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Examining What Lies Ahead: Enduring Growth, Building Resilience and Changing Perspective

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By LaMesha Craft
December 10, 2020 

Over the last few months I have published PA Times Online articles on empowerment, leadership, human capital and intellectual humility. I submit that these topics have been especially relevant during the year 2020—a year that for all intent and purpose could be captured in one phrase: “If you thought that was unexpected, just wait a minute.”

Pondering What Lies Ahead

As the year draws to an end, I periodically find myself looking forward to bidding 2020 farewell. It is comical and a bit of a stress relief to laugh at Murphy in all its glory. When something has not gone as planned, I’ve thrown up my hands and retorted, “Of course it wouldn’t, it’s 2020!” However, the fact remains that the new year will usher in more uncertainty than usual. While most of us have yearned for a return to normal (e.g., school, office hours and social gatherings) it is important to note that all change involves some discomfort. Even the “new normal” after the vaccine has been disseminated to most Americans, our children are back in school, we are back in the office and the social butterflies are spreading their wings, we will still feel the effects of change.

Beyond the Growing Pains

As I reflect on my own journey during 2020, I recognize that to varying degrees I have endured unwitting growth on the emotional, mental, physical and social levels. Given the significance of this year, I am reminded of the notion of resilience. As a flood survivor who lost over 90% of all my belongings and had to rebuild my home, I am familiar with the many stages of reconciliation before, during and after a disaster that comes before resilience. As noted in a previous column, how we choose to recover from and adapt to this pandemic speaks highly of our collective resolve. Now is the time to emphasize how we have emerged stronger and more resilient on the emotional, mental, physical and/or social levels. We should embrace the unusual growing pains of 2020, capture the failures and highlight how those failures have led to lessons learned. I submit that given the uncertainty of 2021, and what the “new normal” will entail, an opportunity to reflect on best practices will be very useful in the times ahead.

Honesty and Foresight

This year has likely illuminated some black swans and black elephants in our organizations. From a managerial perspective, what exactly are we doing to address the black swan and the black elephant? The black swan is an outlier that will have a high impact. The black elephant is an event which is extremely likely and widely predicted but is ignored or simply unspoken.

Both of these terms usually invoke a negative connotation involving failure or a miscalculation, but each of these can be positive or negative. Nevertheless, ignoring the impacts of positive outcomes is also problematic. Furthermore, both black swans and black elephants can prohibit the very things we tout in our mission statements or long-term objectives. Failure to address them (before the pandemic) may have prohibited the best transitions required in response to the pandemic. For example, hiring more employees than there are open workspaces during the teleworking environment is problematic. While the necessary growth of the company is great news, the failure to address the well-known issue of space will disrupt the integration process and impact employee engagement.

Those charged with mid-to-long term planning should brainstorm the following questions to plan for the swan and the elephant:

Address the Black Swan:

What possibilities of the future are pulling us toward our current path?What are some elements of the future that may hamper our goals.
What does the future reveal about what we may need to know/learn?
What do people assume would never happen (black swans)?

Address the Black Elephant:

What are the trends currently embedded in the process?
What do we not know?
What are the obvious roadblocks, problems or dangers we ignore (black elephants)?
What are the issues staring us in the face, but that we are simply afraid or embarrassed to discuss?

Change the Perspective, Change the Outcome

Despite all the curve balls from this year, I have learned the value of endurance in many facets of life and work. I also believe that if we (as leaders and managers) take the opportunity to make the most out of the forced change, then we can improve the systems and processes within our organizations that honestly need it.

Author: LaMesha “MeMe” Craft, Ph.D., is a faculty member at the National Intelligence University and an adjunct professor at Tiffin University. Her research interests include community resilience, disaster risk reduction, leadership, impacts of disruptive technology, alternative futures, and postnormal times. She may be reached at [email protected] or @DrLCraft20

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