During the past several months, we probably have been speculating on questions such as: How will we ever come out of the Covid-19 crisis; when will the children be able to return to school; and, will I ever be able to resume my business, or see my family and friends again? It may be somewhat comforting to remember that each of us is facing the same types of issues, and that we’re all in this together, creating special bonds among all of humanity. We are not alone, and if not physically, then certainly in spirit.
In times like these, as we move into our third month of semi-lockdown and physical distancing, it’s thought-provoking to remember that the Chinese word for ‘Crisis’ is composed of two characters that mean literally ‘danger’, and ‘a decisive point’. The ways we frame a crisis such as the one we currently find ourselves in – are significant thoughts to contemplate. It implies that we have choices to make about which path to take, and that these choices will help us out of the crisis and could determine our future.
Danger (Wei) Decisive point (Ji)
How much decisiveness?
Having taken a Chinese calligraphy class some years ago, I know that there is more to tell in ancient Chinese characters than meets the eye, and decided to dig a little deeper to find out the underlying meaning, in particular, of the 2nd character, i.e. ‘decisive point’. “The Mandarin word for ‘decisive point’ is in fact made of 2 parts,” my Chinese friend May explained to me. “The part on the left side, the straight, vertical stick with the slashes, means in fact ‘a solid piece of wood’ (i.e. no cheap hollow core here!), a product of great importance for many reasons in early times.” May went on to say that the second part – the more complicated segment on the right side – means ‘How many, or, how much?’ an open question. So together, part of the underlying meaning of the word ‘crisis’ in Chinese could be something like: How much do we want to have something solid, at a decisive point in our life?
Businesses are using management mantra’s 3 R’s – review, retool, repurpose – to move forward during our current ‘decisive point’. A recent McKinsey article suggests an additional 5 R’s are key considerations for coming out of the crisis, and include: resolve, resilience, return, reimagination and reform.
We can find many examples around us of innovative responses. For example, to keep cafes and restaurants going, some are offering home delivery or take-away, instead of sit-down dining. One resourceful restaurant was advertising take-away Mother’s Day ‘brunch boxes’ on their sandwich board, a new imaginative way to celebrate this special day. Companies that normally produce alcoholic beverages have pivoted into making hand sanitizer, a product that uses similar manufacturing processes, and is urgently needed in quantities. And some smaller specialist shops, for example the butcher, baker, and deli, which alone do not deliver, have banded together to offer delivery services to those who do not want to, or cannot shop. These companies have all quickly adapted to the new circumstances, and even tried something that may have been completely unthinkable before Covid-19. By doing so, they are also building richer, more meaningful connections with the community.
Some WBII members have already teamed up to collaborate and support each other, finding new, complementary ways of doing business together which are particularly beneficial today. A good example is the team that WBII member Lisa Hall of Lemonberry has formed around her. A group of about 10 businesses work together in marketing communications, and graphic and website design. They each offer a unique skill or service, and together they are able to offer a package of services according to what the corporate world anticipates. We want to pursue this point in an open discussion, and on July 1, Lisa and WBII member Manuela Damant (Azkua) will be offering an online session looking at the need to outsource, refer, or collaborate in order to make the best use of our time. Please watch the WBII website for more details.
Observation vs. Action
Finally, and when returning to the definition of crisis, how interesting it is also to consider that the etymology for the English word ‘crisis’ (from the Greek ‘krisis’) means a ‘turning point specifically in a disease’. This more passive definition also takes us directly to our current medical situation – the original Greek ‘krisis’ is tied to illness – and to the observation of a perilous moment in someone’s life that can go either way. While observation is certainly important, I like the idea of the action-oriented Mandarin meaning that suggests to us that we have an important role to play in coming out of the crisis. By nudging us to answer the question, ‘How much?’ or ‘How many?’ the onus is on us to take concrete steps, as necessary, and which is not always easy, and make constructive changes.