A version of this article was first published Apr. 8, 2020 at Troy Media.
To quote Albert Einstein, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” As difficult as this pandemic is, it is also exposing a wealth of opportunities. As businesses, leaders and individuals we are being confronted with the opportunity to challenge our assumptions on all fronts. There are some positive lessons to be learned through this crisis, and some painful ones as well. Human beings learn best through adversity. Let’s not let a profound learning opportunity pass us by. There are three assumptions we can challenge ourselves around, right now.
Speed of execution. There is research around CEO competencies to suggest CEOs differ from others in the speed with which they are willing and able to make decisions. Decision-making speed is important, but I think more important is the speed with which decisions can be executed in order to capitalize on opportunity. Faced with a ‘shut down or work from home’ alternative, our focus shifted rapidly to ‘how’ and ‘how fast’. The speed with which businesses that could moved employees to operating remotely is nothing short of remarkable. What, in normal circumstances, would have been a months-long feasibility study followed by extensive planning turned into a ‘make it so’ moment. It proved to some of us we can actually execute on logical business decisions without studying them and their downstream implications at length. Even our governments, the poster children for dithering and delay, have proven the ability to respond at pace when they put their wills to it. Will all the tactics we’ve chosen prove to be right? No. Will there be messes to clean up after this? Of course. But at least there will be, hopefully, a mess to clean up.
The question we can each ask ourselves during this time is, how can we take this new-found ability to mobilize at pace and use it going forward? What can we change or eliminate to make us more agile and nimble in the future?
What is important. We are being challenged as individuals, businesses and societies around a host of assumptions we have held. At the most basic level, we are all adjusting our expectations and experience around ‘the necessities’. It turns out my house can live without bananas. Bananas are a hallmark for me because, in our pre-isolation life, we would make a special stop at the grocery store every few days just to get bananas. Now we get a large bunch every 10-14 days, eat them even after they are past their point of peak ripeness, and then go without. It turns out I care a lot more about how long term care homes are being run, how well-protected our medical staff are, and our ability as a nation to produce our own food, fuel and emergency supplies than I do about bananas.
The question we can ask ourselves is, what really is important to me, our businesses, our country? Where have we invested time or money in things that have turned out to be superfluous and even distracting from our ability to focus on the essentials? What have we not been paying attention to that is critical?
Our preparedness. We are in the middle of a crisis that will, in all probability, have a very long recovery tail. How ready are we to meet this challenge? What have we done in the past 10 years, 2 years, to prepare ourselves? I am pretty sure ‘global economic collapse caused by a pandemic compounded by record-low oil prices’ was not on most risk radars. We don’t have business continuity plans designed to address this, and as leaders we find ourselves scrambling. As individuals, the Bank of Canada has been warning us for some time that our individual debt loads are excessive. Many of us do not have the recommended 3-month rainy day fund set aside, let alone the funds required to support us through extended shutdown and unemployment. No one is being spared from financial fall-out. Retirees, business owners, employees, freelancers, students - each of us will feel some economic pain. Governments are well aware of this, which is why they are responding with rapid, sweeping financial supports.
The most important question we can ask ourselves right now is, what will I do to weather this storm over the coming months? The second most important question is, how do I ensure I am better prepared for the next time?