Don't narrow out the future

There was an exchange in a recent episode of HBR IdeaCast with Eric McNulty (Managing Crises in the Short and Long Term, 2020-04-14) that caught my attention:

[10:27] Taking a narrow view is another one of those traps and the human mind is hardwired when faced with a threat to narrow its perspective. You think back to our sort of prehistoric ancestors. When they heard a rustling in the bushes they had to really quickly figure out was that going to eat them, or were they going to eat it?

And so this narrowing happens and you have to, if you’re going to lead, you have to pull back and see that bigger picture, not just the foreground, what’s happening now, but the mid-ground and the background, looking into the future. Because if you’re leading you got to be thinking about not what has to happen right this second. Hopefully you’ve got competent people around you doing that. But what are we going to need in two weeks, two months, six months?

A lot of people and groups are going to miss that—some unavoidably while tending to the critical Now—and forget about the future while the present submerges them and everything else. But if you can find the space to calm down, pull back, and see where things are going, you might get the opportunity to jump to something else as we all collectively hit an inflection point.

A snippet from Fight Club came to mind a few weeks ago when thinking about change (Change, 2020-04-03), and it still loops around my mind in a highly elliptical orbit:

If I could wake up in a different place, at a different time, could I wake up as a different person?”

—Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club (1996)

The circumstances are different—no space monkeys here—but the inflection point is there. In fact, maybe it's even more similar than you'd think, because it's not just about changing into something or someone else entirely different, but inhabiting what is already in you as it becomes you, or as you become it, or however that might be explained in terms of the book itself. There's always an opportunity to change, sure, but inflection points are change incarnate—ready or not, there you go.

Anyway. I have some more notes from the podcast, and also from a webinar that Eric McNulty gave last week for MIT Sloan Management Review: Leading Through a Crisis Day-by-Day. Crisis management, and Harvard's National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, are quite popular right now after all.


One more thing I read after posting this that is along the same lines and more substantial:

But every crisis brings an opportunity. In this case, to reassess one’s life and ask: How do I want to use my time when the world recovers?

What I suggested was, that the economic disruption caused by the virus and the recession that will follow is one of those rare opportunities to consider a change, one that could make your own life more meaningful, allow you to make an impact, and gain more than just a salary from your work. Perhaps instead of working for the latest social media or ecommerce company or in retail or travel or hospitality, you might want to make people live healthier, longer and more productive lives.

—Steve Blank, "In a Crisis--An Opportunity for a More Meaningful Life", steveblank.com (2020-04-16).

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