It is incredibly easy to look at a crisis and see only the downside problems and risks. Indeed, as lockdowns continue across the world, “non essential” businesses grind to a halt, families, communities, teams and organisations adapt to distancing and isolation, feelings of disorientation and anxiety have been heightened. Moreover, the list of things we know we do not know is increasing on a daily basis – here’s just a few I have become aware of in the last few days through conversations with clients, friends, media and colleagues in The Change Maker Group:
- We do not know how workers will feel when they are asked to return to the office spaces they have very easily abandoned in recent weeks.
- We do not know how employers will act when they reflect on the savings they could make if they closed down the very same offices.
- We do not know how educational institutions will be viewed by students who have been set free to explore the almost infinite volume of amazing (and largely free) resources available online.
- We do not know how educational institutions will respond once they see how they could dramatically reduce their overheads by utilising the technology they have deployed so quickly during this crisis. This is the same for the all service sectors (see below).
- We do not know how families will feel about the traditional models of work and careers now they have experienced the delights and challenges of being at home together for many weeks.
- We do not know how health and care services will be further transformed now that the technology genie has been let out of the bottle. Will patient expectations be forever transformed by the quick access (via web calls) to their local GPs? Will GPs and other medical consultants need to confine themselves to an office ever again?
- We do not know how international travel will be perceived (especially for business) now that all organisations have had to utilise technology to continue operations.
- We do not know how people will feel about large social gatherings (at least in the foreseeable future).
- We do not know how people will feel about jumping onto overcrowded public transport.
- We do not know how much the rediscovered respect for the life-critical workers in health, care and education will affect future social and economic policy.
- We do not know if there will be a long-lasting societal reassessment of what is important in life.
- We do not know if grey will become the new blond.
- We do not know if party politics will be further challenged by the awareness of what a collaborative focus on the national interest can achieve.
- We do not know how quickly everyone will get through the Unwanted Change Curve and how much this whole experience will affect the mental health and resilience of all members of the community. (To see how people have been responding to the question “how do you feel” throughout the past couple of months of lockdown, and to join in the mini survey, go to the Home Page of The Change Maker Group’s website using the link above.)
- We do not know how much the simplification of life, in terms of diet and health, will affect the sales of pre-packaged and processed food.
- We do not know just how many Zoom meetings someone can have in a day and still talk coherently!
- We do not know how many organisations will reduce the hours and even the size of the workforce once they have calculated the efficiency savings made during this crisis.
- We do not know which companies will emerge from the crisis with a stronger and more compelling offer and go on to become the Champions of tomorrow.
It is this last point I want to focus on as we continue to explore this issue together. I am sure you can see the list of unknowns could literally go on for days if a few of us got together to ponder every dimension of life.
So, how do you and your business battle through all this uncertainty and give yourself the best chance of success? The short answer is, no-one really knows. The slightly longer, and more hopeful, answer is by being creative, brave and wise. The outcome of deploying those three tactics is shown in the Uncertainty-Busting Matrix below:
Winning right now is all about learning. This is not just because there may be more time available to us, but because only through active learning will we discover answers to the many things that are uncertain today. Learning is at the heart of the Uncertainty-Busting Matrix and there are three ways to go about it:
1 – BE CREATIVE
The vertical axis is all about being creative. If you are limiting your options and closing down ideas before they even see the light of day, you will have nothing to learn from. Creativity provides the raw material for learning. Importantly, it also provides a stimulus for diverse thinking, tangential options and even crazier ideas. In times like these when old ideas and old ways of doing things are not going to move you forward, you need access to all the crazy ideas you can get! We call this type of thinking “Game Changer thinking” because it can literally change the game you’re playing. One example I heard this week was of a traditional learning institution that has identified a potential opportunity to steal a march in the online professional development space. The idea was casually thrown out by a game changing creative thinker over a virtual coffee!
In terms of getting up the axis, ask yourself questions like;
- How can I/we generate more ideas?
- Where can we look for increased inspiration?
- Who are the most creative people in our team? Can we free up their time to come up with more ideas?
- What ideas have we considered in the past that we should take out, dust off, and assess again in this new environment?
