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  • Writer's pictureTheDave

The Cone of Plausibility

The cone of plausibility is a tool that can be used to review and try to predict potential future outcomes and situations. This review and prediction can help in strategy work and inform and guide further research work.

On The Whisky 3 Podcast ep004 Steve and I discussed this analysis technique. Below is the slide with narrative that walks you through the content of the slide.

For the full experience listen to the podcast, via the link above, with the slide in front of you to follow along as Steve walks through this cone of plausibility which is focussed at potential outcomes from COVID-19 here in the UK.

COVID 19 Cone of Plausibility

Notes from the Podcast:

Cone of Plausibility (COP) for COVID19 in the UK – projecting out 18 months

BLUF - Bottom Line Up Front


The aim of the COP is to project a realistic future that can then be planned / accommodated for. To do this accurately, the key drivers for developing fluctuations in the ‘norm’ are required to be identified; for COVID19 these have been determined to be Economics, Social, Technological, Political, Security and the Disease itself.

The diagram shows the projected negatives and positives over the timeline, each one of the drivers should have a paper written on it which is peer reviewed / referenced in order to ensure it isn’t just “I reckon that…” but we haven’t got time for those shenanigans. A point to note is that this can be used as a planning tool as time progresses, using the projected lines as a marker in time as to where we are. Looking along the lines and then seeing the impact on the other key drivers as one dips or improves is key and very useful for operational and contingency planning.

Three options to consider

Projected Future – baseline (‘nothing changes’ to what is currently happening, business as usual, whatever that usual is)

Wild Card – worst case scenario (usually needs one or two of the baseline drivers to fluctuate drastically, in turn this effects the other drivers negatively usually)

Preferable Value Judgements – i.e want to happen / should happen (what would be beneficial if it were to occur?)

Three Options Expanded out

Projected Future

The economy is projected to slow following the pandemic with the Bank of England projecting a 20% downturn in GDP, expected to recover within the financial year. That said, society will be reluctant to revert to the ways that were present prior to the outbreak, with ‘normality’ expected to return after 6 months post-lockdown (approx. December 2020). Given the aversion to prior working conditions, communication methods and expensive commuting charges, the role of technology is cemented, with many adopters continuing their use of new communications technologies. This has a knock-on effect for the world of print media, the travel industry and the retail sector with many having to drastically alter their approach to the new normal in order to survive. The technology sector in the UK will see a huge boost in profitability, as long as the Government ensure finance is available for the tech start ups that drive the larger players both intellectually and technically. Politically, now is not the time for divided houses; with minimal gains for the Cabinet in place and the opposition teetering on the position of support/oppose, there will not be a drastic change in politics for at least 12-18 months with the nation unwilling to support a referendum or election of any sort. Security remains important throughout, given the lower public posture on the streets of the UK, lone wolf attacks are unlikely, with the main threat stemming from hostile cyber attacks against critical national infrastructure and mass organized crime efforts. The disease will likely flatten in line with social distancing measures and will be manageable once a vaccine is introduced in around 12 month’s time. The projected second wave in the winter is dealt with, with the population increasingly accommodating to its permanence.

Wild Card

The second wave has a catastrophic impact on the economy following the poor position after the return to work phase in 2020. Given the difficulty in generating tempo in the service sector the reliance on manufacturing and financial services to bolster the economy falls flat, with furloughing of individuals no longer possible. The impact on the economy and increasing unemployment leads to large social unrest in the main conurbations of London, Birmingham and Manchester, with many groups calling for action or indictment of key decision makers. The impact politically is that the Cabinet and PM’s positions are untenable and a General Election is called towards the middle of 2021. The SNP use this as leverage for a second independence referendum, turning towards the EU and stating their ability to govern Scotland better than London. With PM Johnson likely to be ousted, the second referendum sparks calls for the break up of the UK with regional economic independence a key target. Technology remains a key part of everyone’s lives but with the downturn the level of Government investment needed to support smaller start ups is not enough, leading to degraded foundations in the tech industry. The larger players are financially viable for around 12 months into 2021, however, the Government are called on to lean in and support the larger firms. Security remains a threat, with organized crime groups utilising phishing attacks and fraudulent activity to capitalize on poor individual security and hysteria over COVID19 for financial gain. Migrant ingress over the channel continues, with up to 1,000 migrants landing in small vessels each week throughout the summer months. Terrorism remains contained, despite best efforts for Islamic extremists to capitalise on opportunities given the return to work and society reverting to a new normal posture. The second wave of the COVID19 virus decimates a large portion of the vulnerable population, with lessons learnt from the first wave around personal health and diet mostly falling on deaf ears due to the economic difficulty that most families find themselves in.

Preferable Value Judgements

Two key areas that provide preferable value judgements are the economy and the disease itself. Economically, the shift to working from home and the utilization of technology to enable business and lower overheads will not go away, with many considering the new norm to be a more relaxed yet productive shift in working patterns. The knock on effect for business and cities is that the economic landscape will not be the same for workers, with many choosing / demanding to maintain the current working pattern. The follow on for mental health, dietary well being and work life balance are notable, with businesses then considering the requirement to shell out on large corporate offices that are indeed no longer needed. The effect on land rental rates is likely to be huge, with a rebalance needed across many sectors.

The possibility of regional economic delegation remains, with Wales and Scotland calling for further delegation and budgetary control. The specter of the second independence referendum is a real potential and should not be discounted by Downing Street. If sturgeon positions herself well as a strong and competent leader who is able to act decisively in the face of apparent buffoonery from London she will not have to do much to ensure her political legacy and desired destiny for Scotland. Similarly, Welsh nationalism is growing both socially and economically. With investment in key industries and social movements growing, there is a stark possibility for regions to look for independence with only those gravitating towards London’s world view opposing such calls.

A preferred value judgement from the disease’s perspective could be the hindsight perspective in what could have been done better once the disease was identified. Lessons learnt from so called authoritarian regimes, notably China and Russia, show that forced isolation and containment of infected individuals stemmed the outbreak considerably. The draconian measures force the narrative to be considered about human rights. What good are human rights if you are not willing to sacrifice yourself for others? One could argue that selfishness prolonged the life of the virus, with the COVIDIOT tide turning towards self-interest, perhaps authoritarianism is what is needed in times of pandemic. The lessons learnt from this and the potential impact to human rights, both tangible and intangible, could be vast.

So What?

From the above (caveated by the fact none of it is reference and is mostly an amalgamation of open source media) I would argue that the key driver to the next 18 months is Economic. So much of our day to day is based on economic impacts and considerations, both at the macro level and national financial longevity but also at the micro and families’ ability to clothe and feed themselves. The way the economy drives the other key drivers is fairly obvious, with Security being an outlying consideration. The ‘so what’ from this is that none of this is free, with the population needing to get used to the idea of paying for this for a long time, likely into the 2030s. If you look at the bail outs in 2008, we were (and continue) to be impacted for much longer than originally thought. How we will pay for this is lower salaries, higher taxes, less options to travel and likely reduced career opportunities as firms consolidate their losses and rebuild over the next few years.

What did we not cover but is worth thinking about over a coffee?

Impact on travel industry

Impact on international security – reluctance to start shit

Will anyone learn from this? What’s the impact on workplaces?

Thanks for read/listening to the Whisky3 Podcast.

Check us out here - The Whisky 3 Podcast

Dave and Steve

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