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The Great Pause. How to reinvent yourself.

Pausing means you find a way to reinvent yourself and figure out a future that maximizes your chances of success in a wild and fast-changing world.

It’s May 2020. The city is completely deserted. I’ve been unable to take such beautiful pictures of Prague since I first visited it in 1995, and tourism was significantly less than it is today.

It’s a bizarre dual feeling. 

From one perspective, the joy of the silence, the empty streets, and the city’s beauty in the sun. But there’s also the reality of COVID-19. Everybody in the streets walks with a face mask. All stores, cafes, bars, and restaurants are closed. I get my cappuccino at my favorite corner cafe through a small window in a to-go cup.

At home, we’re all together. The kids are home from school. One loves it; the other misses his friends. My wife and I both work from home. We’ve built solid weekly habits of talking through our meals, one extensive weekly shopping trip, and splitting up our cooking. The cooking is an excellent preparation for the kids when they go to study. We frequently take a walk outside in the forest behind our house. We play games together. We talk. We’re probably more connected than we’ve ever been.

COVID-19 is a pause. Some authors have even called it The Great Pause. 

It’s a pause because everyone is unaware of what’s happening and how things will develop. There is nothing else we can do but pause and wait for things to evolve. Things slow down for a while.

The word great can be explained in two ways. There’s the meaning of great in positive terms. And there’s great in terms of massive impact.

The devastation of the pandemic, the uncertainty of the future, and the mandatory lockdowns force families to be together. Everybody knows somebody who had to deal with severe illness or even death in their family or friend circles. People care more for each other. People were more interested in the well-being of others than before. 

The pandemic made many realize there’s more in life than the daily rat race. Collectively, we discovered new habits; we figured out work could also be done from home, saving a commute; we learned how to cook again; we went for walks and discovered new places we didn’t know were so close to us; we read more books than before. 

Many businesses reinvented their business models during COVID. They were forced to do so. Zoom experienced massive growth due to the pandemic. The food takeaway business exploded. (Online) supermarkets experienced record sales during the lockdowns. 

Every crisis is an opportunity. 

The pandemic was a game changer for many CEOs and their People and Culture executives. This was the opportunity to look at work differently. Do we need all that expensive real estate to provide each of our associates with a dedicated desk? Which jobs could be done remotely permanently? Which jobs can be done in a hybrid format? Which jobs need to be done in the office? Many people were recruited and started to work without ever physically meeting their hiring manager.

And then there were the CEOs who held on to the past. They were nervous from day one that their people were slacking away at home doing nothing productive for their business. They couldn’t wait to get people back to the office, and when they had the opportunity, they commanded everybody back. Without reflection, without conversation, just with decreased engagement levels. People had experienced a new reality. 

Of course, many people wanted to return to the office because they liked the social aspect or because their two-bedroom apartment was too small for two adults and two kids to get everything done.

The point here is not that everything was great during the pandemic. There was physical devastation, and there also has been a lot of mental suffering among people living alone and teenagers who were missing school. 

My point here is that in a fast-changing world that will never stop changing, we need to figure out for ourselves and our businesses proactively what the future will look like for us. We need to build business models that are adaptive and resilient. 

Because of the pandemic, many businesses perished, and many businesses flourished. And that’s not just a matter of the business you’re in. 

It’s a matter of mindset.

Many people saw the opportunity on day one. Many people acted as victims of circumstances and did nothing. I know restaurant owners who switched from a physical business to a takeaway business within a few days. I know restaurant owners who closed down and fell into depression.

My kids’ school needed two business days to get online with the entire school. The lockdown started on a Thursday. The kids were online again on Tuesday. Why? Because the school was prepared for such a scenario. Many other schools in the area needed over a month before they figured out how to continue to teach their kids. 

When done with the right intention and intelligently, pausing pays off. It pays off to stop and think through how resilient your business is to survive a crisis. And what you can do to prepare yourself. You can build this deliberate pause into your planning processes. 

Pausing doesn’t mean you close your business for a month and start thinking about the future. It does mean that you find a way to figure out a future that maximizes your chances of success in a wild and fast-changing world.

I’ll discuss the design of deliberate pausing later in the book with another perfect example from my years in the supermarket business.

For now, what matters most is your role as a human being and leader. You are the difference between success for yourself and your business. What happens to you is not what defines you. What defines you is the way you respond.

Are you prepared to respond, change things for the better, and accept ownership? Or will you behave as a victim and blame the world around you? 

Will you pause to think these questions through?

If so, it may be a great pause.

Your turn: How resilient are you? How resilient is your business?

Erikjan

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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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