In Control

Life is sometimes crazy, isn’t it? I mean, look at what we have gone through in just a few short months this year.

A pandemic killed the world economy and dramatically increased mental health cases.

Racism pushed its way into the limelight, temporarily quashing pandemic concerns while protesters took to the streets.

We expanded our vocabulary with new phrases and word pairings. “Physical distancing.” “Social distancing.” “We’re in this together.” “Stay safe.” If you are like me, hearing these words is like hearing nails grating on a chalkboard.

Despite everything, however, the earth continues to revolve around the sun 24/7.

What awaits us in the bigger picture is anyone’s guess, but one thing is sure: With all the turbulence of 2020 (the irony of hindsight is not lost in that number), we do see goodness emerging both in people and our planet.

Since working at home has become the norm for most, parents are now focusing more on their children. Family time and the family unit have once again become relevant.

And pollution has decreased. The earth is breathing freely again.

As I ponder the first half of 2020, I wanted to share what I believe are essential learnings.

  1. There is but one race on our planet. It is called the human race.
  2. Money is power, and the powerful continue to rule the world. That said, the assimilation of wealth in the hands of a few (the one percent) is not sustainable for humanity.
  3. Medical experts do not always get it right. Pandemic measures done in excess create more harm than good (for example, suicide rates are spiking, domestic violence is on the rise).
  4. Objective news reporting has given way to sensationalism. Ratings and profits are driving what should be unbiased and balanced news.
  5. Social media creates stress in excess. It can usurp all energy in a single post.
  6. Fear makes people do silly things. The media is an excellent incubator of fear.
  7. All individuals function at different emotional levels. That is what makes us unique. That is also what creates severe differences of opinion and conflict. Media helps fuel these differences.
  8. Critical thinking is not something that everyone possesses equally. There is also inequality in the distribution of money. And power. See point 2 above.
  9. Politics are a dirty business. Even good politicians must take a certain amount of mudslinging if they are to stay in the game.
  10. Businesses are opening slowly, and even the grocery store food lines are starting to go by the wayside. Things appear to be returning to normal.
  11. Personal productivity and motivation are inextricably linked. Good mental health also impacts motivation.
  12. Not all businesses will survive the economic slowdown. But not all businesses will die, either.

I’m sure you can add more to this list.

When this pandemic passes – and it will – I hope that you get a chance to reflect on how the experience has changed not only your business but you, personally.

How will your post-pandemic reality look? Will it be the same as pre-pandemic, or will the scars remain long after the “all clear” from epidemiologists and governments?

Whatever your reality, know that businesses cannot operate as usual in the post-pandemic era. If innovation and flexibility were not embedded in your business previously, they must become part of your business mantra now. Companies capable of thinking through new ideas and quickly experimenting are the ones that will survive post-pandemic.

According to the World Economic Forum, the global economic slowdown is forecast to cost the global economy at least $1 trillion in 2020 (not including the tragic human consequences). That should be motivation enough to start thinking about how to adapt your business to a new reality – regardless if a new way of doing business is required.

How do you start adapting your business? Look at the flaws in your organization first – this crisis amplified these flaws. Implementing new ways of dealing with the customer is mandatory to correct the weaknesses.

Next, identify where you need help – is it knowledge, skill, products, or something else? We can’t do everything on our own – ask and get the help you need to sustain your operation. Other areas to evaluate include your data and technology (is it working for or against you?) and your workforce. Machines and computers are great (when and where they are needed), but no business can function effectively without a competent workforce.

In the end, when things do return to normal, know that you are in control – both of your personal and business futures.

Opinions, Judgments, and Creds

It is a fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving an indelible mark on our society. In addition to the tragic number of deaths, which number, by the way, is no more or less than seasonal flu, it has also impacted the world economy, mental health, domestic/other violence, poverty, and general wellbeing of people.

It has also divided people – bringing out the best and worst in all of us.

Fear has become a strong motivator during this pandemic. Fear is prevalent because of uncertainty, and daily news reports of disease numbers are also fueling that fear. Because of uncertainty, people are divided in their views on the pandemic – either they support the pandemic measures (fear taking root in a lot of cases), or they do not (questioning everything with why and how does this make sense?). While I do not doubt that the disease is real, I wonder whether the measures were the best move, especially given that the COVID-19 numbers in no way reflect the severity of the illness as initially communicated.

What’s interesting, however, is that my opinion has created a rift even within my network of friends and colleagues. While I respect the views of others, many people do not do the same when faced with information that contradicts their beliefs. This blanket rejection of opinions is not a good thing for society.

A person that I do not know wanted to know what gives me the right to state my opinion on the pandemic. Am I a virologist? An epidemiologist? An infectious disease expert? I am none of the above, but I am a concerned citizen who is seeing the data and asking what I believe to be thoughtful questions. I don’t always take information at face value. I tend to look for the meaning behind the message. And in my humble opinion, that’s what every person should be doing when faced with information, especially information that keeps changing daily.

Social media has made it excessively easy to have opinions and pass judgments. We feel anonymous and protected when we’re behind a computer screen floating our words in a virtual world. We don’t see the recipients of our words, but we feel their reactions in the words they write to us even though they may not address us by name.

Unless you’re a credentialed scientist, medical expert, or government official and, therefore, credible, it appears that you no longer have a right to an opinion about the pandemic. Readers and listeners judge your motives and question your background.

“What gives you the right to say that the measures may be wrong?”

“I can’t wait for you to end up in ER with COVID-19, and I hope they check your social media accounts to see which side of the pandemic you’re on before they give you treatment.”

“The numbers are real, and people are dying, how do you not see that?”

People are turning into monsters at their keyboards. They’re lashing out because they can’t believe for a minute that scientists, medical experts, governments, or media could be wrong. Those in positions of power would never lie to us, and they would certainly not manipulate us through fear. Would they?

This pandemic has zapped our critical thinking and replaced it with pure emotion. Logic is absent. In some respects, this is understandable. People have lost their jobs and their businesses. As well, their mental health may be in decline, and their domestic situation may be in turmoil. Yet, their expenses remain the same. It appears that those in power have ignored the human condition by focusing exclusively on strategies to stop a killer virus, regardless of costs.

The business loans and wage subsidies from governments are a small step to rectifying problems, but this isn’t the answer. The losses experienced by the lockdowns will never be recouped. There are no winners here other than the one percent.

The responses to this pandemic have been nothing short of a crapshoot. Leaders know this. Most of us do, too.

While we’re in no position (for now) to do anything but follow the rules, there are a few things we can do to help ourselves get through this.

  1. Understand and believe that the disease is real. It is not a hoax.
  2. Understand that proper hygiene is essential and having clean hands is always good – not just during a pandemic!
  3. If you’re active on social media, respect all opinions. If someone’s opinion doesn’t mesh with your beliefs, don’t be nasty and react emotionally. Consider whether there is some truth in the other view. You might learn something.
  4. Respect all people, especially the ones who don’t agree with you.
  5. Know that the measures are not a forever thing (at least, that’s what I’m hoping!).

When this is over, the data will reveal whether the current measures were correct. Until then, respect your fellow citizens, both in-person and online.

In closing, let me leave you with this quote from an anonymous source:

“You must always be willing to truly consider evidence that contradicts your beliefs, and admit the possibility that you may be wrong. Intelligence isn’t knowing everything. It’s the ability to challenge everything you know.”