Navigating the Perfect Storm




Navigating the Perfect Storm

At risk of stating the obvious: this is hard. While many of us know how to spring into action in the face of an acute crisis, the situation we find ourselves in today is starting to look like something else entirely; a slow rolling dissolution of most of the guideposts by which we make sense of our lives. Four factors in particular come together to make this a perfect storm of confusion:

  • Rapid, overlapping context shifts: Working from home, in many cases with cooped up with children, loss of access to the ways we typically resource ourselves (friends, gyms, going out, etc.), sudden shifts in business models and market conditions, and on. Each new change brings with it more cognitive and emotional loads, for which our typical coping strategies are suddenly unavailable.
  • Painful, escalating surprises: Each day brings new losses, from the disappointment of cancelled events, the pain of lost accounts and jobs, and for some of us, the grief of lost lives. Each of these stacks one on top of the next with little room for processing or reprieve, against the backdrop of disorienting context shifts for which we are unprepared.
  • Constant, ambiguous threat: If your experience thus far is anything like mine, the feeling of lurking, ambient threat never fully turns off. From the immediate weirdness of sanitizing groceries to the broader drumbeat of “oh no what now” news, our biological threat wiring, designed for running away from predators and then taking a break to recharge, is now on a constant state of alert. This state of constant activation leads us to a place of “tired / wired” – too exhausted to think straight, too stressed to get the rest we need to reset.
  • Uncertain impact and timeline: Most people I speak with, from family and friends to clients, are constantly wondering when we go back to “normal.” Despite what anyone says, the reality is we don’t know how long we’ll be facing a significant disruption to our everyday lives, nor what “normal” will look like on the other side. Are we talking about a few months or a few years? Will the world end up looking like a facsimile of how it looked in December, or a transformation on par with World War 2 (or even more significant?) The most basic projections of the future, always a bit of an illusion in the best of times, are now useless at best, and blinding at worst.

What then, can we do?

In Talentism lingo, confusion occurs when there is a gap between the reality we experience and our expectations. Looking at the four factors above, it’s easy to see how Coronavirus is a perfect storm of self-reinforcing confusion loops. All of our intuitions and habits stand in disarray, the known foundations of our plans pulverized, our mental models almost entirely unsuited to what is demanded of us day-by-day. This perfect storm can bring out the worst in us; it is easy to attempt to ground ourselves in judgement of others, in kneejerk reactions, in certainty that there is a singular right way to proceed. As leaders and managers, these four factors are exacerbated by the responsibility of having to make high-impact decisions with little information, and many people depending on us for both their livelihoods and ongoing sensemaking, while we ourselves face this storm of confusion in our own lives.

There *is* a path forward, albeit a hard one. For all of the ways in which this is an ideal recipe for our worst selves, it also contains the ingredients of which our best selves are made. Confusion, in our model, is the seed of both unproductive threat and productive learning. It may be hard to see now, but many of you will look back on this time as the proudest moment of your lives. As the moment when you discovered reserves of meaning, of opportunity, of helping, that lay dormant until called.

Below you will find a recording of our recent webinar on how to create clarity for others in the midst of this storm. Feedback from the live participants was strongly positive, and we hope it will serve you too.

As always, we welcome your questions, thoughts and feedback, and hope we too can rise to this occasion as partners in clarity, when clarity above all things seems hardest to find.


Watch: Leading and Managing with Clarity in the midst of COVID-19

A summary of the key themes:

  • COVID19 is the perfect storm of confusion
  • Confused people typically end up in threat loops, manifesting “fight / flight / freeze” behavior and narratives about others being “bad / stupid / lazy.”
  • Confusion can also be the seed of new learnings and opportunities
  • To turn confusion into clarity, start with sensemaking for yourself (you can read more about how to do this here). This requires:
    • See and Accept Reality
    • Build Around Unknowns (starting with what you can control)
    • Look for Opportunities (for an exercise on how to do this, look here)
    • Create Clarity for Others
  • WHY: Start with your vision 
    • Companies with a compelling “why” will win over those who don’t
    • Show how this can (and must) be our finest hour
    • Connect the “big why” to the “personal why” for your people
  • WHAT: Translate the vision into meaningful work through management
    • Design for the essential to deliver on the vision – what are your key assets, expertises, etc. that are most relevant in current conditions?
    • Sync, sync and sync again (if you need practical help doing that in a remote environment, check out some suggestions here)
    • “Wilderness rules” – set clear expectations around triage choices and decision lines
    • If you need inspiration – check out past sensemakers on syncing on goals and delivering effective feedback
  • HOW: Foster an anti-fragile culture
    • Encourage a “problems = opportunities” perspective
    • Compassion is advantage; seek to understand rather than judge
    • Reward transparency; get ahead of problems before they spiral out of control

  • How are you currently doing with the four confusion factors described above?
  • Are you clear on the vision for your work? Why what you do matters right now? If not, take time to think on it, letting go of past ideas of what you do, and connecting to your most essential offering.
  • How are you currently syncing with others? Is it primarily task driven? If so, can you instead attempt to step back and get shared reality about how they’re doing, what they need to be focused on, and what good looks like given the current environment?
  • Have you made clear to others the cultural expectations around this change? Can you see ways to bring more focus on uncovering opportunities, being compassionate with each other, and rewarding transparency?


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