We’re all in a once-in-a-lifetime season that invites us to build new innovations for those who need them most. But building solutions during this crisis requires us to align a tenacious, long-term perspective with valuable, timely work today. We must be resilient and relevant.
If your team is resilient but not relevant, then you might have tenacious determination (fall seven times, get up eight kind of resilience) that’s just leading to a dead end. Strength doesn’t matter if it’s misdirected.
On the other hand, if your team is relevant but not resilient, you might lose the grit you need to achieve your long-term vision. We need resilience and relevance to innovate new, sustainable solutions for the novel season we’re in together.
Let’s look at what it means to be resilient.
Our good friend and advisor, Art Reimers, recently told our team a story to help shape our perspective for these times. It goes like this.
Two pilots survive a crash to find themselves on a raft, lost at sea. One pilot is replaying the incident, recalling what he could have done differently to avoid the accident. He continues to analyze the long list of “what ifs” that led to his current situation. Then, he looks over to see his fellow pilot responding in a very different way: he is fishing.
Art left us with two words from this story summing up what our perspective needs to be right now. He said, “start fishing.”
Art’s simple story speaks to the Stockdale Paradox. During the Vietnam War, James Stockdale was one of the highest-ranking naval officers when he was held captive as a prisoner of war for seven years. When asked how he persevered through the years of torture, he spoke about the necessary balance between embracing reality and having hope.
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” — James Stockdale
He said that those who were least likely to survive the years of struggle were the pure optimists: those who were sure of their future, only to “die of a broken heart” when it didn’t come true.
The first step to becoming a resilient team is to embrace reality collectively.
We are all in a difficult season that threatens our goals and systems. It will do us no good to ignore our new reality by lying to ourselves with unrealistic optimism. The world has crashed to find itself floating in uncharted waters, and there is nothing you could have done to change that. Once we accept our present reality, we can start fishing.
Embracing reality leads to resilience, but the world doesn’t just need resilient teams. It needs helpful teams too.
Let’s look at what it means to be relevant.
Most likely, you’re a leader because you wanted to help solve a problem. This is why we work: to be useful for those around us. We’ve all spent months and years charting the best course for high level impact — but right now, being helpful means being flexible. If you use this season to set your focus on purely preserving your needs and strategies, you will have a diminished impact on the lives of others.
When crisis strikes, it’s natural for us to instinctively address our immediate needs for survival. But our response can’t end there. Self-preservation is not a sustainable mindset for a thriving team. Organizations and leaders who try to preserve their strategy and agenda above all else are at risk of not serving their audience over the long haul. One of the most impactful ways to serve your audience is to zoom out and think long term, even if it means changing course during the next two years.
When the reality of COVID-19 hit our team, we spent a couple of weeks making adjustments for ourselves. We reduced our budget by nearly 30%, froze hires, and thought of ways to stay safe as a team. This was helpful and even necessary, but it was only step one.
Once we’d implemented our rapid response for the short term, we zoomed out to rethink our long term vision. Our mission was still the same — to pioneer solutions to end global homelessness — but our method of achieving it in the shorter term had to change.
You have to be creative to make yourself relevant, especially now. To zoom out, embrace reality, and become helpful, your team must take an audit of your resources. Step back to gauge your available talent, network, funding, and partners, and ask yourself, “How can we redirect these to make an impact?”
With this season lifting many pre-commitments from your team, you’re free to explore new avenues of impact. A global reset button has been hit, and you now have a blank canvas to ideate, experiment, and try new things. The rules have changed, and more possibilities are in play.
For us, that means ending global homelessness looks more like providing rent relief than building homes for this season. We have never explored a solution like this, but with unemployment at an all-time high and our construction forced to a halt, we had to pivot to remain relevant and helpful to the people we serve.
Once you have completed an audit and chosen how to redirect your resources, you must move quickly. This season invites you to accelerate your ideas.
Often, we’re slow to move because we want to wait until we have 100% confidence in our chance of success. But dire times do not afford the luxury of waiting to be perfect. When the world is hurting for solutions, fast and good is better than slow and perfect.
If you wait until you’re at a 100% confidence level before making a decision, you’re too late. Right now, more than ever, we need to trust our intuition, lean on our advisors, choose a direction, then quickly execute with confidence — 60% or 70% confidence is sometimes all you’ll be able to get, and that’s okay. As soon as you find out your direction is wrong, you can iterate and realign.
“If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think. Whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.” — Jeff Bezos
Right now, the cost of moving slowly is not purely financial. The price is also missing out on impact that’s desperately needed. Your team exists to impact the lives of others. Let’s continue building impact by thinking long term, embracing the opportunity of the shifting rules, and moving with urgency. Through these practices, we’ll become resilient and relevant teams built to navigate these uncharted waters.