In 2009, an English Civil Engineer was asked to write a report on the British construction industry’s performance, which, at the time, was abysmal. There was less than a fifty percent chance any project would come in on time or budget. The idea was to use the Great Recession to discover the cause of the overall performance and use adverse economic circumstances to improve results. The title of the report was, “Never Waste a Good Crisis.”
Many of us feel a powerful desire to return things to the way they were before our current crisis, to go back to business as usual, and to recover the lives we had before any of this started. Others hope that things are radically different on the other side, wishing for a total reimagining and reconstruction of human civilization. For our purposes here, we are concerned only with personal leadership, what we do—or don’t do—in response to a crisis, a crisis we should not waste.
How to Not Waste a Crisis
There are some things that you should very much want to return to the way they were before this crisis. If what you were doing before was good, right, and working well, it might not need any real improvement on the other side. The principle-based ideas, and strategies, and tactics tend to survive any crisis, even the more substantial tectonic shifts we experience every so many years.
If you were producing high touch, high caring, and high-value creation before this crisis, that approach would be every bit as effective on the other side. Maybe you were disciplined enough to plan your weeks ahead of time, block your calendar for what’s most important, and working towards your goals with high intention. You want to keep the strategies, habits, and routines that result in success in good and bad times.
Where you can find a way not to waste this crisis is to look at the things that aren’t what you want them to be, those areas where you profess to want a different and better result, but where you haven’t developed the required strategies or disciplines. It’s never a wrong time to do an accounting of your life, but there is never a better time than using a crisis to create a point of departure.
The Great Recession that started in 2008 caused me to begin writing a daily blog. December 28, 2009, was the point of departure from dabbling to pushing all my chips into the center of the table, come what may. After drifting for far too long, I chose for myself the purpose and meaning of my life, a red pill moment that changed my trajectory. I am not sure I would have made that decision, were it not for the recession and the insight I gained from it.
There isn’t a better time to recognize you are drifting, that some part of your life isn’t what you want it to be, turning up your engines and moving against the current. The way not to waste a crisis is to start being intentional about what you want from the short time you have here.
What’s Not Working
There is nothing you can do about the crisis outside of riding it out. It is going to end, but it’s impossible to guess when or how. It is wholly and entirely out of yours or anyone else’s control. That’s what makes it so disconcerting and disquieting. If you watch television or spend time on social media, you are giving your attention to what you cannot control when you are always better off investing your time, your attention, and your energy in the things that are in your control. So, what’s not working?
The idea that a crisis is going to change you is real for many of us, but if that is true, you can decide for yourself what those changes are going to be. You are being offered a chance to reset, reimagine, restart. Were you to desire to reinvent yourself, you can start to chisel away the part of you that no longer serves you, becoming the person that comes after the person you are now.
Maybe you want to improve your business or sales results. Perhaps you want to be a better leader, helping the people on your team see something in themselves that has been invisible to them and helping them grow. Maybe you have ignored your health for too long, wished to spend more time with your family, or longed to start a business of your own.
I have spent a fair bit of this time reimagining my businesses, developing a system for keeping all the notes I take from the books I read, and building plans for the next decade, as my 2020 plans were ripped away by these events. The only value in looking at the past is to find lessons. The only way to create a better future is to do now what is going to be necessary to bring it to life, an exercise you can do any time, but one that gains in importance during a crisis.
Make Today the First and Last Day
Today can be day one, the day you mark as your jumping-off point for the future you are going to create. It can also be the very last day you do something that no longer serves you, that is out of alignment with the future you that you can only create when you stop drifting and choose to be intentional in deciding what you want from your life and who you need to become to have it.
Here in Ohio, we are in quarantine for eleven more days. Like you, I have no idea what happens on the other side. I am hopeful that this is the last week I write about the current crisis, and I pray that the next one is far in the future, and something far less than this one.
The right thing to do is always the right thing to do—even in a crisis, or maybe especially in a crisis.
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