The coronavirus adversity is not just a chance for personal growth, but professional and commercial growth as well. We are now living in a world that is embracing failure whether we like it or not and to a degree unprecedented in most of our lives. As a result, that failure embracing quality of resilience will now command a premium. The coming months will test and enhance our resilience as individual, organisations and society like never before:
- · PLANNING – Planning is a bit of a lost art in the world of Just-In-Time supply chains. JIT might seem like the ultimate choreography of “planning”, but it is more a system designed for the synchronisation of the present than preparedness for the future. It operates on a base assumption of input flows that arrive at just the right time. The spanner thrown in the works by coronavirus means that nearly everything has a lead time now, and a variable one at that. As a result, operations need to “shoot ahead of the bird” and anticipate when supplies will arrive and coordinate accordingly.
- · BACK-UP – Another operational muscle that has atrophied in the business world is the notion of back-up. If you can just get another with overnight turn-around, why keep many spares on hand? With the uncertainty of the post-corona world, more robust back-up protocols will be the norm.
- · CONTINGENCY – You can’t affordably (except in the most mission critical situations) hold complete duplication of your entire operation on stand-by. As a result, spares are limited to the (a) things that break the most, and (b) the things that cause the most difficulty when they break. But there will be parts that fall into between those definitions that you won’t have on hand, will break and you might not be able to replace or fix for a period of time. As a result, you will need to have a few “Plan B”s up your sleeve to manage those eventualities.
- · IMPROVISATION – When everything else FAILS, then you wing it. Apollo 13 style. In the relatively smooth functioning of recent years, the requirement for and skills in operational improv also haven’t been exercised that intensely. That will change.
- · SELF-RELIANCE – When you can’t get someone to repair something, the you might need to roll up your sleeves and figure out how to do it yourself. The broad portfolio of handyman/woman skills has also atrophied over time as there was always someone who could do it better than you and at a reasonable price. But those people are going to be in much tighter supply. Fortunately, the web is filled with “how to” videos on YouTube to help guide you through an exhaustive range of DIY troubleshooting.
The title of this blog is “Turning Adversity to Advantage”, and we are now living in a time with more acute adversity than most of us have ever experienced in our generation. And yet, there are many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to embrace major enhancements in our lives.
“Investment” is basically about foregoing current consumption to provide the resources to enable even greater consumption in the future. Well, COVID19 is involuntarily imposing all sorts of restrictions on consumption, so the possibilities for investment in yourself, your well-being, and even your economic potential are numerous.
The now escalated self-isolation can be seen as a universal sabbatical. The gift of a bootcamp segregation that everyone can use however they like (within confines) to pursue whatever they like. I appreciate that for too many, these time mean most energy and focus going into figuring out how to pay the bills and provide for basic needs, but I hope that the government steps up to some degree to help in these areas.
A number of silver lining pieces have been penned like BBC’s “Coronavirus: Creativity, kindness and canals offer hope amid outbreak”. Such activity keeps you sane, enables you to sustain the isolation measures more thoroughly for a monger period of time (every day counts), and provide the collateral benefit of building you into a stronger and more capable person.
Here are a few of my own suggestions for turning the COVID19 adversity to advantage:
- Explore – Explore parts of the web you are less familiar with. Sites and apps you have heard about, but never bothered or had the time to check out. Don’t just glance at them, but have a right old play around with them.
- Educate – Check out a number of online education sites like Coursera, Khan Academy and universities like Harvard who have posted their lectures online.
- Exercise – Yes, we have less access to equipment and groups for sport, but often the biggest obstacle to not exercising more is now abundant – time an energy. Countless YouTube videos provide lots of creative options and instruction for productive and fun activities in the confines of your home. And even the strict lock-down imposed by the UK government yesterday allows people to go outside to exercise (practicing social distancing).
- Clear – No more excuses for not doing those backburner projects – eg. cleaning out the garage/attic, scrapbooking your photos (or digitizing them), organizing “that drawer”.
- Volunteer – Help others, get out of the house, develop new friends, connections, and experiences. A range of initiatives are calling out for volunteers to help with various aspects of the crisis like delivering supplies to the vulnerable and helping with a range of research projects on the virus.
- Deepen – We live in a TL;DR world. Now is the time to read that novel, examine the citations in that article, or immerse yourself in some long form material.
- Create – Time to get the pleasure and satisfaction and even cost savings of making it yourself. Everything from candles (from old bits), soap (also from old bits), to baked goods and as far as your creativity can take you.
- Bond – You may be locked in for a very long time so best to get as happy together as possible. One of my favourite techniques is “sharing appreciations”. You sit down and tell the other person something you appreciate about them. Start your sentence with the words “Something I appreciate about you is how you…” (thanks Sally).
