As we have been working with our clients during this pandemic, we're noticing a recurring theme. They are unhappy about not knowing what comes next. They've figured out how to deal with living at home, working at home and being at home. But now they're beginning to be uncomfortable and anxious about what's coming next. It's strange, isn't it, that without a clear vision of the future, it's often impossible to live today. I've recently recorded a podcast talking about this, which you can listen to here.
Martin Seligman's work on homo prospectus tells us a lot about how we need to see the future clearly if we're going to leave today...even if the future is an imagined one, because that's the way our brains work. Now the challenge is how to do our work when we're uncertain about what's going to be the new normal. What's more, we're not sure it's coming back to what it was. And we're not sure what it's going to be next.
All the positive reinforcement that says it's going to be better than before is not that reassuring
What are our clients asking us? It's good to think about it from a personal perspective, not just a business or societal one. One woman we work with went into a supermarket for the first time wearing her mask. What she found was that the market didn't have a lot of food on the shelves. It was unsettling, and there were far too many people there without masks. Neither were they standing 6 feet apart. Her anxiety accelerated as she tried to balance her own need to shelter herself and her family while others ignored the risks and put her at risk.
She also wondered about how we will use these types of spaces in the future. Maybe we will never have to go supermarket shopping again. Did we love it that much, wandering down the aisles and waiting in line to buy the same $75 worth of food every week? True, as she said, it gets her out of the house, and she, like you and me, likes to pick out the food she wants. But, isn’t it great to have it delivered to our homes? What I'm calling the "blurry future" was unsettling to her. While it might not have disrupted her life, the changes had disrupted her sense of well-being.
Another client is worried about how his job will change. He's trying to do that job today as effectively as he can. But in his organization, there's a lack of clarity coming from the leadership. What should he do? We spoke about how he is a leader who had to demonstrate his ability to make decisions, even imperfect ones, in these ambiguous times. He is feeling what all of us are—the pain of change.
Humans hate ambiguity
We hate to be between a black box and a white box in that grey space where we are uncertain what is good or bad, right or wrong. Today's ambiguity and constant changes are creating all kinds of stress.
With the client worried about his job, we talked about whether he could create his own box, a new sandbox that fills in space during these uncertain times. What's the worst that could happen? Instead, we suggested, what if he focused on how he could lead others in new directions that might be the right ones? If he is truly a leader whom others will follow, what actions should he take now to demonstrate his capabilities? What are you doing to show your people you're a good leader worth following?
We also have a client struggling with how to run his business with everybody being remote. It seems unclear how to plan his workforce and workspace in the future. We don’t know, and neither does he, if we will all come back to work the way it was. He doesn't even want to recreate the business the way it was before. His concern is with not only making the right decisions but how his folks will feel about him if he changes his mind or makes the wrong decisions. Such pain. The paradox of choices. Will they even come to work if he changes their workplace and their business model?
Yet, this crisis is an excellent time for people to innovate, do the things they've been trying to do for a long time
While our client is anxious about making changes, and his folks are stressed as well, the uncertainty is creating more anxiety and a loss of productivity. We spoke with him about how he can develop a vision of tomorrow and begin to articulate it in a way that will mobilize and motivate his remote working staff, build their courage and enthusiasm, and give them useful guidance. Maybe, we wondered, they want the same thing he wants. They're just afraid to tell him.
If nothing else, we talked about how to build different relationships with his direct reports. Don't forget, everybody is a bit lonely and trying to figure out their new normal--and everybody wants to know what's coming next.
What the neurosciences are teaching us is that we might need a new visualization of the future
It may be time to make up that imagined future. That's not a bad thing to do. The way our brains work is that we live in a perceptual reality. Our brain takes information and creates a story about it, and that becomes our reality. It's one that you create. It's your own movie set. And the movies will continuously be emerging. The roles we are going to play in that movie are going to change as the story unfolds in unforeseen ways. Since your brain is looking for that movie, why not make up a new one in which you can be a hero, and your staff and customers will have important roles to play in the future you are creating.
If you want to read more about your brain and how to visualize the future, you might enjoy Martin Seligman's 2017 New York Times op-ed entitled, "We Aren't Built to Live in the Moment." As he writes, "We learn not by storing static records but by continually retouching memories and imagining future possibilities. Our brain sees the world not by processing every pixel in a scene but by focusing on the unexpected."
As you write this new script and begin to live it, you're going to see it come alive in ways you had not anticipated.
Nothing is easy when everything is different
With a blurry future, we need to use our creative genius to reinvent our realities and begin to love them. Until they change again, you better make change your friend.
As culture change experts, we always used to tell folks that if they want to change, have a crisis or create one. Don't waste this crisis. It is a great time to reinvent your reality and make it work for you, not you for it.
For more on how to see the future clearly, here's a place to start
- Blog: Now That You Have Your Crisis, What Do You Change?
- Blog: How To Stay Moving Forward As The World Moves At Warp Speed
- Podcast: Andy and Andi Simon—Innovation Games® Are What You Need To Imagine Your Future
Ready to embrace change rather than run from it? Give us a call.
At Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), we are culture change experts who specialize in helping companies and the people who work for them realize that yes, “change is pain,” but they can change and actually do it well. Contact us to discuss how our team of specialized corporate anthropologists and business change management advisors can suggest ways you and your business can change to weather today's crisis (and those to come) and achieve even greater success. We look forward to hearing from you.
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