I find myself in the interesting position of both having and not having a confirmed case of Covid.

There was an outbreak at work meaning many, but not me, were either confirmed cases or required to self-isolate because of exposure. I swabbed as a precaution but given the lack of symptoms both in my team and me, and the timings since the outbreak I was fairly confident I’d escaped. And when there were delays at the lab on Friday I didn’t worry too much that I was leaving for the weekend without a result.

On Sunday I was tired, but that could be anything so thought nothing of it (some people might, totally hypothetically, have drunk too much gin the night before, although obviously I can’t imagine anyone doing that). This morning I dragged myself into work, still feeling incredibly tired but ascribing it to a bad night’s sleep or perhaps a common bug.

It was just after 9am I got my Schrödinger status. I was waving the person with my negative swab result away from my door as I was on the phone with Test and Trace discussing my positive result.

This isn’t to criticise either Test and Trace or the lab, mistakes are made. I’m assuming an input error and that I may never find out the definitive result. However, having come home to self-isolate I fell asleep for most of the day and awoke to find my sense of taste has gone and a feeling I’m never quite taking a full breath. I now have a pretty good idea what the result should have been.

Hopefully, these will be the end of the symptoms for me and I will mostly sleep through it. And hopefully, I will be lucky enough not to pass it on to my family. Fortunately, I can be confined to my own room and while the sense of lost liberty is acute, the fatigue means I am not actually motivated to go anywhere. In any case, unlike actual prisoners I’m allowed books and the internet.

The lesson, for me, is how easy it can be to catch this thing. I have been very cautious in my mask wearing and distancing. Possibly not cautious enough, it transpires, but certainly someone who tended to go beyond the current regulations.

And the other lesson is how much luck plays a part. Were it not for London’s move into tier 2 it’s possible I would have transmitted the virus to other family members at the weekend. And, from there…?

The odds are heavily stacked in my favour; I’m relatively young and relatively fit. It might be unpleasant but I’m likely to be over it soon enough. But other people are not in that position and I hate, absolutely detest, the idea I could now be a link in the chain of transmission to one of them.

I have always had an over-developed sense of responsibility, so even knowing I followed guidance means I cannot shake a sense of ill-defined guilt for an outcome that may never happen and I will never know either way.

Imagine if I’d been the anti-mask type where I would have been more certain of the outcome of my irresponsibility. I oddly never felt my liberty infringed wearing a mask but I’m sure that death pretty severely cramps your personal freedoms.

Be careful. Keep your distance. Wear a mask.

Given my obsession with the effect of organisational change on staff while writing my dissertation (admittedly I was mainly obsessed with self-determination theory) I’m amazed I did not come across this paper, Moving off the Map: How Knowledge of Organisations Empowers and Alienates1 instead seeing it highlighted on Twitter (a platform I have largely been eschewing but am occasionally dipping into, and thanks to Ben Taylor for tweeting it) far too late to be useful.

The original poster highlighted the Lovecraftian nature of organisations being uncovered with one quote from a research participant:

The CEO, after being walked through the map, sat down, put his head on the table, and said, “This is even more f**cked up than I imagined.” The CEO revealed that not only was the operation of his organisation out of his control but that his grasp on it was imaginary.

What, however, I found perhaps more concerning from the paper were the references to the belief in the immutability of organisations. Rather than seeing an organisation as a human-made construct it was a permanent and necessary entity that existed of itself:

they had objectified the organisation, talking about and treating organisational divisions, senior management, functional boundaries, job roles, and rules as “things” having a reality and existence of their own … the organisation increasingly becomes discussed, imagined, and treated as a naturalised, necessary structure. The idea that organisations are an ongoing human product was a provocative insight for these employees.

While there might be few things more depressing than the sentiment “it’s always been that way, it will never change” once the staff involved gained the insight that they were working in a human-made organisation that humans could change the effect was transformative:

Observing the organisation as continuously in the making gave employees an overwhelming sense of possibility, sparking ambition.

It resonated with one of the key findings from research, that autonomy was key to ensuring that staff had intrinsic motivation. In short when they had some control they were happier and got better results. While my research was in education, there are plenty of other examples that illustrate similar results, like Buurtzorg in healthcare in the Netherlands, or the generally positive impact of autonomous (pre-Covid) homeworking on productivity.

It’s not hard to draw parallels with the current situation. Would the response be better if we weren’t trying to deliver centralised public health models in the UK? Could locally directed responses be more agile, and increase our knowledge of what works faster, than cumbersome nationally directed response? Would our response to a tiny virus be better with we didn’t let ‘the economy’ — an imaginary construct with no independent existence — determine so much of that response?

Like my failed attempt at cycling I can’t help thinking that there was so much evidence that things could be different and better before some got to directly experience that difference during the pandemic. But we are just ignoring it all in a rush to return to the old ways of doing things and To keep city centre Prets open. I am less of a fan of Friedrich Milton than I once was but do wish the government, presumably bigger fans, would pay heed to one of his more useful quotes: “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”

We are trapped by the fallacy that what we built before was perfect and permanent when we should be picking up the ideas that have been lying around for years.

  1. Huising, R. 2019, “Moving off the Map: How Knowledge of Organizational Operations Empowers and Alienates”, Organization science (Providence, R.I.), vol. 30, no. 5, pp. 1054-1075.