History is helping and accelerating change
I was sitting in a presentation reviewing software solutions with a client and it dawned on me that any of these products would work great. The sheer technology leaps we have made are truly astounding – so many ideas, quickly brought to market, and this is only the beginning. The things our cars can do. The things our phones can do. Medicine, energy, manufacturing…we are living in an extradentary time that can be life changing. Yet, when are these technologies going to be fully realized to fundamentally change our society? Are we really using these new technologies in a socially effective way?
Sociotechnical thinking combines the application of technology with social behaviors. It’s designing the products we interact with in a way that is socially comfortable, usable and relevant to our behavioral needs. Zoom and other meeting tools have been around for a while, but our social customs, practices and expectations (even habits) won’t allow us to fully embrace them. We still want to meet in person, shake hands, be persuasive and present in front of real people, even though it is expensive and maybe even unnecessary.
A shift in social behaviors and innovation
COVID-19 has accelerated the shift in social behaviors of how we meet. We have no choice right now. My business partner, Heather Ramsey, has fully embraced and is very practiced in the remote meeting format, has been doing it for five years, and even with her encouragement I resisted. It’s a new thing I needed to practice, and it has come with some surprising results. My belief was that meeting a person or a group online would be less intimate. But it’s not. I assumed that I would pay less attention. But I don’t. This crisis has accelerated my thinking and behavior 10 years forward, and to meet a client over Zoom is something I now look forward to.
Innovation has substantially increased. Watching organizations pull together these last few months, innovating new products and methods, under a lot of uncertainty and stress is impressive. From Chambers of Commerce offering relevant programs, information and services to their members in a seamless way, to the banks processing PPP loans and still accommodating customer needs – all virtually. Some industries will continue to struggle as our whole society adjusts, but they are in the fight and innovating. This agility to change will not go away. We likely are adapting to a culture with less noise and more meaning, less process and more value while we let go of old customs and habits to do commerce. Theses shifts would have eventually happened but have significantly accelerated.
A lesson from history
After the 1918 Spanish flu, society realized that we are truly a community and we do not exist independently. Your health is my health, and my kids’ health. I gain advantage if you stay healthy, so I wear a mask to protect you. I gain advantage if you have access to healthcare, a dentist, cures and medicines. This means more emphasis on science and research, processes that get them approved, manufacturing, and again, exponential leaps in technology.
While I am not optimistic that our divisions and politics will change, and history tells us that during these pandemics, divisions get wider. I am optimistic that our organizations large and small will meet the challenge and force political trends forward. This will likely advance the quality of information as good information has become ever more important. Universities have been evolving towards newer delivery models, and this shift will likely accelerate. How we organize within our companies will change to be more purposeful and deliberate, requiring good relationships and personal communications. Changes are imperative.
My travel has been curtailed, as have my hours in the office. I might even say I am more productive, efficient and balanced. There is a calmness even though anxiety of the future sits with us all. We are forced to think about our routines and activities, what we consume and what we want to spend more time focused on. There is time to experiment, improve and connect with others in a deeper way. It’s all there, everything we were hoping for our future.
I am not just being optimistic. There is a lot of pain and sacrifice – and more to come. We will be defined by it, but we can have some control of things. We can take stock and make decisions even though they are hard. As Victor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning, said “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” History is helping and accelerating change.
Russ Ouellette, DM – president and senior executive coach at Sojourn Partners – is a recognized expert in high performance coaching, executive leadership and organizational development.
Article originally published in the Union Leader.