This tender, unprecedented, and universal human moment.
One of a series
If you are someone who has been through trauma — the loss of a loved one, a tough diagnosis, a marriage or relationship that slowly went bad, a devastating economic loss or hardship, a split-second life-changing event — the early days of COVID-19 may be feeling familiar. The ground beneath our feet is giving way — slowly at first, and then more rapidly. Many of us have a growing sense of shock about what is unfolding, and then periods of denial.
I reflect on the last brazen flight I took in the early days, maskless, travelling back to the United States from Japan — without a concern of the virus, even though it had already broken loose in Wuhan and had just made its way into Tokyo. (That airline is today nearly bankrupt.)
Like most trauma, in the subsequent weeks it is giving way to other stages of grief for us — Anger (what do you mean I cannot make payroll and have to let all these amazing people go?), Bargaining (spare my parents please), and I think some of us are sinking into a depression. The loss of lives and the psychological impact of social isolation is the first dagger; the second, third and fourth daggers are now coming upon us — a new world of behaviors, tough decisions about our businesses and life paths, a decaying economy, vast inequities magnified.
The Trauma-Renewal Curve
In talking with the CEOs and leaders I consult with and for, I will share the obvious from those conversations: I have never heard the word “unprecedented” used as much as leaders are now.
It’s not just that customer bases are disappearing before our eyes. Or entire supply chains are disrupted. Or customers are altering their buying habits in just hours. Or that the banking infrastructure is getting pushed to the breaking point. Or that goods and services once coveted are now superfluous. Or that behaviors that were safe just a few weeks prior, can now get you killed.
It is also the human experience of it all that is so shocking. While there are no shortage of cataclysmic events in the long history of humankind, the global totality, the interwoven nature of modern systems, the fast-twitch heaving of tragedy spreading on the Internet — something about all these conspiring means billions of people now suddenly all are on their own version of The Trauma-Renewal Curve.
But here is where things get complex — and this is new. Virtually every organization is on that same Trauma-Renewal Curve, but not in the same place. As companies, some are still reeling from the early decimation. Others seem relatively untouched but don’t know how much they’ll have to adapt given other daggers — their people (entire teams and work forces) deeply afflicted in ways that are hard to fully see, seismic changes in customer behavior and buying practices, a permanent shift in the talent market, changed societal norms, new federal and state policies that have never been tested. Others have profound plans of re-opening, and having rushed to claim all will be okay — I foresee we’ll find these plans were built on pre-COVID assumptions, and that such companies have yet to really comprehend much less plan for the real change ahead.
What’s even more tender and delicate: Every leader is on their own part of that Trauma-Renewal Curve. Some are far ahead of their organizations. Others are grieving their own personal loss, and are behind it. Others have had a lot of trauma in their lives before, and they feel perfectly adept. Others with stellar records, are concave with sadness their earnings’ records have been broken. Every single team member in companies is on their own part of the curve, moving through it in different ways.
“Do what you can. With what you have. From where you are.”
The Teddy Roosevelt quote inspires here.
At SYPartners, the firm I founded 25 years ago, we help leaders and organizations build the capability to shape a great future. In this present, we are doing our work, and trying to do what we can to meet the moment.
About two weeks into the pandemic, our dear friends at the media startup WaitWhat, June Cohen and Deron Triff texted me and said, “We think there is some good that could be done. Can we chat?” And in virtually every waking hour since, WaitWhat x SYPartners have been inventing a genre to help companies and organizations alleviate suffering and help their people cope with the COVID-19 global pandemic in their “whole lives” (of which business is a part), and flourish on the other side.
The theory is that if we can combine powerful storytelling to open ourselves up, and at that moment introduce behavior-change practices, entire teams can cultivate access to our highest capacities as human beings — trust, creativity, moral imagination. Each of us as humans, all of us, as companies. The format combines the ideas of a TED session (June and Deron built the media organization at TED), the human-change practices of SYPartners, the rich storytelling of media’s best content creators, the art and beauty of experiential design. Krista Tippett of OnBeing, Dan Harris of Ten Percent Happier, and Arianna Huffington at Thrive Global are joining us in this effort. And June and Deron are bringing their passions in from Meditative Story and Masters of Scale.
It’s based on a few beliefs.
- We are whole-humans at work. And now that the thin line that separates our work life and our home life is broken, we need nourishing content and experiences that meet us where we are now, vulnerable and waiting.
- We can aim for flourishing on the other side. What that requires in a new way of convening all of us — executives, team leaders, team members, every day humans — so we can see where our companies are on the Trauma-Renewal Curve, where we each are on that curve, and find each other in a way we can help each other find something better on the other side. This is about mutual flourishing.
- To do that we need to build new muscle and skills. Operating in a post-COVID-19 world is going to demand of us deeper abilities to grieve loss, collaborate and sense together, get to the essential, see possibility where others see setback, find meaning in the work. We believe the best time to build those skills is now — in how we deal with this present moment.
This Human Moment: A live series beginning Friday, April 24th
And so I invite you, your leadership teams, your team members, your colleagues and family to join us for the series. Each session is engineered to help us from these early days through to our own renewal. Here are the topics of the first scheduled sessions:
This Human Moment: Right Here, Right Now
A live online gathering
Friday, April 24, 2020
11:00 a.m. Pacific / 1:00 p.m. Central / 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Register: To register for the first sessions, please sign up here.
For the next three Fridays thereafter we’ll convene at the same time to meet each other where we are on The Curve:
Coming to terms with reality, and the unknown — required for humans to make progress, essential if a company is to set a course for the future
Grieving what’s been lost, widening what comes next — necessary to re-instill future-orientation, for both individual and company
Renewing — reassembling our lives, business, and what the business becomes
We’ll take stock after May 15th, and calibrate future sessions from there.
Above all: A belief in the power of renewal.
This journey is personal for all of us.
Many of you know — because I have written about it and shared the story as a podcast episode — I suffered a stroke two years ago.
I’ve described how dark my path has been, and also how it’s been a time of rare opportunity to examine many things that were on auto-pilot in my life.
Somewhere along the way, I had a disruptive realization: A different kind of flourishing might be possible for me on the other side. I could aim for post-traumatic growth. I could live my way into what I call: A renewal.
Indeed, in the months since, I have been stepping into a life that’s far different than I had planned, much different than I had hoped, and strangely more awake than I’ve been to what matters. I’ve learned that renewal is a possibility that you have to choose.
In business, and in our personal lives, many of us stand at this same threshold.
What do we choose, in this human moment? I invite you to explore that with others facing the same choice.