I think almost everyone on planet Earth would agree that 2020’s been one helluva stinker. And even with Brexit ‘sorted’ and the vaccination rollout underway, it hasn’t been quite enough to thwart the underlying feeling of gloom that’s seeped into everybody’s bones. Or maybe that’s just me.
So, how to pull ourselves out of this one?
Covid-19 has left our society and world economy shaken to the core. We’ve been metaphorically squashed between a rock and a hard place, handicapped in how we do business, educate our kids and live life. And we enter 2021, as people, families, and businesses, unrecognisably brow-beaten and desperately in need of finding a way to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and work out how, in the good-old-British-tradition, to ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’. Basically, we need to figure out ‘what’s possible?’.
As a freelancer and parent whose business has been pretty much stop-start for the best part of the year, it’s difficult to know if in 2021 there’ll be much of an economy left to support. It also feels kinda greedy and self-serving to think about finding work, when so many industries are on their knees or have been decimated by the pandemic. But, if there’s one thing that motivates me, it’s the future of our (much educationally disrupted) children. It’s for them that we need to keep grinding, finding new opportunities in this topsy-turvy world, and keep the economy moving. And, however woeful things feel, I can’t quite shake the belief that out of difficulty must come possibility.
After the first UK lockdown, I wrote an article around the lessons we learnt from that experience, predominantly as parents, but also as a society. What really struck me was how the pandemic had united people and communities, despite our separateness, through our shared experience. How overwhelming our need was to support our neighbours, our community, our country and make things better for everyone. And of course, what better example is there of that pure, selfless desire to muck in and make the world a better place, than the endeavours of our national treasure, Captain Tom Moore?
Unleashing the power of kindness
Two national lockdowns later and with a rather more pandemic-weary population, our original vigour may have abated somewhat. But I wonder if, fundamentally, this experience has ignited a deeply instinctive flame. An entrenched altruism that has sparked a need for us to do better by our planet, serve more and care for our fellow humans. Because, if nothing else, life has never felt so precious when we’ve been denied so much of it. So if we only get one shot, then we sure-as-damnit need to make the best of it while we can. (And if that doesn’t move you, then maybe a few extra brownie points won’t go amiss before that final interview with St Peter).
And though I’m by no means an economist and business commentating ain’t really my thing, it got me thinking that if 2021 offers any glimmer of brightness, then it’s about using enterprise for the good of the world. And though there’s certainly been a movement pre-Covid (think the Purpose Collaborative and B Corp Certification) for certain parts of commerce to behave more ethically, responsibly and with purpose, then perhaps the awfulness of the Covid experience is what will bring the masses with it.
It’s in those individuals and businesses where this altruistic penny has dropped – knowing that we need to do things more collaboratively and for the better, to be more sustainable in our approach and reap more benevolent results in our work – that the future beckons. To me that’s where the appetite is, that’s what will ignite our passions and hopefully rocket-fuel our world again.
Giving Covid-19 what for
Over the past year, most businesses have had to wholly alter their way of doing things to survive (from investing in gallons of hand gel to completely rethinking how they deliver services and supporting huge labour forces working from home). But more than this, I’ve been particularly buoyed by the highly creative and ‘can-do’ attitudes of the brilliant organisations that have seen opportunities to serve and benefit the people during the crisis. Those that have resolutely put two fingers up to the pandemic and risen to the challenge bellowing in true Monty Python style “Come on then Covid-19, had enough eh? ’Tis but a flesh wound!” Or words to that effect.
Take the Great North Run, not to be downtrodden (excuse pun) by having to cancel its 40th-anniversary race, it created a totally virtual event, where participants could run their own routes, while still – to all intents and purposes – being part of one giant collective event and raising valuable sponsorship money for charities. Oddbox, rallying to help farmers whose supply of fruit and veg to the hospitality industry was disrupted, bought surplus stock to resell to customers on their doorsteps. And who could forget that fabulous Bristol-based gin manufacturer, Psychopomp Distillery, that in lockdown #1 started making much-needed hand gel for the local community, and raising lots of money for charity to boot? (Plus, I reckon it can’t have hurt their gin sales much – so win-win all round, I say!)
And, how about these incredible initiatives that have sprung up to help put people back on an even keel? Like Hospitality for Heroes where out of work or furloughed hospitality sector workers use their skills to create meals for much deserving NHS workers. And charities like The Reader which has resolutely continued in its mission to promote connection through literature and ‘help humans survive and live well’ by taking its offer of reading and companionship online, providing ‘literature to nourish the spirit’. Or Parkrun, an organisation whose raison d’etre is to bring people together and get healthy for free, has launched the ingenious (not)parkrun to keep that ethos alive.
Now, doesn’t all that fabulous thinking outside the box and ‘everyday-people-doing-their-oh-so-incredible-bit’ warm your bones and shed the gloom just a little?
Reframing what’s possible
One particular soul-cheering book I reach for when things feel a bit hopeless is The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. It hits the nail squarely on the head when it says:
“Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view. Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear.”Zander and Zander
And so, despite the less than promising start 2021 has heralded, this is where, as business people and human beings we can channel our efforts. In supporting those purpose-driven organisations that are a force for good, see the wake-up call of this pandemic and pull the rest of the world from the smouldering ruins of 2020 and head towards a future ‘more bright’.
After all, what better education for our kids is there than this?
Photograph reproduced by kind permission of Claire Ansell Photography
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