One of the greatest challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic is the speed and scope of change. Our lives have changed so much and so quickly that it’s hard to adapt.
I’m no exception.
I was following the Covid-19 story as I visited Dubai and India in February, but I didn’t grasp its true significance. Towards the end of February, I started seeing Asian speaking engagements postponed or cancelled, but I still thought it was a regional, not global issue. Even in early March, when my travel to Europe started getting cancelled, my mind refused to process the incoming data. As late as the week of March 9, I was still planning a trip to Brazil for the end of the month!
That finally changed when, in quick succession, the major sports leagues in the US shut down, and then the San Francisco Bay Area announced the first major shelter-in-place order in the United States.
At last, I recognized the seriousness of the situation. But even then, I wasn’t sure what to do. I was in a state of shock, which wasn’t helped when I started running a fever on March 13. Thank goodness, I never developed any other symptoms, and the fever went away within 72 hours, but the experience still left me feeling numb and uncertain–two feelings I rarely experience!
I fell back on my standard method for dealing with challenges: Trying to learn as much as possible. I started reading voraciously, and sharing what I read, both on this blog, on my podcast, and elsewhere on social media.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours reading, thinking, and talking about the crisis, and I thought I’d share how I’ve adapted, and the general principles I think should be abstracted from my experience.
1. Accept the new reality–which represents a discontinuity from the past–as quickly as possible.
As noted above, I don’t think I did a good job of this, essentially ignoring blaring alarm sirens because I was so wrapped up in all the projects I was pursuing that I only adjusted my expectations incrementally (which is to say, far too slowly).
2. Embrace your grief so that you can process it more quickly.
It’s normal and human to feel grief, anger, and a longing for the past. Embrace those negative emotions so that you can process them and then get back to making decisions based on facts and reason. If you try to deny your feelings, they will consume your time and delay your ability to adapt.
For me, this meant feeling sad about missing out on things that I love (speaking in front of live audiences, face-to-face visits with friends) and mourning the fact that they will be missing from my life for months, which, paradoxically, allowed me to move past those emotions.
3. Accomplish something, even if it’s small, to remind yourself that you’re not helpless.
Along with my friend Jennifer Aaker, I’ve written about the importance of finding ways to use your idiosyncratic resources (assets and talents) to help others. Not only is helping others one of the best ways in general to increase happiness, doing something that has an impact reminds you that even if you can’t cure the virus, you can improve the world’s response to the virus.
Helplessness is one of the worst feelings, not just because of how it feels, but because it leads to inactivity and despair. Helpfulness does the opposite.
Along with my writing, I’ve done things like help kick off a global webinar series for entrepreneurs:
And conduct Q&A sessions on practical Covid-19 topics:
4. Build momentum by finding your points of highest leverage.
Accomplishing something should break you out of your shocked stasis. (Note that while it is an accomplishment of sorts, binge-watching the first season of Star Trek: Picard–which is something I’m doing right now–doesn’t count.) Once you’re in motion, build on that momentum by finding your points of highest leverage.
For example, one of the ways I’ve been able to help the companies I work with is to help them understand the available options for government aid. Since I’m not an expert, I reached out to my friend Trevor Loy, and interviewed him for an in-depth podcast episode on CARES, PPP, EIDLs, FFCRA, and the ERC. While this alphabet soup can be hard to follow, sharing this information might make the difference between failure and survival, and it has already helped companies obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid.
5. Prepare yourself to “play the rebound.”
This crisis will end. And even if its sudden onset shocked you into a stunned inactivity, you can still benefit by “playing the rebound” as it gradually departs.
The reality is unlike a Hollywood movie, where a terrifying pandemic is solved by heroic scientists who develop a magical cure. It is far more likely that the crisis will come in with a bang, and out with a whimper. There won’t be a single moment that marks the end of the crisis.
This means that just as people waited too long to act when the crisis arrived, it is even more likely that people will miss the far subtler signs of recovery. Those who recognize those signs, and “play the rebound” will be able to slingshot past or farther ahead of the competition.
My advice is to pay close attention to the emergence of effective testing and treatment for Covid-19. If effective treatments arrive–which you can monitor by following randomized clinical trials–the economy will rebound as they become available. If effective treatments do not arrive, then cheap, accurate, and widely-available testing for Covid-19 and Covid-19 immunity will offer a different path to restarting the economy.
In the interim, make sure that your users, customers, and potential customers remain aware of what you can do.
For me, this meant updating my website to lay out all of the different virtual options for working with me while we are all still sheltering in place. This includes virtual versions of my keynote speeches, as well as remote leadership and strategy sessions, coronavirus-specific content like applying The Alliance to manage relationships with employees and laid-off/furloughed former employees, and even full workshops via Zoom and Google Docs.
For my key projects like the Global Scaling Academy, it has meant pivoting from in-person programs and courses to virtual equivalents, with an emphasis on serving markets like China which are already starting to rebound. We’ve also accelerated our efforts to build an online community (more to come on this soon!).
As always, there is no guaranteed formula for success, and that is especially true during a global pandemic. But I hope that by sharing my own experience and recommendations, that you’ll be better positioned to adapt to this new world, and to thrive both during and after the crisis passes.