of economic fallout. Whether that looks like citizen stimulus checks, universal paid leave during the crisis for those who can’t work, or something bigger, quick and decisive action is imperative.

Much has been written about the importance of flattening the curve to prevent overwhelming our healthcare system with cases of coronavirus. Governments the world over are issuing increasing mandates to keep people inside and apart, but these measures are largely reactive as we move from containment to mitigation. How can agencies adapt to and overcome the increasing load on hospitals, beyond creating “chilling” triage plans? Public-private partnerships will be essential, from auto factories building ventilators to furniture manufacturers making protective masks and shields.

Of these three enormous challenges, education is the one showing the most extreme adaptability. Despite a notable lack of federal guidance, individual school districts and universities are developing remote learning curricula apace, pivoting to online products and resources with support from learning-focused businesses. In a time when it could be six months before students see the inside of a classroom again, continued improvisation and agility on the parts of teachers, students, and parents are key to a streamlined recovery, post-outbreak.


In times of crisis, we look to our leaders. Right now, there’s a great deal of uncertainty, fear, and tension. At the same time, we’ve seen remarkably rapid decision making and evolving public policy – showing what is possible. More than ever, Americans need government officials to act with extreme agility: early, quickly, and decisively. That means we need to leverage technology solutions and cloud computing that scales our impact—to make sure we’re leading change instead of being swept up in it.

There’s still a lot of opportunity to step up and lead the charge on solutions at the local level, as well as at scale. Leaders who enable a system of extreme adaptability are the ones who will see us through the pandemic, and to recovery on the other side.


Crisis response calls for business resilience and information infrastructure that the public can rely on. With 25 years of experience deploying IT solutions for mission-critical public sector services, Direct Technology is here to help in the fight against COVID-19—on the tech side and the human side. Contact us here: https://bit.ly/dtgovsolutions   

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