Falling out of line: would this be the ‘new normal’?

In 1942, when Albert Einstein was teaching at Oxford University, he gave a physics exam to his senior class of students. Afterwards, he was walking on the campus grounds when his Assistant approached him and asked, “Dr. Einstein, the exam which you just gave to the senior class of physics students, isn’t that exactly the same exam you gave to exactly the same class one year ago?”

“Yes,” said Einstein, “it’s exactly the same.”

“But Dr. Einstein, how could you possibly do that?”, asked the surprised Assistant.

“Well,” said Einstein, “This year the answers have changed.”

This interesting story about the famous Albert Einstein clearly shows us that we live in a world where the questions might be the same while the answers might change drastically.

What is true for 1942 is even more true for today’s world, specially in the light of the unexpected attack by the COVID-19 virus. Thus, would the answers and solutions of the pre-pandemic world be able to still hold their ground in a POST-COVID-19 world?

Ever since the first COVID-19 patient was found in Wuhan, China in November 2019, all of us have been witnessing significant changes in our personal and professional lives. It goes without saying that most of them have not made us smile, particularly in a business point of view.

Looking back at November 2019, we were, as usual, facing problems and continuously seeking and applying solutions in our businesses and workplaces. But the question is whether those solutions would work for us now. A different approach would have to be taken in tackling some of the same problems.

So, if we want to bounce back from where we have fallen, if we want to have results that we never had before, well, we need to start doing things we have never done before.

This is the key question we need to ask today: Is there a way that each of us can do impossible things to truly create dramatic results?

The good news is the answer being “Yes”. The next question is ‘how?’

Whenever people, teams or organizations hit a wall, they tend to do one of two things: they either do more of the same things they have been doing, or they do less of the same things.

But what you very seldom see is starting to do different things instead.

An interesting fact is revealed through research, that approximately three per cent of people are inclined to take a different approach after hitting a wall. What about the majority then? Haven’t we heard that it is the majority that wins? Well, not when they’ve hit a wall.

Why does this happen? In order to take a different approach, a lot of thinking is required. Thinking is a high energy activity. So, whenever we think, we try to think as short as possible, and then we return to ‘automatic pilot mode’ or to our usual methods or those we are comfortable with. Most of us run on automatic pilot for most of our life.

If your brain is on automatic pilot, it leads to what scientists call mental myopia, also known as tunnel vision.

Tunnel vision creates confusion in people about their own performance. This is the reason why many people go through life acting like a race car driver who sits in his car, looks in his rear-view mirror, sees his competition, and keeps on racing, hoping to come first.

In other words, most of us tend to think inside the box or to fall in line.

If we take a closer look at our industry or professional field, we too are thinking inside a box with well-defined boundaries. The boundaries of this box could be called industry standards, or industry norms. But what if you are told that the word ‘norm’ is an abbreviation for ‘normal’?

Thus, if you try to do what everyone else is doing during this crisis, you’ll get the results that everyone else is getting, and those are ‘normal’ results.

But the problem is, what we are after today, in this difficult period, are extraordinary results.

What has to be understood is that breakthrough innovation, and extraordinary results happen when people decide to finally break the standards or the norms in their industry or professional field.

So what if we consider this period of crisis as an opportunity to quit depending on others or fixing things, and to move onto innovation, instead? How about taking a risk and falling out of line for once?

I’d like to end this article with an example from my professional experience during this crisis period.

The IT company I work for is also facing difficulties, to the same extent as or more than other organizations. It is not a bed of roses yet for the IT industry, as opposed to the popular belief. However, against the tide of the majority of businesses, we did not go for the traditional cost cutting methods. Alternatively, we have implemented, and continue to look for other cost cutting strategies with the objective of keeping the positive mindset of our employees. Our belief is that ensuring employee satisfaction during this difficult time will lead to a higher level of productivity thereby facilitating the company to positively face and overcome the present difficulties. The good news is we have already witnessed increased productivity from our employees in the past few weeks.

To wrap up, you could be a large enterprise or a SME. Expecting things to be back to ‘normal’ in a few months, or a year or two, would be a mirage as now the buzzword is ‘the new normal’. If we really commit ourselves to it, we have a chance to define what this ‘new normal’ is for each of us as an individual, as an enterprise, and eventually as a nation.

Author: Buddhika Abeygooneratne

Co-Author: Sucheru Dissanayake

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