Opportunity in Crisis

2020-03-30

The Chinese character for Crisis is often said to be made from the characters for Danger and Opportunity.

I know it may be hard to rationalize all this unwelcome change as a gift, but hear me out. When your client or employer sent everyone to work from home, what happened to your commute? I usually spend one and a half to two hours commuting daily. My commute now usually involved picking my butt up from the kitchen table. I walk twenty feet, and put it in front of my desk in the office. At most that takes 5 minutes, if I get way-laid by my children in the process. But my commute is essentially gone. I got those 2 hours back in my discretionary pile!

I don't know about you, but getting 2 hours of my life back each day definitely sounds like a gift to me! The trick is, are you intentionally spending it? I've mentioned before, that everyone gets a second at a time and has to spend that second before they get the next. Can't hold on to them to spend later. Personally, I've spent part of that hour getting some extra sleep and enjoying a nice breakfast with my wife. Normally I don't get to do that! The other part, I spend taking walks and playing with my sons. One helps me not go stir-crazy, and the other I get to capitalize on the moment.

Thinking of our moment in history like that offers up a handful of opportunities, that aren't usually available to us. I'd like to share a few, that I'm taking advantage of.

  1. Feedback

How effective are your work processes? During our mandatory Work From Home stint, all those processes got turned inside-out. As a result, we are getting to see them in a different light. Undoubtedly there is some friction. Some thing in the works that's making it difficult to be effective.

It would be easy to blame that difficulty on the crisis and pay it no further mind. But are you certain that's the cause? Is it possible the process you're using could be better for remote work? Perhaps, some assumption in the process insists that people be face-to-face or in near proximity?

The present moment is offering us all a lot of feedback on our processes. From runs on grocery stores, HEB learned it needed to change its hours to keep up with the demands for stocking. The nation is learning best practices during a quarantine; Look at the difference between Harris County and New Orleans Parish. We're receiving similar feedback on how well our systems work in difficult times. How well are we listening?

  1. Practice

With teams now working remote in part or in whole, everyone is getting to practice their communication skills. Some are writing more emails. Others are learning to effective use tools like Teams. Some of these skills we don't use under normal constraints. It was easier to walk over to someone's desk to ask a question or whatever used to be the pattern.

Since the environment insists we change how we work, we have a choice. Either it's an imposition, or it's an opportunity. Imposition isn't much fun so I'll leave that one be. But if it's an opportunity, then its acceptable for our work to be a bit difficult for a while. It's like choosing Hard-Mode in a video game for a bit, specifically because you want the challenge!

Nice thing about using hard-mode for a short time, is that it resets your expectations, and hones your skills. Stick at it for a while and when you switch back to 'normal' mode, you'll see that the skills you honed make 'normal' work way easier. Now maybe this doesn't hold equally for all skills and systems. I suspect that more skills than just video games can be honed in the manner.

  1. Learning/Using Unusual Skills

Rolling back to my remarks on extra time, I've actually spent some learning or using what I will call 'unusual' skills. Unusual in the sense that I didn't get to use them much during 'Situation Normal'. My favorite example of this came when my wife and I worked on stocking our pantry a couple weeks back. Bread. The Bread aisle was decimated. There were a couple for sweet breakfast rolls or whatever. But regular sandwich, burger, and even hotdog buns were all gone. Guess we were late to the party or something.

But you know what wasn't gone? Flour. We got one of the bakery-sized, large, sling-over-your-shoulder kind of bags. Prior to this month, I've baked bread a couple of times... maybe three times. But I recall fondly that my Father used to bake bread every week or so for sandwiches. Real Yeast, brown sugar, the works. I could do that... Plus I figured kneading a sticky dough for a bit would be good stress relief.

Since then, I've made 4 loaves, and am prepping for 2 more. This crisis has allowed me practice a skills that I had seldom time or opportunity to use outside of it. It was just easier to buy good quality bread, and I had much less time to make the dough, let it rise, and bake, and cool.

In the end, I've taken to looking at this Crisis with less worry and more interest. What new good can I do with the time I now have? What new skill can I practice? What feedback am I getting on my systems, and how should I react? These thoughts brought to mind that Chinese Character for Crisis. But as I dug a little, I found out that describing Crisis as Danger and Opportunity is a little misleading.

According to Xinhua Zidian, 10th Ed.**, the component characters that quoted as 'Opportunity' might be more accurately understood as 'a point where things happen, change'. The Crisis is a changing point. Things after are no longer as they were before. Change can be either good or bad. It's up to us how we will capitalize on it. I'd argue a 'chance that can be capitalized for good' might indeed be an opportunity. It's up to you to seize it, and make good from it!

** Source cited by Wikipedia during initial research