My grandfather used to tell me, “It only gets real at the point of action. Everything that happens before the action is just preamble.” Anyone who knew my grandfather understood his pejorative use of the world ‘preamble’. He was a man of action.
As difficult as this pandemic has been, it all feels like preamble to me. Something much bigger is lurking. My colleague Irwin Turbitt called it out this way: “In the critical phase of the crisis too many people are overwhelmed by disappointment, loss and distress and so the work required is that of command and authority. As we move into the chronic (more wicked) phase of the pandemic, the need for adaptive leadership rises.”
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, announced this week that if employees want to work from home forever, that Twitter will make that happen. It is hard to know if Dorsey’s announcement represents a weak signal of bigger workstyle changes or an overreaction, but it is clear that he is using his authority to adapt his organization to the changing world as best he can. Dorsey has also changed how 4600 Twitter employees think about how they want to work. All prompted by COVID-19.
A month ago I wrote about passing through a portal. At that time, we were in the crisis stage of the pandemic. Today in my home state of Washington, we flattened the curve so much that this past week, I played (socially distant) golf with three friends. Yes, it does seem that my golf game has the virus because it was terrible but it was wonderful to be with friends for four hours. It was a breath of fresh life.
It was a fresh life that Theresa, my wife, was addressing when she said yesterday at breakfast, “We need to get a plan.” In one sentence she reminded me that I had stalled my trip through the portal. See, before the pandemic hit, we were in the middle of getting our house ready to sell. We have lived in this house for 20 years; our daughter grew up in this house. Our family became a family in this house. Lots of memories and emotions live here. Hell, we even have a pick-up truck full of packing boxes waiting to be put to use. The pandemic made it easy to hunker down and avoid dealing with the adaptive work of moving, addressing the losses that will come with the move and actually figuring out what we will do and where we will live. COVID-19 is not just a virus, it’s a complete denial system fit for purpose.
The purpose the virus has been serving me for the last nine weeks is not having to really think about all that is involved with moving. I have rationalized that it’s too much to deal with given lockdown, loss of business and finding new business. I can hear my grandfather in my ear “Rick, you are in preamble and Theresa is in action.”
So now what happens? After all, selling a house in the middle of COVID-19 is about as crazy as it gets for people. Or is it? And does it make sense to make a plan in the middle of a world event that is laughing at the act of planning anything? I don’t think so. Twyla Tharp, the wonderful and great choreographer said, “When I am at a dead end, I take a deep breath, stamp my foot, and shout ‘Begin!’ You never know where it will take you.” Today I begin by packing three boxes with books. Let’s see where those boxes take us.
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