Today’s Wall Street Journal article titled, Don’t Jump to Conclusions when America’s Coronavirus Iceberg Emerges, discusses the proverbial tip of the iceberg regarding the global Coronavirus outbreak and how the current “facts” we have on the topic reveal an important lesson about our dynamic and far-reaching news choices. Without multiple reference points and data mining, any serious decisions during this time (business or otherwise) should be examined thoroughly and rationally. Emotion and peer anxiety can often cloud our judgment and lead to serious strategic mistakes. 

As humans, we tend to let our biases cloud objectivity. In this case, the actual Coronavirus facts are being overlooked and inciting fears. Fear is an emotion that has no place in the boardroom. The WSJ analysis shows that the impact of the virus will increase as more tests are given to the public. Does this mean the virus is on the rise? No. Does it mean the virus is contained? No. What it does mean is more tests will reveal greater numbers of infected Americans, and the public can react in a way that is either erratic (emotional) or educated. Unfortunately, our human nature involuntarily triggers us to slow down and observe a car accident instead of cruising by it. There is no difference in the way we behave in this circumstance.


Blind leading blind cartoon image

Image source: Aleutie/


This FSIP blog or the WSJ article will do little to alter the opinions and inherent fears of millions of Americans, but I hope it will encourage more of us to review the facts of an entire situation before making hasty decisions. A parallel social phenomenon to consider was McCarthyism in the 1950s (albeit not a public health crisis like Coronvirus, but the spread of hysteria and the U.S. government’s irrational response were quite similar — as incriminating innocent people and trashing Hollywood reputations had less to do about Joe McCarthy and more to do with stoking fear). We learned later that America overreacted (thanks in part to Ed Murrow’s interview), and I suppose the same thing will likely happen with Coronavirus. Eventually, as the news cycle fades into the background, we will later comment collectively something to this effect: “Hey, what ever happened to that virus thing,?” as we shift our focus to another global concern.

So what is the proper litmus test for determining a clear and present danger to your business? Let’s take ourselves back to the SATs or ACTs to examine two parallel statements and review the premises to determine if the truth is valid or not — keeping in mind that with statements, one needs to consider the strength of the supporting evidence, while probing questions lead to more rational responses. We will use our expertise in the foodservice research and consulting field to make comparisons to the Coronavirus outbreak.

So how “true” are the following statements?

Consumers are switching from our brand.

  • What data supports this?
  • How large was the data set?
  • What level of severity will this have on revenues and market share?
  • Is this wholly unexpected?
  • Is the base size so small that it creates an overblown percentage (e.g. two responses equal 100% “switching because of price”)?

The Coronavirus will infect millions of Americans.

  • Is it lethal to everyone?
  • How many have already had it and survived?
  • If someone has had the infection already, how are they counted?
  • Other than hygienic responses, what else can be done?
  • Which other viruses have a higher mortality rate that are currently being overshadowed?
  • Is the source data (reports, statistics) too small to make an accurate judgment?

THE BOTTOM LINE: The outlook of Coronavirus is unclear, but the ways organizations react to it should be based on facts and from a number of references prior to making any potentially risky decisions.

Looking for additional strategic guidance around your business in a challenging economic climate? Foodservice IP can help. Contact an FSIP consultant today to fast-track a plan for boosting your firm’s profitability.


Tim Powell is a Managing Principal of Foodservice IP. His responsibilities include recommending and developing business strategies, market sizing, designing qualitative and quantitative research methods, strategic planning and project management. Tim serves as a trusted foodservice adviser to management at several food companies.