Disruption and Innovation

While this pandemic has certainly hit some groups very hard — the restaurant industry, some school aged kids, vulnerable groups that depend on state services, just to name a few — other groups are doing quite well. Steve’s happy working from home. The building contractors tell me that they have never had more work.

It also is leading to changes, some of those good changes. With new early voting procedures in many states, 73 million people have already voted. That accounts for 53 percent of all the votes cast in 2016. We are on track to have the highest voting numbers in modern times. (It’s hard to really calibrate voting totals from the 1800’s, because things didn’t always work properly back then.)

Typically, only about half of the US electorate casts their votes in presidential elections. Much less than countries like Germany, where 70 percent of the electorate votes. Some have said the low voter turnout in the US is due to the boringness of the two-party system. Others have pointed to voter suppression. Some say that it’s a sign of great contentedness of the population. Still others have said that it’s because unlike other countries, we don’t make it easy for people to vote. Folks don’t get the day off to cast their ballot, so many just can’t get to the polls on time.

Suddenly, things are easier here. The mail-in ballots have come early. They have lots of instructions. There are multiple ways to vote. My friends in New York say that they have been waiting online for hours to cast an early vote. In New Jersey, we’ll show up to the voting center with paper ballots already completed. Jonah put his in the mailbox ages ago. With so many people working from home and the schools closed on Election Day, it should be very easy to cast a ballot on the actual day.

If, and this is a big if, everything goes well and we don’t end up with a “hanging chad” problem, these changes to voting procedures is the biggest innovation to happen in voting in decades. These are positive changes that should remain permanent even long after the vaccine makes this virus go away.

Voting changes can’t be the only innovation that is happening now. Down the road, I can see opportunities to make real changes in schools, but I won’t talk about that today. What other innovations are you seeing in your communities and careers?

12 thoughts on “Disruption and Innovation

  1. We have been voting by mail for 20 years. I can look up my voter records since 2004 and in the last 16 years, I’ve voted 34 times (primaries, special elections, general). Most of my voting has been done where I live now, but I’m pretty sure my record isn’t nearly as good at my other two voting locations.

    We fill out our ballots at the dining room table, with he voter guides & internet in hand so we can research. Then, we drop the ballot off in a dropbox. I can check after I’ve dropped off or mailed my ballot whether it has been counted. It has!

    In 2020, 53% of registered voters have turned in the ballots so far.

    I’m not seeing the data for WA, but in OR, apparently 80+% of registered voters vote in presidential election years (OR also has mail in voting).

    It is also easy to register to vote. You can register 1 week before the election. My 16 year old registered to vote when he got his drivers license (though he will not get a ballot until he is 18). My college kid had her ballot mailed to her college (and got it 2 weeks before we did) and mailed it back (her’s has been counted, too).


    1. We are continually having the president of the United States threaten to block the counting of our votes and urging armed white supremacists to stand outside the polls. I’m not even trying to treat this as anything short of a direct personal attack on myself.


  2. “It’s hard to really calibrate voting totals from the 1800’s, because things didn’t always work properly back then.”

    Funny, for so many reasons. Expansive voting is one of my most important issues. The history of enslavement followed by deliberate, planned disenfranchisement of a significant part of the US population makes it a particularly charged issue for me.


  3. I am seeing a lot of teachers/professors rethinking their pedagogy. Zoom has forced teachers to be much more interactive, promoting active learning. Group work is becoming less stupid (I am convinced that pushing group learning was a big plot to make young people hate collective problem-solving). We are also using fewer textbooks overall.
    Remote learning is also forcing the Luddites to learn and use more digital tools, which is better for students, mostly. The end of the term was always a madhouse with students at all the printers desperately printing out papers and asking random professors in their offices if they had a stapler or paper clip. Why some professors refuse to accept papers without staples or paper clips is beyond me. The argument is always “Oh, they have to follow the rules in the workplace, so make them start now!” 90+% of my students will follow my rules, and I really don’t need to be wasting so much time chasing after and justifying punishment of the others who usually are either assholes or kids with attention issues, the latter for whom I have tremendous amounts of sympathy.


