I was out in the afternoon catching some of the unusual September sunshine. As I walked towards the park, a family was coming towards me. I hesitated in my step preparing to keep a covid-healthy distance. The parents continued towards me but their
son stopped and opened his arm wide. His five-year old hand was like a starfish.
He nodded and said to me “Ladies first!”
As I thanked him, smiling, his parents laughed. He turned quickly and said: “What’s the matter with you? You know that’s right!”
They agreed, we all smiled and somehow the afternoon sunshine got a tiny bit warmer.
Covid 19 – confronting our fallibility is as crucial as it is hard
These thoughts are my musings about our fallibility, brought on by time on my hands.
We are all deeply affected by the Covid 19 pandemic. New orthodoxies of behaviour and belief inform our daily lives as policies are rolled out. We know that the policy decisions are made with limited data, understanding of the disease and poor global coordination. It seems certain that as our understanding improves and the financial and social costs soar we will confront hard questions about whether this is the right way to respond. While acknowledging and confronting fallibility is great in theory, in practice it is hard. As the stakes pile up it gets harder.
We are afraid and we have all made sacrifices to get on board the lock-down instructions. We follow behavioural guidance to avoid infection.As we do the challenge is to remain open-minded to the real possibility that experts we have listened to and agreed with are fallible and have been wrong or muddled in their thinking.
Confronting our fallibility is crucial. In science, it informs new questions and makes us look for new answers. In politics it enables the weighing up of the relative merits of courses of action against ideologies. Normally these take place at slow pace with more time to assess and reflect. Now we are moving at high speed meaning the margin of error is far greater.
There are two layers of risk to consider. The first is the risk that the experts refused to reconsider, review discuss and adjust deepening our losses further. The second is that fear of a loss of face and backlash against the experts and decision-makers acts as a barrier to full review and reconsideration.
Too much information?
Every day there are new graphs and information showing the scale, spread and death rate, but I cannot honestly say I am informed. The information creates fear but not judgement. For instance, I have no idea how the reported deaths compare with others that effect excess deaths. I know there are 100,000 deaths each year from strokes and 23,200 excess deaths were recorded in UK 2018/19. The age range spread looks very similar to those were seeing from Covid 19. I suspect others are the same as hits on Google for Corona Virus are over 9.5billion while for excess deaths its around 81million.
Obviously, public health messaging needs to be clear, easy-to-follow and un-nuanced for compliance, there can be no rooms for the ifs and buts. So we follow the rules to stay home and save lives. Are there alternatives we should consider? Even posing this question right now seems heretical.
A tale of two responses
Two key policy debates are playing out in response to Covid -19. One is a public health response, the other I call a social health response.
If I have understood it properly, the public health response says because people’s lives are at risk, we must do as much as is possible to curtail movement and interaction to prevent contagion. Our health services will thus be better able to cope and more lives will be saved. Containment reduces infection and keeps the flow of patients at a manageable flow. The value driving this is the value of life itself.
The social health response argues for the need to enable a return to economic and social movement as soon as possible, even if there are still health risks. It argues that the damage to our – already unequal and shaky – economic systems, to our culture and creativity and community support mechanisms, may suffer irreparable damage during a prolonged period of lock-down. This, in turn, may outweigh the benefits of saving lives through containment as poverty, social distress and other untreated problems occur. Notwithstanding what we may feel about the politicians espousing the social health response – more on that below – the value that drives this can also be said to be the value of life itself.
I will eat my hat if I am wrong
Presently our knowledge of the virus, how it spreads and who is most at risk is unfolding. It has been widely reported that the data needed to make decisions from testing before and after is limited. It seems clear that such huge disruption and risk to life, health and well being of populations must rest on excellent knowledge of factors beyond only disease control. Graphs depicting the spread of the disease to inform the management of the response have been widely shared. There is no similarly coherent data or modelling regarding the the impact of widespread disruption and social/physical isolation, beyond analysis of the macro economy.
Meanwhile, politicians and scientists are staking their futures and their reputations on making cases for one or other of the policy positions. At present the Public Health response is winning, supported by some excellent modelling by Imperial College. As it gains traction new social and political taboos are developing backed with legal enforcement mechanisms. It’s hardly surprising that questioning the response meets with hostility and fear. But this is risky.
Dr John Ioannidis of Stanford University in a recent interview argues strongly against blame and the need to win arguments. He points out excellent science is both excellent and flawed. Opening up to peer review and ongoing challenge is central to scientific progress and quality. Scientific models are just that: models.
More than one hat?
The public health risk response of the current magnitude also affects social systems beyond health. A wider range of scientific studies is needed to make judgements so that our current thinking can be supported with studies modelling the varied impact of whole community shut-down on other health and well being, education and skills and productivity for the future, through and beyond Covid -19. Data of these other considerations need to be seen alongside the health models. They could perhaps support better decisions making.
