Since time immemorial, every time a massive crisis has raised its head, humanity’s first reaction to it has usually been disbelief. This is then followed by shock, panic and anger. Over time, these emotions evolve into a sense of action. The current Corona Virus crisis is no different. Since the first outbreak was reported on 31st December, we have collectively gone through these same emotions. By now, we have reached the action stage – governments trying to curb further spread of the pandemic through national lockdowns, the public practising social distancing to stay safe, scientists looking for a cure, academics and media persons discussing the hows, whens and wherefores…and so on and so forth.
COVID19 and Imagination
COVID19 crisis – like so many crises before it – has created the need for new attitudes, new behaviours and new viewpoints. One word holds the key to making all of this a reality: IMAGINATION.
We need imagination to..
…identify and articulate problems.
… to seize new opportunities.
…to uncover new paths towards finding new solutions.
…and even to recognise when we’re making mistakes.
Imagination is the capacity to think differently, to be open to change, and to explore the willingness to exploit new models of thinking and behaviours.
Imagination comes very easily to children. However, for adults, it is one the most difficult skills to keep alive, especially under pressure. Ironically, a high-pressure situation like the one we are currently living through is exactly why we need to keep our imagination alive. And this is applicable at both individual and corporate levels.
With imagination, companies can not only adapt to a new environment. They can also help reshape it and change it influence on the future. Think of all the ‘imaginative’ companies that have created something wonderful during a crisis. Such creations usually far outlive the crisis that spawns them, and even makes the company stronger.
How can organisations develop their capacity for imagination? Here are 5 time-tested strategies to try. They have worked for organisations of every stripe over the past few decades and they will surely work for yours as well.
#1: Keep an eye on the big picture
During a crisis, it’s natural to operate with our instinctual ‘fight or flight’ response system. This is true of both individuals and organisations. However, for organisations, a chronic dependence on fight or flight can become problematic in the long term. It narrows our focus and takes our attention away from the future. That’s why it’s important for leaders and managers to carve some time out for reflection.
They should remind themselves and their people of the organisation’s vision, mission and values. They should also take steps to reassure their people that the crisis is temporary but their future with the company is secure.
#2: Encourage your people to ask questions
During a crisis, anxious organisational leaders often discourage their people from airing their own worries and concerns.
However, a ‘grin and bear it’ message may not be entirely appropriate, especially if it makes people even more stressed and anxious. A better strategy would be to create an environment where people feel safe asking questions and airing their concerns. Instead of sitting back passively and waiting for things to happen to them, encourage them to ask active questions and brainstorm ways to make things happen. When they ask active questions, it prompts the exploration of fresh ideas and approaches. As an organisation, you will be able to collectively shape events to your advantage and be better prepared for a post-crisis world.
#3: Develop an idea-sharing culture
Imagination does not have to be an individual achievement. Companies that facilitate ‘collective’ imagination can pick up, codify and scale new individual ideas to benefit the organisation as a whole.
Allow new ideas to be shared while they are still in development. Create forums for people to communicate openly and without bureaucratic red tape. Dismantle functional silos and create communication channels that make idea-sharing easy. Make it clear that every suggestion will be given the respect it deserves, no matter how impractical it may seem at the outset.
#4: Encourage experimentation
Seek out the unexpected and ask questions about it. If something does not seem to ‘fit’, ask why or why not. Try new ways of doing old things. Test new ideas and document your learnings for future. Even if something fails, you will have found ways to not do something. This information can be as valuable as the right ways to do something.
#5: Be playful and hopeful
Play therapy for children encourages them to develop their imaginations through what they do best – play. But play can work very well to stimulate adults’ imaginations as well.
As well as providing some much-needed stress relief during a crisis, play can promote productivity. It can help generate new ideas and create important connections between these ideas that can then deliver long-term benefits for everyone involved.
Leaders should also watch their language and behaviours. Are you using pessimistic or fatalistic language or are you giving your people hope, imagination and innovation? Your people look to you for guidance. If you create an environment that encourages imagination and promotes hope, they will take the lead from you and deliver results in spades.
Beyond the worry and stress, every crisis also contains the seeds of opportunity. Some organisations buckle under the pressure while others harness these opportunities to develop their imaginations. These are the firms that generate new ideas, develop more effective business models and design amazing new products or services.
Imagination is the key to unlock future success.
What are you doing to grab this key for your organisation?
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Lion Amir Virani