RELAX, REFLECT, RETHINK
As I write this, my team is sheltered in place, but how we choose to spend this time could be a game changer for me personally and for our firm. Using this time to Relax, Reflect, Rethink may be the gift of this Black Swan occurrence, in spite of its gravity.
Very few people would argue that Relaxing, Reflecting, and Rethinking are not important. However, I might assume that an equal number of people would feel an urgency about other things that may interfere with the importance of these three activities.
President Eisenhower in a 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches understood the distinction between important and urgent. He said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
The pace of business in 2020 is even faster than in 1954. Today, everything feels like it is urgent. An unintended consequence of a nationwide quarantine is that we now have the time to focus on the important things properly. Let’s unravel this and consider a different path.
Giving Our Brain a Break
The definition of relax is “to make or become less tense or anxious.” Constant urgency triggers the brain’s cortical centers to activate pathways in the sympathetic nervous system and the HPA axis, which orchestrates a complex response of stress hormones including dopamin, epinephrine (adrenalyn), norepinephrine and cortisol. Daily floods of these hormones knocks us off balance and leads to obvious health problems, suppression of the immune system and interferes with our thinking.
There are several ways to decrease cortisol levels including meditation, exercise, and sufficient sleep. Because we are advised to restrict outdoor time, reading a book about outdoor adventures, using guided imagery and listening to nature sounds via Alexa can be a fair substitute. Another stress buster – LOL. Laughter lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormone levels, releases endorphins and connects people.
What is Non-Essential?
In New York City, Governor Cuomo and many other governors ordered a hard stop at 8 pm on March 16th for all “non-essential” businesses. Our business trips were cancelled and our clients worked from home. We joined them in sheltering in place.
It is the term “non-essential” that caused me to pause. How many things do I invest time in that would be considered non-essential or unimportant? One translation of crisis is from the Greek and means “to separate, to sift”, keeping only what is worthwhile.
What is Essential?
During a check in with a client, she closed with a profound statement: “Crisis brings the important things into clear focus.” Many similar blogs on this topic attempt to tell us what is essential or important and what is not. I am only suggesting that you stop outsourcing this decision and spend some time reflecting on what is important and essential to you. Once the pandemic is over and the pace picks up, maybe these reflections will focus your energy in a way that truly brings you joy.
If you are a leader in your organization, you may quickly learn what is essential to your success and what is not.
- Are you spending time on processes that suck up time without providing value?
- Do you have the systems in place needed to obtain optimal results?
- Does your company have a purpose? Values? Personality?
- Do you invest money and effort on employees who cannot or will not deliver?
- Are you under appreciating or underpaying a key contributor?
Investing time in reflection will likely uncover redundancies, inefficiencies and other non-essentials. This investment may also reveal some hidden gems and resources.
Personally, my reflection led me to think of my friend Maria Loi, a well known Greek chef and good friend of Psynet Group. She introduced our team to the concept Philotimo as a way of life for many Greeks. Philo (to like) combined with timo (to honor) captures the virtues of honor, justice, courage, dignity, pride, self sacrifice, respect, freedom, gratitude and hospitality. She lives it by giving without expecting a return. Through this process, I began to reflect on how to be better connected to my inner Philotimo.
Time without pressure leads to creativity
During the pandemic, we have been forced to rethink — how we work, communicate, move through the day and in some ways reboot. The pause allows space to create and innovate. I noticed an increase in creativity expressed through social media. My cousin is posting a daily portrait of his “fruit art” and a good friend is creating a survival guide for homeschooling her two young boys.
Writers and business experts have been telling us to be innovative for years. It is so common to describe your business as innovative that saying you are innovative now means that you are just like everyone else. However, despite being common, innovation is necessary to grow, adapt, and attract talented people.
A Catch 22
The irony is that the same economic environment that requires innovation to survive also creates a pace that makes it very difficult to do. Glucksberg’s famous candle problem revealed 60 years ago that the greater the time pressure and stress to solve something creatively, the less likely an innovation will appear. Glucksberg has a technical explanation for why this happens that can be summed up as being so focused forward with our foot on the gas that we are unable to look left or right for an uncommon or innovative solution.
Now that we have been forced to slow down, there is time to let a new way of thinking “gain ascendancy”, a way of thinking that leads to true innovation. In 2010, Psynet Group started leading innovation workshops after integrating our ideas with those from a company in India. The two perspectives melded to create a very powerful experience. From that workshop, we learned a couple of questions that spurred the participants to think differently:
- If I could not do business this way, how would I do it instead?
- If I wanted to make my situation worse and not better, what would I do?
- Thinking of people in my life who took a different path, if they were suddenly my business coach, what advice might they give me?
By asking ourselves and others these questions and allowing the time to really think through the answers, we can gain new, valuable insights.
There is an opportunity in every crisis — and the deeper the crisis, the better the opportunity can be when we Relax, Reflect, and Rethink.