China is presumably well placed to provide the kind of reflective, post infection data evaluating and learning from their response. Several people have pointed to the environmental benefits of the lock downs on air quality. But will a globally depressed economy really be better for tackling environmental sustainability, arguably a threat far greater than Covid -19?
Herd mentality or herd immunity? Keeping an open mind
The paradox for science, in our present scenario, is we depend on it to guide our thinking even as it is bound to be wrong to some degree. For our democratically elected politicians it is worse. Not only are they fallible and frightened individuals like us, the system that elects them is deeply intolerant of prevarication.
It is possible that in coming months we will find that mortality rates are lower than at first thought, or that social isolation is more damaging and even kills more – albeit for different reasons- than continued unfettered movement. We may learn that a disappointed and angry population is less willing to respond to pressing and more deadly issues in future.
Matthew Syed in “Black Box Thinking” demonstrates both how important and how hard it is for powerful figures to admit they have been mistaken. With this global disruption feeding global depression and widespread misery, the stakes have never been higher. The challenge of the coming months, even as we mourn the dead and struggle to remain as productive as possible, is to remain open to the possibility that we are fallible and may have got it wrong. Imagining it is the first step.
Corona conversations may seem hard when every day new information is coming in but it could be key to your and your family well-being if you are stuck indoors.
My friend’s eight year old niece calling from far away to her aunt in London carefully explained to her that her school was closed and granny is very worried. Did we have it in London too she wanted to know.
My friend said her concern and curiosity were touching. It made her realise that at eight she had as many questions and concerns as the grown ups. Different ones. Corona conversations are important. Psychologist Brendon Street writing in CIPD’s excellent People Management this week notes that that staff anxiety stems often from fear of the unknown.
Conversations about Corona can be distressing if they only focus on the negative. However saying nothing, as if everything is “fine” could be worse. Key to building resilience is to turn attention to potential positives, however small and actively seek out activities that strengthen your feeling of control. If you followed my earlier Knowing Me blogs you will have seen the blob tree in Week One. Because I like it and find it never fails to engage, here it is again:
Start your Corona Conversation by looking at the picture ask: How am I/are you feeling right now? Where would I/you like to be? And what is possible that I/you can do to get there? …And if this doesn’t float your boat just print it and colour it in!
Getting in control of business continuity in times of crisis
Headless Chickens, Denial and the Mothers of Invention!
No this is not the name of Nick Cave’s new band. Rather I am talking about how coaching can help as you think about business continuity.
In the face of the rapid rise of Covid 19 you maybe feeling like a proverbial headless chicken, or rather frustrated by the panic and in denial that there’s anything to worry about. You may even feel that we have more to fear from the fear itself.
All are common and unsurprising. Whichever it is, we must agree that these are unprecedented times. They will affect both you, your family, and your teams and their families. It is likely to that your suppliers and customers will need to change their behaviour and this in turn will have an impact on the work you do.
Managing your work through the current health crisis will be a significant test of your skills. As a leader it will challenge you to find invention in response to necessity. Hopefully in the coming months you will steer your organisation without loss of life and you will emerge stronger and wiser. As a leader you have a significant role in that outcome. Coaching has a key role to play in supporting your management of business continuity.
Hasty reaction or planned response?
At these times of uncertainty your mettle will be tested. Even for seasoned leaders, there is a strong temptation to react as events unfold rather than plan and prioritise. Too often businesses communicate hastily rather than effectively.
Some quick questions to consider:
Do your staff feel supported and informed of how you see the need to respond and their role in it in the coming 4-6months?
Are you able to manage your own health and well being in and outside of work just now?
Do you have an understanding of how your business may be affected in the short to medium term with a plan you are able to review as the situation unfolds?
How can coaching help?
Well thought through and authentic risk management reviewed and applied for a crisis can serve to find the best course of action for you, your teams and your business. However leadership is a lonely place and time to pause reflect and think through your options can be hard to find.
Coaching provides a fresh pair of non-judgemental eyes and questions that enable your reflection and support improved planning.
Drawing on the understanding of years of work in high risk contexts, my coaching can help you think through the range of issues affecting your decision-making as your remain true to yourself and your organisation’s mission. I will help you find confidence by identifying strengths and opportunities you have to hand even as you consider the risks you, your colleagues and your organisation faces.
Let’s work together as you use coaching for business continuity. Take action before its a last resort. Get in touch for a 15 minute consultation to get started today.
Inspired by the news around plastic pollution I answered the rallying cry of the Story of Stuff to forego plastic this July.
Not all my friends agreed with the decision. There are the Whats-The-Point crew who argue the simplicity of arguments are misleading. Their views are echoed here. The Go-For-It crew however say that everything is worth trying. Encouraged by their enthusiasm, I went for it. As its 31st July, I thought I might reflect and share how I got on.
