There have been comparisons of this week to the terrorist attacks on 9-11 but something felt very different for me. Some of my thoughts were summed up in a Tweet by Matt Haig*: “News is normally a fading shock. A terrorist attack, say, that hits us and then we absorb it and its impact fades. We aren’t used to a rising shock. I think that’s what makes our current news so psychologically hard.”
When 9-11 happened – or a tornado, hurricane or fire – it happens and then it is done. With COVID, there is ongoing anxiety as the threat looms. Life seems even more surreal because some people right in our own circles are living in ordinary ways while there is a massive disruption for others. There isn’t that same universal, common experience that often follows a tragedy.
Two takeaways from this for me:
- There is a need to attend to our mental wellbeing as well as our physical environment. Yes, it’s important to hunker down and social-distance but it’s also necessary to impart some self-love. Even if you’re not sick or out of a job, the uncertainty alone makes for stressful times. Don’t dismiss the anxiety – attend to it.
- Remember how you feel and draw upon that empathy when there are parallels in your organization or family life. Don’t drag out the threat of layoffs and let concerns about company viability linger to cause ongoing stress. If a friend or family is gravely ill, be gentle around the anxiety that comes with the unknown.
Life needs you to take extra care when a negative is likely to escalate before it dissipates.
Last year, the Heartland saw a 100-year flood. And it’s predicted that it could happen again this year.
The cancellation of entire concert tours, the Kentucky Derby, NCAA championships, all professional sports, etc. – they have all been happening for decades and, until this week, no one would have suspected they could all be called off within days of each other.
Just because floods haven’t happened two years in a row doesn’t mean that they can’t occur again this year. Just because Disneyland has never closed or school systems haven’t been shut down for months doesn’t mean they won’t during a pandemic.
People claiming “I’ve never seen anything like it in my lifetime” seem genuinely surprised when something new occurs, as if its absence in the past literally prevents it from happening in the present.
Life is not linear. While the past may provide some clue as to what comes next, we can’t rely on it as an infallible barometer regarding the future. Spend your energy looking ahead based on what could be vs. forecasting your outlook based on what was.
The next time you think something is “impossible”, remember this week.
When you hear yourself saying “there’s no way we could…”, remember this week.
If you think that massive disruption of a system is too big to be achieved, remember this week.
And if you’re gridlocked, thinking that major changes require months of planning, remember this week.
When the “why” is compelling enough, people, businesses and whole systems can turn upside down with virtually no notice. Remember that the next time you’re trying to initiate a change instead of reacting to one.
In 2010, portions of the Atwater bluff along the shores of Lake Michigan collapsed due to excessive rain. The flooding eroded the hill and cut off access to the beach for Milwaukee’s residents.
Instead of creating a wall to secure the sands, local engineers realized that utilizing natural plants would provide a more sustainable solution. Organizers stabilized the bluff with over 3000 native plants whose deep roots serve to hold back the hill and provide a natural habitat for area birds and insects. The area is now designated as a Monarch Butterfly Waystation and many other creatures benefit from the plants and shrubs. The native vegetation also provides a scenic vista to line the Lake while allowing natural sand dunes and grasses to develop.
Sometimes, it takes a disastrous event to cause people to stop and reassess what is best on the path forward. I doubt that people would have invested the effort to intentionally create a natural ecosystem on the bluff if the stormwater had not severely damaged it but the end result is an enhancement.
As you live through your own version of bluff collapse, take advantage of the opportunity to rethink what comes next. You have a chance to rebuild in a way that is better.
The movie Just Mercy highlights the injustice of one particular case set in the context of multiple failures throughout the criminal justice system. As lawyer Bryan Stevenson fights for the re-trial and release of innocent Walter McMillian, he turns to 60 Minutes to make his case with the public.
In 1987 when the movie takes place, 60 Minutes was the gold standard for investigative news. If there was an issue to be explored, the majority of people counted on the fair reporting of Morley Safer, Mike Wallace and Ed Bradley to ask the tough questions and cause people to think.
While the show is still aired, it no longer represents the final word on a subject. Now no one has ubiquitous coverage and the ability to instill confidence across the masses. Our news is transmitted in niche segments, one contradicting the next until there is confusion, dissent and doubt.
While you are not able to control the information disseminated on a national scale, you can orchestrate the messaging out of your organization. Use the original 60 Minutes as your model. Be timely, share the facts without hype, answer the tough questions and position someone to be the central source that people believe.
In this time of uncertainty, clearly communicating the good, bad and ugly is just what the doctor ordered.
Too often we default to thinking that to do more, we need to acquire more but a local store showed that is not always the case. Best Buy leveraged its existing resources by identifying the languages spoken by its employees and making a simple poster that lets people know this diversity was available.
Photos of the staff included information about which languages they were fluent in and others that they understood. It also included a “hello, my name is…” in those languages.
Even in our small town in the Heartland, that day there were associates who could communicate in Hindi, Arabic, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and French. How welcoming for customers who also spoke those languages, especially when trying to communicate a problem to the Geek Squad.
Think about what resources you have in your organization that you could more intentionally share. Est-ce que tu parles français?
A famous commercial from back in the day touted the benefits of Memorex cassettes by asking “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” Apparently, the quality was so good that it was hard to tell the difference.
Today’s music fans may be asking “Is it live or is it a hologram?” For it is this technology that is making it possible for Whitney Houston to go on tour again – yes, Whitney, who has been dead since 2012. “An Evening with Whitney” is scheduled to tour England utilizing CGI technology and holograms of the late singer, coupled with live music and dance.
For the press members who were treated to a preview, it seemed to be enjoyable — which could lead to an entirely new genre of entertainment. Maybe the Beatles or Frank Sinatra will start to tour. New audiences could experience the blues of BB King; Elvis may be back in the building, and perhaps the music didn’t have to die with Buddy Holly. Or other figures could come to life: Martin Luther King could once again “lead” the civil rights movement with his speeches or Maya Angelou could inspire us with her poems.
The hologram technology isn’t cheap or easy so it won’t be practical for you to create an image of your founder or your grandmother to impart their wisdom – yet. Stay tuned for what marvels are on the horizon.