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I Screwed Up…I Broke the Rules: Discover the Journey Back to Normal

Screwed Up

I broke the rules. I’m guilty. I attended a funeral.  I hugged the widow who was married for 42 years, and I shook the hand of a son that lost his dad. I hugged a grandson that plays baseball with my son.  He just lost his grandfather who he lived with until his death.  I know I broke social distancing rules but I couldn’t help it. I guess I stink at this new reality.  My need to show love overwhelmed my fear of this virus.


Fear is difficult to sustain.  Humans adjust to any environment over time, no matter how difficult.  Fear fatigue is the eventual and possible current reality with Covid-19.  The longer the virus persists, no matter how severe; people will creep back to a sense of normalcy.  I recently interviewed Dr. Andi Simon, corporate anthropologist, on my podcast “Crazy Enough to Win”.  She stated humans are herd animals and will instinctively follow each other.  As more and more of society opens up from quarantine, people will venture back out regardless of the coronavirus.


We will be more careful at first.  However, deeply ingrained human behaviors will return.  The need for human touch is not going to be sacrificed for this invisible enemy.  Believe it or not, prior to the pandemic, I considered myself somewhat of a “germaphobe”.  I noticed who washed hands in the restroom and shuttered when someone coughed into their right hand before offering a handshake.  If I stink at social distancing and feel a compelling need to touch other humans, we are not going to see major social behavioral change for very long.


Companies are vastly overreacting to anticipated social norms, long-term.  This panacea about a “new normal” is short-lived.  Yes, in the wake of the pandemic and one hundred thousand deaths, we are adjusting and adapting.  However, humans are going to be humans.  We will hug, and we will touch again.  A six-foot bubble is a fantasy that is being promoted to stoke fear and get clicks on-line.  Fear is an amazing and effective tool to sell an ideology or a product.  People and groups are going to use fear to accomplish an agenda.


Even if the vaccine never emerges, and Covid-19 remains, we will learn to coexist.  Just as rabbits live happily among wolves, we will get back to a sense of normalcy with this virus.  People will get sick and sadly, some people will die. However, life will go on.  Children will play, teenagers will date, and yes, we will fly on a crowded plane together again.  Well, at least those of us who enjoyed travel and flying before will do so again.  Zoom can never replace the power and influence of a face-to-face meeting.  Far too much social intelligence and negotiation leverage is sacrificed for the convenience of the digital medium.


Fear is an interesting human condition.  I believe fear in humans has two realities.  Instinctive fear is biological in that we get a chemical dump of adrenaline in the bloodstream to survive acute situations.  Cognitive fear is more complex.  It is the result of processing information and concluding the existence of a threat.  Covid-19 is our first pandemic, so we are all processing information and considering the threat.  Someone in New York is getting different information than someone in rural New Mexico.  We should not judge someone who perceives the threat differently because they likely have different information.


From a business and leadership perspective, we can help our teams by understanding cognitive fear.  We must seek to discover the inputs that determine fear for each individual and make decisions accordingly.  For example, many of you are likely considering face-to-face meetings as opposed to Zoom (or Teams) in the near future.  Someone with a serious health condition will have a different risk profile than someone who does not.  The journey back to normal is full of people traveling at different speeds.  In other words, the velocity to normal is personal and individual.  Any manager that is insensitive to this difference in velocity is likely to encounter difficulty during this recovery.  Judging others with different perceptions of risk (no matter how extreme) is counter-productive to regaining normalcy.


The most effective leaders will influence people while remaining sensitive to different perspectives.  Smart CEOs will leverage information (the mental inputs) to mitigate fear in both employees and customers.  Consider the distressed meat processing industry.  If I were advising these CEOs, I would encourage them to train employees and supervisors on the difference in perspective in order to be sensitive to each other’s risk profile. Any industry that requires proximity must educate people who are all on the same journey back to normal, yet in different places at the same time.  Information will accelerate people back to normal.


One last analogy to hammer home the point.  A large explosion occurs in the woods populated by many animals.  Instinctively, the animals retreated to burrows and cover for safety.  As time goes by, these same animals cautiously crawl out and return to normal.  Covid-19 sent us into cover as humans.  We are all crawling back to normal.


today's Post
Outstanding post John. You did a great job of explaining theoretical information as well as offering practical tips. Thanks.
(May 29, 2020 ~ 7:51 AM)
By Mark Edge