As a starting point, I bought milk in glass bottles. This is pleasing, but no easy matter. In my case it involved buying a lot of vegetables – all delicious – from Farm Drop. I got very excited reading that Waitrose had organic jersey milk in bottles. After an exuberant cycle over to a shop I found the bottle was plastic! What???
Farm Drop calls itself the greenest supermarket. I’m not sure. Most of the veg comes plastic free with some mad exceptions, like baking potatoes! I was disappointed to discover that meat is all plastic wrapped so after a first attempt I decided not to buy it. Apparently the issue is regulation re health and safety. So we will all drown in the dying earth, but at least we won’t have food poisoning which is a comfort. The service is great and prices OK given the small producers and provided you take advantage of special offers. And yes, before you comment, I know dairy is a questionable industry but I am not there yet.
I am fortunate in Clapham Junction having two great plastic free shops nearby: Hetu is small, friendly and well stocked and even has “alternative” milk in glass bottles; The Source is part of a larger group and feels like it. This has meant for pasta, flour, pulses and oils everything is easy and its amazing how all those cloth bags that are now the rage as freebies come in handy for purchase and storage. On a recent trip to France I was surprised at how much more widespread plastic free shopping seems to be.
It is easy to wash and clean the house without plastic. Soap Nuts are generally miraculous, plastic-free shampoo bars and homemade cleaning products are pretty straightforward.
Overall I have thrown away significantly less trash – I haven’t yet filled a bin this month, and only a very small proportion has been plastic. I have also realised how much plastic there is on things when you are thinking about it. Supposedly this is keeping our food fresher, but, while a cucumber might last for two weeks in plastic, does this makes us so much less likely to waste it that the plastic is justified?
And what about the Orang Utan? I hear you ask. Half way through the month I was talking about plastic free and bemoaning the loss of cracker biscuits, as a result of having to avoid the wrapping. A kind companion pointed out that these should be out of bounds anyway as they contain palm-oil. This led to further research that showed: first, that this oil – or rather its cultivation and harvesting – is probably speeding us towards our doom faster than plastic and is in everything. It often masquerades as “vegetable oil”. You can also download a PalmOilScan App to help you check. This conversation led to the marvellous discovery that cracker biscuits take less time to make than to go and buy. Who knew? This is fast becoming a favourite recipe with a full range of mad flavours possible. Hard not to eat them in one go right out of the oven.
So the upshot of the month? I have cooked more from scratch and enjoyed this. I am not a telly person so cooking bread, biscuits, all those veggies, and other delights is done with the radio or a spotify selection. A glass of wine helps too. Making enough to last several meals gets around the extra time and serves my need to fill pans. I have challenged myself to find things to do with the very last veg in the fridge even though it was begging for freedom. I will continue.
And of course as I consider beauty products I have to remember the palm oil: because the Orang Utan is worth it.
Credit: The picture is from Cartoon Brew, produced by Amid Amidi for Greenpeace
Performance assessment of stand-up comedians is swift and can be harsh. You have to want to do it.
In a moment of madness, I once signed up for a part-time course to learn to be a comedienne. As I paid for the course I felt slightly nauseous. It wasn’t that it was very expensive, rather that, having paid, I knew I would have to go through with it and this was going to take me into a painful place, optimistically called the “stretch zone”. The gods smiled on me when the course was cancelled. They probably smiled on the many who were saved my future performances! I smiled back.
Nevertheless, at the end of 2018, with family and friends, we paused to consider what we were most grateful for in the year. It was skilful, sharp-witted, satirical, edgy and sometimes rudecomedians. Shining lights on the dark places and the taboos, comedians challenge our assumptions and distract our troubled minds from our daily worries. In making us laugh they release endorphins and reduce our stress. We raised our glasses and said thank you!
Stand-Up comedian Nish Kumar in a recent BBC Front Row reflected on the harsh apprenticeship towards fully functioning stand up. He described 5 or 6 years of grim exposure in front of often deeply unforgiving audiences. This is a brutal form of performance management that is a far cry from what most of us experience. The success indicators are uncomplicated: keep their attention; make them laugh; deal with the odd moron effectively; get asked back; get new venues. Like a ski jumper – definitely a question for another blog – you know pretty quickly if you have what it takes.
And, in spite of the brutality, it is a growing sector. There is no shortage of new talent emerging, fuelled from the new hopefuls applying to take to the free slots at comedy clubs and pub venues. What is the attraction? Perhaps for some it is exactly the ‘lion’s pit’ feel that is attractive. For others perhaps it’s a strong vision of the role of comedy in society to make a difference to be used at the edge of political activism. Still others may be doing it for fun and take no heed of whether they are profitable as a result. Except for a wealthy few, it cannot be the money that attracts them as there are surely easier ways to make a living.
All these brave men and women of stand-up have made an explicit and personal choice to do this work and succeed at it. It is a personal choice and the immediacy of the feedback on the performance is part of the gig. Seems more liberating than the placid annual reviews and unclear messaging that many attempt to improve their performance against.