C19 is horrific. Perhaps the most frightening thing I have ever lived through. But then I am too young for WW2 and was a new born at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis when we stood at the brink of a nuclear holocaust. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Tsunamis, famines. C19 is right up there. But like most crises, it gets things done that our leaders couldn’t.
C19 has enabled thing to happen in a few months that leadership have been trying to make happen for years. We are reducing our use of cars and planes. We are increasing the use of technology. And innovation and creativity is springing up everywhere. Some previously moribund organisations are actually making stuff happen. That understaffed NHS? 750 00 volunteers and 20 000 returning clinicians. I wonder why they ever left? Leadership?
C19 is doing what our leaders couldn’t. And I am seeing it work in two very different ways.
The first is that of paralysis. Like rabbits caught in headlights. Sat waiting for the ‘top’ the ‘centre’, or ‘HQ’ to figure things out and give clear guidance and instructions. If in doubt – do nothing and await further instructions.
Or, keep doing what we have always done – but do it with greater commitment, greater risk, and greater efforts to mitigate the risk too. Find the inner hero. Or have it thrust upon us. Strike the medals.
This perhaps is a reflection of a particular culture where organisations and individuals have formed a dependency on ‘authority’, that will eventually ‘know the way and show the way’. And a reliance on habits and routines that have been proven to work in the past and will surely, hopefully, prevail again.
The second is that of open innovation and creativity. Self organising and mutually supporting groups and networks have sprung up within days and all sort of innovations are being tested. Restaurants are becoming take-aways. Makers clubs are running online. Choirs and bands are performing from the sofas using collaboration platforms and new music is being released at an amazing rate. GPs are doing nearly all of their consultations online with kit that had been gathering dust in their surgeries for years. New hospitals spring up within weeks. This world is moving quickly, collaboratively and positively.
What influences which of these two reactions we get to the crisis? Well, certainly personality, history and culture play a huge part.
Some people are more prone to ‘flight’ or ‘fight’. When they face a threat – they act. They experiment. They test their assumptions by acting. While others are more prone to freeze. Let others take the risks. As the way forward becomes clear, guidelines will appear and we can then move with more safety.
Both can work. But what is best now, in this context?
I also think culture and structure play a part.
Families with strong leaders look to them for assurance and guidance. Organisations with strong hierarchies look to the senior management and the board for guidance and instructions. Subjects look to Ministers and state sanctioned experts for assurances, advice and the wielding of new powers to keep us safe.
While families with more distributed leadership start talking to each other about what next. Organisations with more empowered structures start to blossom with experiments as individuals and groups start to test the new waters in terms of what works, and share what they know. Civilians start to care for themselves, their neighbours and what they hold most dear.
But which response is best? How should we develop our systems to better respond in the future?
Well, I don’t think it is either/or. It is both/and.
The best responses have both a strong top down influence and this blossoming of innovation. They work together – exchanging information. Listening, challenging, supporting, testing. Top down and bottom up – learning from each other in rapid cycles of experimentation and learning.
Dependency is replaced by a healthier more human relationship. A genuine association around a shared purpose where hierarchy and rank are less important than experience, wisdom, intuition, and when they are available, facts.
Take a good look at the systems you are part of professionally and personally. What reactions are you seeing to the crisis? In yourself? In those around you?
What does it teach you about the need for things to be different in the future?
What does it mean for you and your development?