Sometimes I feel like I’m going to vomit if I hear or read the term “new normal” one more time.  But, sometimes it invigorates a  new way of looking at things.

New Normal, new mentality, abrupt changeNew normal has been with the universe since the Big Bang.  We just hear it referenced more often when we experience abrupt change and the change is big, unexpected, and out of our control. Recent examples include 9/11, the 2008 Financial Crisis and the Covid-19 Pandemic.  New Normal is what we typically refer to as change.

New Normal

It can provide a chance for us to re-examine, re-imagine, and re-build our vision to achieve meaningful success in our business and our personal lives.

Sometimes change comes as a shock.  Sometimes change is more gradual.  We accommodate change more easily if it is gradual and we can adjust to its benefits on our schedule and our terms.  Technology offers example after example dating back to when cave dwellers created fires by rubbing sticks together.  Who would even think about doing that today, except survival training classes?

During the last 40 years we harnessed the power of the internet and radio wave spectrum to bring speed, productivity, and entertainment into our lives.  Innovators created and improved devices such as computers,  smartphones and software with greater ease of use and lower cost.  Before that electricity brought work saving convenience.

Accepting Change

The minds of humans are as diverse as the inhabitants who populate the earth.  Therefore, the pace at which we accept change, quickly or kicking and screaming, is accordingly diverse.

That is why trendsetters recognize and seize opportunities to which others are blind.  That is why leaders become leaders and followers remain followers.

The process for adopting planned change is different from the process for adapting to unexpected, abrupt  change.

Today, the world’s population is adapting to the aftermath of the unexpected COVID-19 Pandemic.  We learned lessons.  From that, we rose above personal fragility.  We offered support to those who needed it.   We took time to re-explore personal goals and look toward the future.

5 Phases for Unexpected Change

Apply any term you can think of to 2020 and the Covid-19 experience.  It is unlike anything we experienced, in some ways.  But, it also feels like prior major events that blindsided us.  We always found a way to recover.  For each of them, I see 5 phases that characterize past chronologies and that will prevail again.

  1. Destruction

The reality of lockdown and “Safer at Home” directives slammed our psyche and devastated business cash flows even faster than the financial calamity of the 2008 Great Recession.  It was like a sudden explosion that destroys the structure of a building creating a pile of rubble and rendering the space it once occupied as a useless expanse of desolation.  Our human nature is to react with denial to the reality.  Then with anger that we lost something of value.  Finally, we react with acceptance that we must conform.

  1. Dread

We feared the unknown.  Our thoughts and emotions were filled with anxiety.  Dread hung over us like an eerie dream from which we wanted to pinch ourselves and awaken.

I worked near O’Hare airport during the post-9/11 period.  Planes were not flying, at all.  As a member of our weekly work golf league, it was only then that I realized the level of background noise from planes taking off, landing, and circling overhead.  Immediately after 9/11 when planes were ordered to sit on the ground, that background noise was now absent.  The new silence was deafening.

The imposed isolation to mitigate Covid-19 created a silence of human contact.  I now wonder, more than ever, how it is possible for inmates to endure extended periods of solitary confinement.  At least we had phones and Zoom technology to stay in touch during this time.  Yet, this was a disaster for the psyche and the economic well-being of many.  Individuals will need intentional effort and, in many cases, will need counseling and coaching to move beyond their pandemic experience.  Some will cope less well than others.  Some will prosper, not on the backs of others, but by lifting others.

  1. Displacement

Businesses that we know and love will never reopen.  You might own one of them.  Our personal interactions will certainly change in the near term, and possibly change permanently.

I visited Japan over a dozen times during my corporate career and became accustomed to bowing when exchanging introductory pleasantries.  At first it felt strange because the handshake naturally felt like a more personal gesture of greeting and parting.  Yet, avoiding the unintentional, unknown transfer of viral contamination by use of a bow seems to make so much more sense today.  Will the handshake be displaced by a bow?  Or, a less formal fist bump?  Time will tell.

  1. Transformation

George Bernard Shaw was quoted as saying “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”  Those who apply their imagination to “what can be” will be steps ahead of those who let their thoughts dwell on the destruction, dread, and displacement of their recent experience.

Many of us have our eyes on a positive future that will allow us to cross the bridge from where are today to where we can be tomorrow.  We can elevate our appreciation for joy because it feels so much better than despair.  We can elevate creative thought and innovation because building is so much more motivating that destruction.  We can elevate a rising tide of flourishing ideas that offer motivation toward pursuit of new successes at an accelerated pace.

  1. Rebuilding

When we change our thoughts from a depressing past to a transformative future, we put ourselves on the track toward meaningful success.  Perhaps it will be even more meaningful and more successful than we originally envisioned.

emerge from uncertainty

Achieving our new vision requires re-examining, re-imagining and re-building how we act.

Re-examining – Connection remains vital.  Let us ask how interaction with friends, family, customers, and the community has changed.  Online customers, virtual friends and Facetime family remain human beings who have been impacted in some way. Our conversation, messages and service offerings must acknowledge that.

Re-imagining – Delivery matters.  Systems and methods for communication that we created a year ago may no longer apply today.  Whether it is our company or our family, we must consider how to deliver a great experience.

Re-building – Action-takers succeed.  Done well, new approaches can build a new normal in a way that is better, faster, and more robust than the old approaches.   We are survivors.  We are equipped with a new awareness that unknown unknowns pose a threat.  Survival experiences build camaraderie and a new appreciation that we need to look out for each other.  Camaraderie builds strength because we appreciate the need to look for the unique value that can be offered by each person, including one’s self, in any endeavor.

Change is an action that makes a material difference so some thing is distinctly different from what it was.  Let us find a way for the events of 2020 to become a change for the better and for each of us to achieve meaningful success.

Comment below on your experience during this period of unexpected change, or any other period of unexpected change.

What is your approach to re-examining, re-imagining, and re-building?


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    2 replies to "5 Phases that Characterize Abrupt Change"


      Amazing job Dan, well done.
      As I shared with you today, before Covid19 I did not use Zoom, had no interest in it. I was making my meet and greets, to expand my network, with person to person appointments at a coffee shop. No more, I am a Zoom addict. Even after the pandemic, I plan on using Zoom for those first time contacts.

      • Dan Kapellen

        Thanks for your comment, Robert. I guess that you would eventually have adopted Zoom, perhaps a year or two in the future. Your story is a perfect example of how necessity accelerated the adoption curve.

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