Carly Fiorina has been one of my favourite mentors since 2009, but for the record, this is not an attempt to disregard the thousands of great mentors out there. Carly, I believe has a variety of life experiences that gives her the authority to share value and great insights. Before I discovered her content on the web, my life was pretty much a mess. I was very broke, sick, sad, depressed and living on the streets of Edmonton. But guess what? That setback did not stop me from turning things around. I was very hungry. Hungry for wisdom. Hungry for strategies that could make life better. I had to figure out a way out of the rut. Life, I can say is different today. Ever since I started listening to her videos, podcasts, reading her books, articles and so much more life has taken on a new meaning. Every time she communicates I learn something new and of great value. This is her most recent article shared via LinkedIn.
Lessons Learned from a Pandemic
Building leaders & problem-solvers…
Published Sep 23, 2021
After a recent speech, I was asked an interesting question by an audience member. What are the most important lessons organizations have learned during the pandemic and that we all should remember going forward?
I think there are three: peripheral vision, adaptability and innovation, and prioritization.
Peripheral vision is defined as “being the outer part of the field of vision.” I describe it as the ability to look all around. In business we tend to talk about the importance of strategic vision, that is, the ability to look ahead. The pandemic is a reminder that we cannot predict the future. So often, the most transformational events are not foreseen at all or are so poorly understood that we ignore them completely as we look ahead. There are so many examples: the introduction of new technologies that completely reorder winners and losers in an industry; the dotcom bust or the financial crisis; terrorist and cyber-attacks; a pandemic. Or, on a somewhat smaller scale, perhaps a competitor or key partner does something unexpected or an important customer set reacts unpredictably.
None of these are the kinds of events that typically show up in strategic plans and yet each of them forces an organization to respond and transform their strategy. Narrow strategic vision can easily become tunnel vision.
Peripheral vision gives us a head up that something is happening, and things are changing around us. Keen peripheral vision would have revealed all of these events – including the pandemic – as something to pay attention to and think about ahead of time. There were lots of warning signs as China and then Italy shut down that something new was going on.
As the pandemic example illustrates, the key to keen peripheral vision is that our field of view be broad enough. We can’t just look around in our own backyard – whether that’s defined by geography or industry or customer base. We can’t just look at what or who is close by. We need to look broadly around at players, events, trends, and leading indicators. We need to listen to the contrarian voices as well as the choir and we must be willing to contemplate what we would rather avoid.
Faced with an unexpected event, the best organizations adapted and innovated in response. They didn’t abandon their most important goals or give up on their missions. They found new ways of getting things done. We all experienced this on a personal level as we became experts at doing everything virtually. We adapted and innovated. High-performing teams did the same.
This seems so obvious, but organizations frequently don’t adapt or innovate unless they are forced to do so. And for some, that’s too little, too late for high-performance in a constantly changing world. Too many organizations have “a way of doing things.” It’s easy to fall into the pattern of assuming that because something has worked well in the past, it will work well into the future. It’s more comfortable and less demanding to settle into a routine that’s well-established and understood than to constantly push for improvement and change. Organizations rest on their laurels far too easily. The pandemic is a wake-up call that reminds us how much latent creative energy and resilience exists in every team. The best teams tap into that and continuously adapt and innovate.
Finally, the pandemic re-introduced us to the discipline of prioritization. Most organizations try to do too many things all at once and end up under-performing their potential. They chew up energy by having too many “strategic imperatives” and create confusion and frustration in the process. The discipline of prioritization forces teams to grapple with which goals are truly imperatives now and what’s really required to perform at the highest levels. What’s “must do” versus “nice to do” or “let’s do it because someone upstairs wants us to”? We got focused on what it would really take to get those “must dos” done. The pandemic introduced everyone to the discipline of determining what’s essential and what’s not, and then choosing to apply ourselves to the essential, instead of getting distracted by everything else.
Experience teaches all of us that good things can come out of difficult circumstances. The key is not to forget them when circumstances improve. Instead of falling back into old habits with a sigh of relief, we should hone our new insights and develop our new skills so that we achieve a new, higher level of performance.
Peripheral vision, adaptability and innovation, and prioritization are disciplines we have learned in the last eighteen months. Now we need to practice them.