In our rush to get back to normal or create some new normal. Let’s not rush through the opportunity.
In 2004, then Stanford economist Paul Romer made the statement “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” He was referring to the crisis American higher education was and still is facing but those words mean as much today as they did 16 years ago. In the book “Thin Book of Naming Elephants,” the writers go even further, saying “September 11, 2001, was an example of a fundamental surprise. It called for a review of many of our assumptions. Unimagined before it happened, we now try to make sense of why we didn’t anticipate it. Our human tendency is to try to place blame. Instead, the fundamental surprise should be an opportunity to review and reexamine the system, our assumptions, and our choices. It is also an opportunity to grow. Realize that the window for motivating people to change is relatively short because people will make the shifts in their assumptions and then go on with life.”
Our brains want to make meaning and get us back to normal, into a routine, and back to safe surroundings. It’s ok to seek that. But can we also not rush through the discomfort of the moment? Can we look at the way companies treat their people and just take the time to examine how we got here and how are we going to move forward?
I’ve seen so many companies and brands put out content about how important their people are right now. How important were they before your brand needed to fill the air time they already purchased? That may seem overly cynical and I don’t want to be that way about intentions. If companies are now truly looking internally and making their people the most important thing, that’s great. I hope it’s more than marketing language.
But are they? An Amazon VP just resigned over these issues. The worker disputes at that company tell a different story than the ads, too.
To be honest, it’s easy to be cynical. This isn’t the first time America has faced a dilemma between labor and business. We’ve been throwing around the term “essential workers” as of late, but America has always had an invisible category of worker that has always been essential. This article in Bloomberg is eye-opening and gives a perspective to our current situation: What a 1902 Coal Strike Tells Us About Essential Workers Today. We didn’t just arrive here in the spot of tension, we’ve been here for a long time.
Those of us who are still employed, still have food and still have time to think are fortunate. Can we imagine a future that’s different for the people within companies and organizations? Is it time to build companies where the people matter more and where we as a group name the elephants in the room that we walk around?
The time has come to look within your organizations to all the elephants, all the policies that govern people, and all of the issues that kept getting kicked to the next quarter. Remember that phrase fundamental surprise? Use this one to bring about true change.
The first step in the creative process is to not know. That means unknowing all the stuff that you know. To question the norm and how it’s always been done before. Then, you can look for a new way to see and think.
Saying, “I don’t know” is a very powerful statement. It’s not a comfortable one for business leaders to admit, because so much success has been built on knowing and predicting. Often, we don’t have the time or space to say that we don’t know.
However, we’re all in a time of “I don’t know.” It’s even bigger, It’s a collective moment of “We don’t know.”
Don’t waste this moment.
P.S. The second question to ask is “What if?”