  4. I am a HUGE hater of group work. When I would tell students that they wouldn’t ever have to do group work in my class, they would applaud.

    I never ever had good luck with breaking down students into small groups within a classroom to chat among themselves. None of them had enough knowledge about a topic to continue a conversation without me to guide discussions. Now, those small group discussions are worse.

    Jonah said that when he has to go to Zoom breakout groups with other students, they all just stare at each other and nobody talks until the professor pops in the room, but she’s bopping in between handful of breakout sessions and most the time the students are in those breakout groups entirely alone. Sounds awful and boring to me.


    1. You have to have a very very strong structure in place to make Zoom groups work for intro students. Assign a discussion leader who has to report on everyone opinions, and someone to write a note in the chat on a specific question when they come back. 8-10 minutes is usually plenty of time. Even with that, some people still really want them, some are so-so, and others don’t like them (I surveyed, and it was evenly divided between those three options.)


    2. My son (13) absolutely hates group work. He’s really motivated to do well, and gets really angry about the kids who just take a free ride. Teachers only ever mark the group effort – and don’t reward those kids carrying a disproportionate load, or penalize the free-loaders.

      I’ve always felt that it’s simply a device for the teacher to only have to mark 6 pieces of work instead of 30. Cynical, I know.

      This year, he’s become much more strategic about his group partners – ditching ‘friends’ who don’t work, and buddying up with the top achievers (even if he doesn’t much like them).
      But, even then, he’d rather work solo.

      I’ve seen some online collaboration tools (padlets) which support some idea sharing (e.g. everyone in the small group has to come up with 3 ideas on causes of poor water quality). *If* the teacher is marking for contribution, it does encourage participation.

      From a work perspective. I don’t find zoom group meetings to be nearly as effective as in-person ones. It’s just a lot easier to read the room, and have a give and take problem-solving discussion in person, rather than online. One-on-one is fine – it’s the group ones where you lose something….

      Just attended a conference which combined in-person and online sessions: i.e. some people in the auditorium listening to live and remote speakers (some canned and some live presentations); some attendees participating online only). Not as good as being in person (you get a lot out of social connections and side chat) – but better than not being there – and lots of online chat as well.


  5. Advance voting (not online – we don’t do this here, but in-person at polling booths, or via mail) was a big shift in NZ.

    This is a big change for NZ – and had some interesting implications on electioneering – in the past, there have been substantial shifts in public opinion just a few days out from election day; that’s not really possible with the numbers voting in advance (10 days or more before polling day). At least 1 political party has depended on that kind of dog-whistle last minute swing – and has been comprehensively dumped out of parliament as a consequence.

    It will be interesting (in three years time) to see if this sticks, or was a factor of a decisive ‘Jacinda is great, and there’s no way I’m going to change my mind’ group, combined with numbers nervous about large groups of people on polling day, and preferring to vote at a time that suits them. Neither are likely to be as big a factor in three-years-time.

    We are seeing what looks like a permanent shift to working at home – at least some hours of the week, wherever the job makes it possible. Most people I know who are ‘office based’ are working half-time or more at home (I just go in for meetings and problem solving – zoom is just not as effective as in-person for this).

    Now, this is really interesting from NZ – where we have pretty much emerged from the Covid cloud and snapped back to ‘normal’. I’d expect to see this even more marked in countries where infection rates are still high.

    My boss has rationalized his lease of office space in response. We used to have 2 buildings (1 big, 1 small), about 3 minutes drive apart. This wasn’t intentional, just when we outgrew the current large building, we couldn’t find suitable warehouse/office space in the next ‘size’ up – so it was easier to lease another office space for the people who could transfer. When the lease of the smaller space came due, we’ve re-located those people into office-share space with a group of people who are predominantly working from home.
    We’re not likely to get much smaller than that (we have a substantial warehouse and physical processing space – which can never be done remotely) – but I expect to see predominantly office-based businesses downsizing substantially as their leases come up.

