Had we all applied January’s established business practices to the Covid-19 crisis, it’s likely that, even months in to the lockdown period, we’d all still be in planning mode.
We’d be writing papers, presenting powerpoints to each other, arranging day-long brainstorms, conducting focus groups, firing off copious emails and seeking multiple layers of approval. The result? We’d surface from lockdown only to discover the original paper no longer fits the new normal. The crisis would have halted progress, not accelerated it.
But, in the same way that most of January’s inbox is now entirely irrelevant, so too, I am delighted to report, is the way we used to work.
Something really rather interesting happened when the government demanded we all go home, desert our office blocks and find another way.
Within days we were video conferencing, unmuting each other, raising our virtual hands, styling our backgrounds and trading interruptible office life for meaningful interactions. Within days we were welcoming people into our living rooms and loft spaces and onto our kitchen tables. We were showing them the real, unpolished and unedited lives that never quite make it into the boardroom.
We didn’t just find another way. We found it fast.
But that’s not all. By adjusting our lives at speed, we also adjusted our expectations. We laughed through the technical errors. We started to reach out to connect around things other than deadlines. Rather than standing back to formulate an opinion on the change rapidly invading our working lives from all angles, we embraced it. Overnight, survival not perfectionism became our driving force.
We didn’t just talk or write a paper or an email. We got stuff done.
It is amazing what a backdrop of kindness and compassion can do to turn us all into powerhouses of productivity. When we know failure and false starts are not just accepted but actively encouraged, we start to take risks, to innovate, to push boundaries and to test the theories we’ve been procrastinating over for months. When we know that not responding to a global pandemic will mean that we cease to be relevant, we push to say something. When we reach out and really listen, we see the real solutions rather than the ones designed around a white board. We respond – and we forgive ourselves for not overthinking that response.
This crisis has pushed many of us to see the possible in the previously impossible. No deadline too short. No project too big. No team too small.
As content marketers, we’ve ripped up well-crafted content plans, established magazines and e-newsletter schedules, launched podcasts, introduced virtual events, got audiences talking, created resources and checklists overnight, run flash surveys and drawn on insights with key business leaders.
We know that agility doesn’t always mean we get it right. But, we also know, that by being agile, we are trying to do the right thing. And, as we have seen, people will forgive you the odd typo, if they know you genuinely want to help.
For years, I have stood on the conference stage advocating the importance of the 70:20:10 rule. Plan 70% of your content programme, allocate 20% to doing more of what works, and leave 10% to respond creatively to topical events.
While I recognise it would be a little relentless for communicators everywhere if we were to maintain current levels of agility (about 99% unplanned is probably not something anyone would recommend), this crisis has shown us that by sticking to the programme, we are often in danger of missing the point.
Focus too much on accuracy and activity and you can miss the opportunity to be authentic.
If Covid-19 has done anything for business, it has shown the perfectionists among us (yes, it is ok to admit you are one), that good and done is better than perfect and not quite done. By forcing us to shift our priorities, we have been forced to see that striving for perfection can actually hold us back.
All I hope is that when lockdown lifts and we all start talking less about crisis and more about the reclaiming our lives, that we don’t forget what that crisis taught us and helped us achieve.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak famously said, as crisis talks escalated, that we would be judged for our capacity for compassion during this period. I would go further to say that we will also be judged on how we used that compassion to catalyse real change.
I hope very much that the new normal is perfectly imperfect. After reading this, I hope that is what you wish for yourselves too.