When navigating uncertain times, keep working for a better future
By Coen Welsh, an I/O Psychologist and co-founder of Capacity Trust. He holds an MBA from the prestigious Jack Welch Management Institute and is pursuing a PhD, researching the Capabilities of Leaders in the 21st Century.
A walk on the beach brought an analogy to mind. As you walk on the beach and the sand is hard you can walk fast and look far ahead while not really focusing on each individual step. Your body and muscles know what to do to put one foot in front of the other. However, as the tide came in the path was replaced with stones and pebbles. Nothing in this new path is inherently threatening. However, as you walk you need to tread carefully and pay attention to each step. Where to place your foot as you walk to ensure you do not sprain an ankle or slip and fall.
This parallels to the world of work where when times are good it is easy to continue doing business like we do normally. Almost without thinking, natural organizational muscle memory. However, when the path is uncertain, we need to focus on each move we make as a business. Long term planning is replaced by short term management of cash flow and short-term objectives. Some people may refer to this step-by-step approach as the daily grind. This description has a negative connotation to it and does not motivate or inspire, however, James Clear suggests that we need to reinterpret this step-by-step approach as a system or a process. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/slow-gains/201401/forget-about-setting-goals-focus-instead)
He uses the example of a marathon runner who cannot control whether she will win a race, but what she can do is to go out there every day and run. In business, you cannot control your market share or annual profits, but you can get out there and meet one new client every day. B.J. Fogg unpacks the concept of a tiny habit (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdKUJxjn-R8) in his excellent TED talk. The idea is to make your goal so small almost insignificant that you require no motivation to do it. To cold call just one new client each workday is equal to 240 prospective clients and you are building a skill the more you do it. Even a tiny conversion rate would improve your market share.
This does not mean we should not hope for a better future. As Barack Obama wrote hope is often audacious. https://www.amazon.com/Audacity-Hope-Thoughts-Reclaiming-American/dp/0307237702/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1592254999&sr=8-1 This means looking at the situation you find yourself in and even though the prospects look bleak you can still hope for a better future. David Feldman warns against confusing hope with wishful thinking. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/supersurvivors/202006/is-it-still-possible-hope) He states that hope is real and it is about living in this world, this current situation without denying the current hardship, pain and suffering.
Finally, as we are navigating uncertain times, Nir Eyal, recommends cultivating the most important skill in the 21st Century. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/09/stanford-psychology-expert-most-important-work-skill-of-the-future.html Focus. This is a crucial skill as we are bombarded with news and numbers every day. This creates distraction and gives us a false sense of control because at least we know what is going on around us. However pointless discussions about government strategy and response causes stagnation, not progression. Focus allows us to identify and prioritise the next important step we need to take. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/radical-sabbatical/202001/how-stay-focused-and-achieve-what-you-want Even a simple act such as writing down and making a to-do list allows you to keep focused.
In summary therefore:
* Remember it’s about the process;
* Control what you can and build tiny habits;
* Keep hoping, and,
* Cultivate focus.
Image by Glenn Carstens-Peters. @glenncarstenspeters