If you are like most leaders we speak with, when this crisis hit the initial temptation was to plan for an eventual return to something approaching normal, or a new normal of previous conditions plus or minus a list of adjustments. Such thesis of the future are already proving inadequate. To seize the new day, our minds have to learn new approaches to create in times of extreme uncertainty. These four best practices will help.
1. Notice What Hasn’t Changed
It is easy to get distracted by disturbance. Our minds are trained to highlight, often in ways charged with emotion, shifts in whatever we rely on. Use that tendency and go deeper. List the three most significant changes you see impacting your field. For example, you may see that a lot of small businesses are likely to face bankruptcy in the coming months. Then take it a step further. For each of your three significant changes, what is not changing? For example, the entrepreneurial energy that started those business will still be present looking for an outlet. You will find that, while what is not changing is usually less obvious, these more subtle, more fundamental factors are powerful forces in the future you envision.
2. Take Both Sides
Prejudice is the enemy of clear sight. When what we don’t know is so much more than we do know, our hopes and our fears—our prejudices—swarm into the void vacated by facts and experience. Yet pretending to be free of prejudice just leads to denial. Clear vision comes from admitting your personal preferences as to what should and should not be so, then setting them aside. Research three charged issues, important to the future you are creating, where there are opposing points of view. For example, the timing for lifting social distancing restrictions. Write in one column the values, rationale and feelings of your preferred point of view. Then enter the others’ reality and, in a second column, write the opposing values, rationale and feelings. We recommend you dramatize each of the two sides, acting them out even in short videos that you can review. Once you have embodied both sides, it is easier to see the dynamics of the whole the situation.
3. Reach Out to Your Peers
Best to test. As you distill your thesis of the world that your team will be playing in, and what it will take to win, find peers—preferably from outside your organization—to be your sounding board. You may be surprised how keenly people you admire and respect will respond to a request for help. Articulate the future you want to create, ask them to reflect back their understanding of what you said, then ask: What might I be missing? And offer to do the same for them. 15 minutes each way for a half hour call. Do this with at least four genuine peers. I am continually inspired by how much even the most renowned leaders accelerate their growth when they reach out and access regular support from their peers.
4. Imagine Success
Especially in extreme uncertainty, when you look from the present to the future everything just seems murky. We recommend looking from the future back toward the present. Once you have a sense of your best most realistic plan, place yourself in that future world. It can help to go to a different setting. For example, I like the hilltop near my house with 360 degree view. As you imagine yourself in this future, look back (so to speak) and ask yourself: What were the key drivers of this success and the key challenges we broke through? You may be surprised how clear your vision of these most poignant drivers and challenges becomes.
The future belongs to those who have the courage to see through conventional viewpoints and to enlist the support they need to create something truly great.