This post is an archive of the Growth Through Disruption newsletter sent March 12, 2020. Click here to subscribe and join tens of thousands of leaders across the globe growing through disruption together.
I think we find ourselves in uncharted waters.
A pandemic, political wrangling, a volatile stock market indicating economic harm. We’ve experienced most of this before, in some form or another, but right now it seems a bit like we’ve sailed our ship into a Bermuda Triangle of uncertainty and even chaos.
These macro events coupled with the micro anxieties that accompany our everyday human lives might make us fear that we are sinking.
There’s no question that the past few weeks have been disconcerting, and that the concerns have accelerated and most of us are finding it discombobulating. Pretty normal to be feeling that right now.
But as novel as the novel coronavirus is, there is nothing new about trouble and challenge. I think when we succumb to fear and the paralysis or overreaction that it can stimulate, we are more likely to abandon the ship than to have it simply sink on its own.
Take the stock market, for example. I find myself somewhat sympathetic to stories of folks emptying their accounts and stuffing their money under a mattress. The truth is, we who invest decide what will happen to the market. Will the market continue to drop precipitously? If we liquidate our positions and stuff our money under the mattress it will. If we invest, it will recover and climb.
To paraphrase economist John Maynard Keynes, “The social object of investment is to defeat fear.”
That fear, I believe, is fear of the future, and even in some ways, fear of the unknown present. Should we throw caution to the wind? No, of course not.
But should we stop investing? To do so seems tantamount to thinking that the future is not uncertain, it simply doesn’t exist. There is no future.
A little drastic. The future has always been uncertain. If WWI accompanied by the Spanish Influenza of 1918/19, followed a decade later by the Great Depression and then yet another, even more destructive World War didn’t sink the ship, I see no reason to believe the present stormy waters will. We can choose to abandon it. But let’s not.
Said more pithily, and paraphrasing western colonizer Brigham Young, we need to “keep planting cherry trees.”
History is a great instructor. We’re not as historically minded as we maybe need to be—for our own good. History teaches us that the human family has risen to hard challenges—over and over again—with a combination of hard work, courage and ingenuity. Those tools are our legacy from our ancestors as much as levers, wheels and pulleys are. We’ve been disrupted, but we’ve kept turning that to our future advantage for millennia.
I don’t want to minimize the impact of these disruptions on individual lives and families. Hard things are happening to people. But perhaps because of similar challenges in the recent past (the Great Recession, SARS, MERS, perpetually screwy politics) we have more resources to stay connected, continue working, make informed decisions, support each other, than at any time in the past. Resources are meant to be used. Thomas Troward said that “life ultimately consists in circulation, whether within the physical body of the individual or on the scale of the entire solar system. Circulation means a continual flowing around…” Let’s keep the resources circulating and at work. Let’s keep living.
Invest in the future. It will affect everything we do and are. And our children. Our children’s children. There will be opportunities for new growth; if we look for those and embrace the constraints (can’t travel, must telecommute, lost half the budget, have to start again in a new place or start a new business, etc.) we will emerge from this perhaps historic moment better prepared for the challenges of the future. Which will come.
Innovation is the happy fruit of the resourcefulness demanded by hard times.
Said Sarah Ban Breathnach “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend.”
Keep planting cherry trees.
What are you optimistic about?
What investments in people and processes can you make, even if uncertain?
P.S. And if you need something to keep your mind off things for a few moments, my podcast this week with Stew Friedman on how parents can learn to lead at work and at home is a great conversation about a wonderful book. Now more than ever the people around you, especially your children need leadership. If you'd like to be eligible for one of three signed copies of his book, hit return, and say “I'm planting cherry trees for our children's children.”
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