The arrival of COVID-19 has certainly brought the known world order to its knees. While our global communities are largely confined to home quarantines, our global economies are paralyzed in their value streams. The situation is so unprecedented that one question seems to be on everyone’s lips: “What is going to happen following the pandemic?”
We propose a slightly different question that may shed light on how we are relating to one another: “What do we want our lives to be after the pandemic?”
This is a typical inquisitive question that is posed onto those, who experience trauma and one that frequently leads us into a process of self-examination and reflection. Yet, a lot of people do not become ready to answer this significant question until they hit rock bottom. Human beings often need a kind of profound and deeply moving experience to ignite a sense of urgency and a shift in behavior. This very fact may indeed be the silver lining in the current moment. Similar to a single human experience, one of the key benefits of an unprecedented scenario like this inside an organizational system – whether inside a family, a society, an NGO or a business is that all experiences become painfully exaggerated. Let’s take a business example. Assume you own a production unit that has been successfully running over a decade. One day, one of your operators approaches you to claim there is a slight handicap in the factory value chain and it would be good to revisit the process and to put in a new technology proactively. You listen and half-hear the suggestion. The issue doesn’t present itself as pressing and you deprioritize fixing it. Then, a few months into the incident, all of a sudden, you get a new client who quadruples your typical order. You become thrilled. While you are ferociously working to meet the new demand, the handicap resurfaces itself as a threat to your manufacturing line. Perhaps it slows down your production, perhaps it breaks to bring the cycle to a full stop. That is the moment you think “Oh, I should have fixed that in the first place.”
This highly likely scenario is what we see happening in the current socio-economical system right now. All those sustainability issues highlighted for our global leaders by technical experts and scientists over the years – whether around shortage of water, a possibility of a pandemic or climate change, have been deprioritized for arguably more urgent issues over the last several years. The reality is many leaders are having an “Oh, I should have invested in that” moments now.
The good news, however, is that times of crisis with new currencies as such often provide the perfect fertile soil for reimagination. In a personal situation, turmoil invites one into a process of awakening and discovery and calls for development of awareness around what one considers to be valuable. At the same time, it tests and measures the levels of one’s adaptability and resilience. The same is true for organizations. We are collectively invited into a process of discovery and there is a call for us to determine what we consider to be valuable for us in the coming future. A more human economic and socio-cultural modeling seems to be the way forward; however, is it sufficient to expect scenario building only from top? May be not.
See, when an individual goes into a process of self-inquiry as such, usually s/he comes out with necessary coping skills that include active listening, self-compassion, purposeful living, clear self-expression and how one relates to another. One develops new capabilities and unleashes hidden capacities. Indeed, this may be exactly what we need as a business community here – to engage in deep listening, grow self-compassion for our realities, reconnect to our key purpose, rediscover joy in life-giving activities and shift towards a different way of relating to one another. We need a will to develop new capabilities and discover hidden capacities:
- What if a number of business organizations were to come together to offer listening venues for a variety of diverse employees?
- What if a number of policy makers accepted the challenge of building more self-compassion?
- What if a number of business leaders stood up to tie corporate strategy to a more human purpose?
- What if a number of human resources practitioners joined forces to rewrite organizational practices to bring more playfulness?
- And what if we each reflected on how we simply relate to one another?
What could the future look like then?
That basic shift in self-perception can just help us understand the role we play in social change and organizational transformation. It may help us discover emotions we keep inside, find a way to express them as positive states of mind and heart. It may help us reconsider traditional and archaic practices. It may help us understand how our behaviors in relation to others shape the climate and culture of our environments.
In Martha Nussbaum’s words: “To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the human condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility.”
The same is ultimately true for organizations. To be a good organization is to have an openness to changes in the environment, to have the ability to adapt and to develop resilience in the most extreme circumstances. Rather than focusing on single-point interventions (such as responding to covid-19 alone) or relying on change leaders to evolve the rules of the game and the social architecture, we can take this opportunity to grow a systemic awareness and simply shift the way we show up and the way relate to one another and to our surrounding environments. Let’s!