    My personal banker is now entirely remote (meetings by zoom), and several of the local bank branches have closed in our local suburban town centre – maintaining ATMs for now (but cash is declining as well).
    The banks are running dedicated phone line options for ‘elderly’ (who are the biggest users of in person banking services) – and talking them through online or phone options. This has been a great success with my 80-year-old Mum – who resisted family trying to help her with this, but is delighted when the ‘nice lady from the bank’ sets it up for her 😉

    Teaching is back 100% in person – and I’m not seeing any changes in delivery or online presence. Perhaps our lockdown wasn’t long-enough to make this happen.
    We’re just about to start our end-of-year exams for the high-school kids – so we’ll see if there has been an impact on pass-rates due to lockdown. Anecdotally, I’m hearing of schools (even expensive private schools) who have not covered the required material due to lockdown. Govt has made an allowance (extra credits can be automatically applied) – but that can only go so far…

    ECE numbers are down. Anecdotally, this is due to the high proportion of women made redundant due to Covid-crash industries (tourism, travel), and the family decision for Mum to pull the kids out of day-care (and not pay those bills), until she finds a family-friendly job. This is not likely to happen soon. Most of the Covid recovery investment is going into infrastructure projects, which predominantly employ men; and if Mum is re-training (low-cost or free training available) – she isn’t paid, so money will still be tight.

    We are starting to see reports of health conditions (cancer, etc) which were not diagnosed during lockdown (all routine testing was halted), and the consequent effects on the health of those people. However, it’s balanced by the improvement in general health which seems to have resulted from lockdown (pretty close to zero flu cases, reduction in suicide/depression – no one seems to know why, zero car crashes, etc).

    Material supply is still being hit hard by the crash of their airline industry. NZ is a long, long way from anywhere else – and pretty dependent on air-freight – both incoming and outgoing – for our trade. We’re finding that international supply, which used to be very predictable, is becoming really ‘lumpy’ (e.g. we’ve received the November pre-release stock, but the October pre-release stock is still stuck in Melbourne). On the ‘outgoing’ side, I’ve just bought a lovely bunch of peonies at fire-sale prices – as they missed their flight to Japan, and couldn’t be re-booked in time. Nice for me, but a disaster for the grower.
    Publishing is still reeling from the shutdown of Chinese factories (most books are actually printed in China or SE Asia) – printing is generally done 6-9 months in advance, so we’re seeing the Covid-hit, now. Many Christmas titles are being re-scheduled.

    Much of the hands-on physical agricultural and fishing work in NZ has been done with a combination of back-packer labour (make a couple of thousand dollars, and then move on to spend it), and seasonal workers from overseas. Neither are currently available (and looking at the Govt policy, this not likely to change in the short term – especially given the Covid breach caused by flying in fisheries workers and not quarantining them).
    The jobs are not currently structured for Kiwis to do this work affordably (there’s lots of tax issues, and stand-down periods for unemployment creating problems, as well as the workforce not being where the jobs are)- and, anecdotally, they don’t ‘want’ to work.
    This is a major issue for our agricultural exports. Waiting to see what the Govt is going to do about it.

    Biggest issue impacting on people is the hyper-inflation of our housing market. NZ was already seriously un-affordable (average house price here in Auckland is 11 times the average annual income), basically due to chronic under-building (and a whole lot of political issues about why that is).
    Numbers of Kiwis returning from overseas, and desperation of Kiwis to own their own house (think there’s an element of Covid here psychologically – if you’re going to have to lock down, you want to do it in your ‘own’ space), and the very low return on investment (around to 1-2%) – has pushed a whole lot of money into the housing market, which has gone ballistic. Prices are up around 15% on last year, and no signs of it slowing down. This is a major crisis for the new Govt to address.

    An awful lot of this isn’t impact of Covid, but the consequences of the hard lockdown and the tight borders here in NZ. It’s had positive impacts on our ability to not be overwhelmed by Covid, but has economic consequences as well.


    1. Thanks, Ann, for all of your reports from Kiwi-land! I haven’t commented on all (or even many) of them, but I am fascinated by your first-hand accounts from somewhere quite different from where I am (Berlin) and most of the other commenters.


      1. Fun fact: Nebraska has had twice as many covid deaths in the past 7 days as New Zealand has had overall but has only 1/3 the population.


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