- Relax – There’s nothing wrong with just chilling out. A lot. In our hectic, 24×7 world, we don’t get many chances to sit back and smell the roses (in our own yard). Now’s the chance.
annoyance of autograph hunters to a world of selfie-seekers and worst-of-all, the social media bottom feeders – trolls. Trolls spew gratuitous vitriol for nothing more than their own twisted entertainment. Most stars just ignore these petty attacks, but American late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel has embraced these failures with his “Mean Tweets” regular segents. He invites his celebrity guests to read out loud the most abusive messages. The result is ironic hilarity as the targets read them with bemused nonchalance vividly demonstrating not just how ineffectual such venom is, but also how idiotic the authors look in the stark shine of the spotlight.
- “A lot of my best parts I’ve been the second choice for, so you never get too egotistical about anything” – Michael Caine
Happy Birthday Sir Michael. No stranger to failure, he describes his embrace of it in this profile piece “Citizen Caine” (paywalled):
- “’I mostly play failures,’ he says. He is very chatty now; I think it’s the sandwiches. Why? ‘I don’t know,’ he says. ‘Most people are failures in their own mind, aren’t they? Or you wouldn’t write about them. You don’t write about steady people who are completely happy; it would be so boring. You write about people who have got a problem. I play people with a problem. Or,” he mutters, and it sounds alien in his mouth, “prob-lems’.”
“The stimulus for the lobster to grow is that it feels uncomfortable.”
Embracing the stress of discomfort is often the path for all forms of growth…personal, professional, physical. A process going back to at least the Cretaceous period 140 million years ago when lobsters first appeared. Let’s hope that the stress on our society from the current pandemic will also result in some silver lining of growth with better preparedness, healthcare resourcing, appreciation for science and community action.
“Pressure for fun”. That was how a family friend, who lived an idyllic life in the remote woods of Vermont, described some of the Lynn family recreational antics. It turns out that the attitude you have to stress affects whether its impact on you are positive or negative. One person’s stress is another’s stimulation.
Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk “How to make stress your friend” explores this positive side of stress:
- “Now, in a typical stress response, your heart rate goes up, and your blood vessels constrict like this. And this is one of the reasons that chronic stress is sometimes associated with cardiovascular disease. It’s not really healthy to be in this state all the time. But in the study, when participants viewed their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels stayed relaxed like this…So my goal as a health psychologist has changed. I no longer want to get rid of your stress. I want to make you better at stress…And the cool thing is that all of these physical benefits of oxytocin are enhanced by social contact and social support. So when you reach out to others under stress, either to seek support or to help someone else, you release more of this hormone, your stress response becomes healthier, and you actually recover faster from stress. I find this amazing, that your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.”
- “When we show up, act boldly, and practice the best ways to be wrong, we fail forward. No matter where we end up, we’ve grown from where we began.” – Stacey Abrams
International Women’s Day today celebrating the contributions and potential for women in the world. Of course, sometimes the best path to their success is failure.
Linda Kramer Jenning’s “To Succeed, Women Must Learn to Fail Forward” talks about how failure can be a force of progress for women facing traditional challenges of sexism and bias in the workplace:
- “The short tenure of some women in the C-Suite has led researchers to talk about a ‘glass cliff.’ In this scenario, women break through the glass ceiling only to get pushed off a glass cliff. The theory is that they were moved into positions of top leadership when the organization was in turmoil and then are blamed if they can’t save the day. ‘There is this glass cliff notion that women are set up for failure,’ says Barbara Kellerman, founding executive director of the Harvard Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership. She cautions that there aren’t nearly enough examples of women in the highest positions of leadership to draw many conclusions, but agrees that ‘when a woman is publicly seen to have failed or lost, there is certainly a higher premium on how she displays her experience of failure than there is for men.’ The question for women leaders is not if they will fail, but how they recover, according to Catherine Tinsley, professor at Georgetown University McDonough School of Business and executive director of the university’s Women’s Leadership Institute. She says too much emphasis is placed on preventing failure and not enough on acknowledging that it is going to happen.”
And part of that experience of failure can be a role model for younger women following in their footsteps as Cristal Glangchai describes in her piece “The importance of showing girls it’s OK to fail”:
- “Many ambitious, high-achieving girls have been raised to judge themselves by unrealistic standards, regarding anything short of perfection as inadequate and shameful. And ironically, the more successful some young women seem to be—as measured by high test scores, good grades, an attractive appearance, athletic skill, popularity—the more dangerous the drive for perfection can be. This drive can lead to the impostor syndrome, a pervasive feeling that, no matter how much you may have achieved, you are really a fraud and a failure whose shortcomings are sure to be exposed someday. That’s why, when I founded an organization that teaches entrepreneurship and technology to kids, I made sure that failure was part of the lesson plan. In every entrepreneurial class or camp we run, instructors ensure that there will be plenty of frustrating, laughable, ‘What was I thinking!?’ failures. And how do we ensure this? It’s easy. We encourage girls to try new ideas, test them, stretch beyond their skill set, and take a shot at things that no one thinks will work. And they usually don’t work. That’s the beauty of it. We need only create an environment where failure is anticipated, welcomed, analyzed, and celebrated. When mistakes get made, we’ve been known to shake a can of carbonated water and spray the team, or break out New Year’s Eve noisemakers. When I say that we celebrate failures, I really mean it.”