An inability to generate lots of ideas to test can leave you feeling Despondent. If you have only tried to make what used to work brilliantly work again, or you only have one back-up plan, you run the risk of seeing no success. Old thinking in new environments and new market conditions is incredibly vulnerable. The demise of former industrial giants and even whole industries is evidence of how quickly things change.
2 – BE BRAVE
The horizontal axis is made up of two elements, the first is the relevance of failing when it comes to breaking through uncertainty. In times of stability and consolidation, risk is something we manage closely and conservatively. We seek to preserve what we have, we limit the potential for down-side and loss. However, in times of increased uncertainty, it is vital to put our take a deep breath, don our imaginary superhero cape and be a bit braver. We will need to try things suggested by the Game Changers around us, even if they do seem crazy! We will need to invest in things we are not sure will work. Bravery of course does not mean blind stupidity – there is still a requirement to assess the risk as well as the potential benefits. Maybe BOLD is a more palatable word? We need to make more BOLD decisions than we would be inclined to make when everything is running smoothly. We need a more entrepreneurial mindset. One that sees the risks and determines that a single-minded focus on what is possible is the only thing to do. Anything that helps lift us out of a fear-induced state of feeling stuck and instead get us moving forward. In essence we need to fail fast and fail more. We need to embrace failure as a necessary approach to accessing the ideas that will win.
Again, some simple questions may help:
- What standard risk criteria need to be reviewed and loosened to reflect the new normal?
- How can I/we stimulate more action?
- How can I/we make it not just safe to fail, but make it business critical to embrace failure?
- How can I/we recognise and reward behaviour which seeks to try, even if the outcomes are not ideal?
An inability to take some bold steps and to increase the tolerance for failure effectively ensures that you are left feeling Stuck, immobilised by fear.
3 – BE WISE
The important second element of the horizontal axis is the notion of learning from everything you try. There is no point coming up with lots of ideas (creativity) and trying them out unsuccessfully (failure) if we do not seek to learn from each experience (wisdom.) Individuals and organisations that pursued a learning approach prior to these uncertain times will reap quick rewards now. A continuous learning approach, (capturing the key outcomes of any experience and adjust the approach to achieve better results next time) is critically important in overcoming uncertainty.
The sheer volume of unknowns in times of uncertainty mean that we also cannot know (with certainty) what it will take to make it through and prosper. Consequently, experimentation (a neat combination of creativity and measurement) offers many benefits:
- It increases learning and understanding about the new environment – enabling a growing sense of what works.
- It increases levels of activity, generating energy and enthusiasm to keep going.
- It focuses the mind on possibilities and enhances feelings of usefulness and potency.
- It throws up new, unforeseen, opportunities and magnifies the benefits of collective effort.
So, what questions will help?
- Who has experienced significant levels of change and turmoil before? What can we learn from them?
- What can we learn from looking outside ourselves and at the rest of the world?
- What can we learn from looking inwards and at our own activities?
- How can we measure success / progress / outcomes quickly and effectively?
- How can we share learning rapidly to stimulate new thinking and eliminate wasted effort?
A refusal to learn from failed attempts or an ability to measure effectively can result in a haphazard and chaotic environment. Insufficient thinking time and deployment of wisdom means that new ideas are rushed through the system and deployed widely before they have been assessed even cursorily.
I started this blog by stating how easy it is to focus on the bad things going on around us when life is turned upside down and the way forward is unclear. A crisis is labelled that way because it stirs up all sorts of emotions and anxieties and seriously impacts our confidence.
The Uncertainty-Busting Matrix is a step-by-step approach to breaking through the stasis. It puts you in the position to emerge from the chaos looking and feeling like a Champion. Whether it is you as an individual, as a manager of a team or as a leader of an organisation, your job is simple – make time for creativity, create space for failure and develop an environment where learning can thrive. Challenge yourself and others using the sort of questions offered in this article to stimulate a new culture and make the new normal a place of your own design.
So, what do you think? Do you have an experience you’d like to share? If so, drop me a line.
If you feel this blog would help someone else, please Share it with them and let’s lift up everyone in the days, months and years ahead.