June 7, 2020


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we look at the regression phase of a crisis, design lessons from architecture school, listening in times of chaos, updating your own “subconscious normal”, and a list of reference-checking questions. Enjoy!


1. Dealing With The Pandemic’s Regression Phase

If you feel like you’re regressing as you struggle with the pandemic’s impact on your work, you’re not alone, says organizational advisor Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg.

Every crisis has three common phases, she notes in Harvard Business Review: emergency, regression, and recovery.

In the beginning, when the emergency becomes clear, team energy and performance rise.

“Then the second phase hits: a regression phase, where people get tired, lose their sense of purpose, start fighting about the small stuff, and forget to do basic things like eat or drink — or they eat and drink too much,” she writes.

To handle that:

  • Disrupt the team and create a new Day One: For some enterprises, reopening might be the jolt, but you can also release energy by juggling your team structure. Try assigning new responsibilities to capable team members. Perhaps even assign some of your own responsibilities to others and watch from “the balcony”.
  • Learn how to calibrate your team’s emotions: It’s important to foster an environment where it is safe and legitimate for team members to be honest about their state of mind so you can begin to move forward. To assess arousal levels, ask people to rate how they are feeling on a scale of zero to 10 — zero is passive and drained, while 10 is super-heated energy.
  • Aim beyond business as usual: Re-orient your team from “How can we handle the crisis?” to “How can we move out of the crisis?”

Be alert to the regression stage as you move through it to recovery.


2. Lessons From Architecture School

Whether you are redesigning your organizational model, redesigning your marketing, or designing a new product, you can benefit from the lessons in architect Matthew Frederick’s insightful book, 101 Things I Learned In Architecture School. Here are some highlighted by The Farnam Street Blog:

  • Be specific:  The more specific a design idea, the greater its appeal is likely to be. Being nonspecific in an effort to appeal to everyone usually results in reaching no one.
  • Ideas can take away from or add to the essential idea:  When adding a new element — be it a stairway to a building or a component of your pandemic recovery plan — consider how it reinforces the essential idea of the building or plan.
  • Throw away your best-loved ideas:  A good designer can toss out precious ideas that in practice won’t help.
  • Be process-oriented, not product-oriented:  The most important skill for a designer is focusing on the design or development process first.
  • Consistent and repeatable results come from a process: For architects, true style does not come from a conscious effort to create a particular look but results, sometimes accidentally, from a holistic process. The same thing applies beyond architectural school.
  • Think about how you think:  Be aware of how you’re structuring your thoughts while you’re designing. Stress-test your ideas and understand the other side of the argument.
  • Don’t make it too complex:  “Create architectural richness through informed simplicity or an interaction of simples rather than through unnecessarily busy agglomerations,” Frederick wrote.


3. The Three Pandemic Plans You Need

As you develop strategy for the post-lockdown period, a team of Insead professors recommend outlining three scenarios:  optimistic, pessimistic, and disaster.

An optimistic plan is based on some form of U-shape recovery (decline and then recovery) and a pessimistic one assumes more of an L-shape future. (decline to a low level that persists). The disaster plan goes even further, anticipating the possibility of no recovery within the next 12 months.

While the optimistic and pessimistic scenarios require adjustments to your business model (mostly in the form of cost cutting and looking for new revenue models, the professors suggest), the disaster plan requires you to fully reconsider how you operate and consider profound changes to your operations.

“Every industry, indeed every business, will have to devise its own way of overcoming this crisis. Unfortunately, many will succumb,” Michaël Bikard, Chengyi Lin, and Andrew Shipolov write in Insead Knowledge.

“It is impossible to know exactly which way we are heading, but one thing seems clear: Those companies left standing after COVID-19 will be the ones whose strategies best balanced the demands of today, tomorrow and the highly uncertain world to come.”


4. Addressing Your Own “New Normal”

We hear much (perhaps too much) about The New Normal for society, but Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach, suggests you have your own “subconscious normal” that you need to upgrade every 90 days.

Medium writer Benjamin Hardy explains that Sullivan’s process starts with these four questions:

  • Winning achievements:  What are you proudest of having achieved in the last quarter?
  • What’s hot?  When you look at everything going on, which areas of focus and progress make you the most confident?
  • Bigger and better:  Looking ahead at the next quarter, what new things are giving you the greatest sense of excitement
  • What are your next jumps?  What are five new things you can achieve that will make your next 90 days great?


