We’ve been between two states of being since February 2020. We have lived in this state of unknowing and uncertainty for almost two years. Occasional glimmers of the light at the end of the tunnel only disrupt us. Uncertainty is a social threat creating anxiety and reducing resilience.
“Burn-out” made the ICD-11 (International Classification of Diseases – 11th Revision) in May of 2019. It is defined as an occupational phenomenon. It’s characterized by a feeling of depletion or exhaustion; mental distance, negativism, or cynicism about one’s job; and reduced professional effectiveness. It is not a medical condition, but a factor that influences health status or contact with health services.
If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger is not always true. Companies and people don’t automatically get stronger after a setback. Chris Bradley, Senior Partner – McKinsey & Company noted similarities between the 2008 financial crisis and the pandemic. Some companies outperformed; others struggled, and the effects lasted for almost a decade. He recommends boldness and humility. Strategies require optionality, a Plan B, C and D. Managers can no longer be evaluated based on their ability to deliver a plan. We need to shift our focus to their ability to use everchanging plans to deliver the best outcome.
We get to make choices of how we look at any situation. Shoshin is a concept in Zen Buddhism, which means beginner’s mind. This refers to being eager, open, and without preconceptions. Clarity can be gained when we look at a setback or roadblock with these wide eyes. This is more difficult when our brains are tired.
Change is hard. “The brain evolved to be uncertain-adverse” according to Heidi Grant in her HBR article, Our Brains Were Not Built for This Much Uncertainty. The brain recognizes patterns, builds habits, and puts as many behaviors on autopilot as it can. Jumping from plan to plan does not come easy. After almost two years of plan jumping, it is still not on autopilot.
Grant recommends embracing candor, big picture thinking and setting expectations with realistic optimism to reduce the threats of uncertainty. Embracing candor, conversations about what is working and what isn’t, will help us develop and pursue the next plan. Speaking with a beginner’s mind is emotionally dangerous. Communicating constantly and honestly requires an environment of transparency and empathy. It requires listeners with an open mind and a willingness to learn.
Our brains tend to dig down into the details when we encounter uncertainty. Instead, we should shift to big picture thinking and remember our bigger purpose, the “why.” It will help us reframe the next plan to arrive at the best outcome. Setting expectations with realistic optimism can keep us motivated. It is a belief that we will succeed, it may not be easy, and we will have to experiment along the way.
Companies that incorporate these three strategies will outperform. The gazelle who can run from Plan to Plan and make it up on the way will survive stronger. And, that strength may last a decade.