If any of us needed affirmation that there is no such thing as going ‘back to normal,’ I think we’re getting that message right now. COVID-19 is not going away, everything is not returning to the way it used to be. A global pandemic has changed our lives in ways we likely couldn’t have imagined. It is time for leaders in both public and private roles to humbly acknowledge the reality of how much is forever changed. Not to scare people, but to inspire them.
It is time to begin imagining all kinds of new experiences. Working in offices is forever changed, so we need to start thinking very differently about commercial real estate, about how we use space in our communities. Organizational cultures must adapt to new ways of thinking about employee commitment (we have two employees who have permanently moved to different parts of the country!). Innovation in schools and learning will continue, as the pandemic triggered some amazing creativity and passion to overcome adversity. The reality of essential workers not making a livable wage cannot be buried, nor escape from political and economic consequences. It is like the landscape after a shift of the tectonic plates: navigation and expectations are forever changed. But so are possibilities. More of us need to start leaning into THAT part of the future. Take two steps forward.
But first we need to contain this virus. Finding the right combination of ‘carrots and sticks’ to motivate vaccinations and safe behaviors has proven elusive – and that leaves us all at risk. Giant step back.
My observation: two massive global realities are colliding and creating this time of both extraordinary opportunity and risk. First, technology has allowed us to curate our existence: we consume the news and content we choose, we interact with those we choose, we can conduct much of our lives without venturing out of our comfort zones. But at the same time, the extent of our shared fate is emerging into our consciousness: global warming is real and has dramatic consequences; a pandemic can spread around the globe in days and harms indiscriminately. And so individual liberty – a concept of patriotic passion in the USA – is being challenged by the realities of responsibility for collective health and safety. The fact of shared fate is not new; but the need to acknowledge it has never been more dramatic. There are things that need to change. Urgently.
I’ve written about this before: humans generally do not do change well. A part of the dilemma is that we are not wired to like endings…and change inevitably involves things ending. We get stuck on endings a lot. A key to solving the dilemma of managing change is to get focused on what happens because of an ending: a new beginning! Newer, better things can happen after an ending if we open ourselves up to those possibilities. Two steps forward. But of course, there is often a catch: there are usually winners and losers when things change, and so people cling to endings. One step back.
Leaders in organizations, in communities, in our political systems need to turn up the volume on the upside of what is ahead. We’ve got to create momentum for our new beginnings, not allow ourselves to be stuck in inevitable endings. Two steps forward!