5. Zingers

  • A Name For It:  The “Low Touch Economy” is a clever description of what’s ahead in the near future, coined by the Board of Innovation strategy group. (Source: Board of Innovation)
  • The Trust Factor:  Willie Pietersen, a professor at Columbia Business School, says people decide to trust leaders based on five factors — they understand my needs, have the skills to solve my problem, care about my success, keep promises, and are truth-tellers. (Source: Columbia Business School)
  • Clarify The Complex:  Top leaders can communicate very clearly and succinctly — usually with short words and short sentences — even on complex issues, says Harvard Business School professor Joseph Badaracco. (Source: Harvard Business School Working Knowledge)
  • Amplify Performance:  Ask yourself this about each team member: How will I work to maximize his or her strengths? Also, what can I avoid that might frustrate or hinder them? (Source: LeadershipFreak)
  • Presentation Tip:  Leadership advisor Tom Peters says the most important aspect of giving any presentation is listening — all senses fully engaged. (Source: Tom Peters’ Weekly Quote)


6. The List:
    Questions For Reference Checking  

Here are some questions to improve your reference checking from Michael Nachbar, Executive Director of Global Online Academy:

  • Describe the context in which you’ve worked with them. How long have you known them?
  • What are your overall impressions of them?
  • What are their three most significant strengths, and why?
  • What are their most significant professional accomplishments?
  • What about areas where they can continue to grow and develop? How have those areas changed over time?
  • In what type of organizational setting/culture would they do their best work? Why?
  • How would you describe their working style?
  • What about their experience helping other team members develop over time?
  • Where have you seen them be most effective in building relationships, internally and externally? What is their approach? How do they adjust their style to various stakeholder needs and preferences?
  • What relationship-focused challenges have you observed them encounter? Did they overcome them? If so, how?
  • Do you have an example of when they provided constructive feedback to you (and vice versa, if applicable)? Are they receptive to feedback?
  • Often, we learn most from our mistakes or missteps. Can you give me an example of an error or failure that they learned and grew from?
  • What advice would you give to our leadership team about how best to work with them?
  • Would you like to work with or hire them again?


7. Around Our Water Cooler:
    Listening in Times of Chaos

In these pandemic times, many leaders find themselves sitting with others roiling in a state of panic and emotion — we may be listening to staff, clients, funders, suppliers, partners, or owners. And simply being curious may be the best way to listen.

The author of Simple Habits for Complex Times, Jennifer Garvey Berger, advises that we should listen to learn, rather than listen to fix or persuade (“win”).

In an interview with Shane Parrish for The Learning Project Podcast #84 (Creating Routine in Chaos), she explains a framework with three types of listening focus:

Listening to Win:

A lot of the time, she says, we listen with a subconscious purpose, which is to win — to convince the person of something, to convince them not to be sad or anxious or that the situation is not really that bad.

“My first impulse is to try to refocus them,” she says. “Like, oh, what’s great in your life? What are the silver linings?”

Listening to Fix:

Or, our problem-solving nature may come to the fore, where we ask questions that search for solutions — have you tried this or tried that? As she sums it up: “How can I see your problem and use some of my expertise to make it go away?”

That’s listening to deal with the problem itself — to fix it — rather than listening to the person whose world is falling apart.

Instead you can ask questions like:  What is the hardest part for you right now? What feels most at risk to you? What do you cherish the most? “And from there, people find their own wisdom, their own solace.”

Listening to Learn:

Instead of just jumping in with problem-solving, Garvey Berger recommends that we bring a more understanding, empathetic and emotionally curious approach.

“The curiosity that we tend to carry around with us is, what’s going to happen next? How can I fix it? How can I make this go away? That’s… not a complexity-friendly level of curiosity because, actually, the complex world doesn’t let you do that kind of solving and fixing.”

Instead ask:  What’s the meaning of this? What are all the possibilities here? What’s most unexpected about this? What are you just beginning to see?

“These are very complexity-friendly questions and if we could start getting curious in that way, then I think we would be better listeners.”


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8. Closing Thought 

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

— Heraclitus