Four Things We Can Learn from the Pandemic

Four Things We Can Learn from the Pandemic


by Leonardo Caporarello, SDA Bocconi professor of practice

We all are learning, now.
Much has already been said about the way we are dealing with the Covid-related context, and about how the future will look.
We can make a number of hypotheses and proposals about what to do or ought to be done, starting from the near future. Many – good or not so good – have already been made. There is, however, one important conerstone I’d like to focus on here, and that is "what we’re learning” from the Covid-generated situation. In doing so, I want to take an optimistic perspective. Can we look at “the situation” as an opportunity? Absolutely yes, it is. Actually it’s a great learning opportunity. There are at least four major reasons for that.
First, the ability to deal with uncertain environments represents one the most important behavioral skills. In Bocconi's programs, we often discuss business cases with our students, emphasizing how to “surf” uncertainty. For instance, we analyze how to review or redesign some decision-making processes and how to make our organizations flexible. Well, that’s what now we are all experiencing on a daily basis. Some decision-making processes are now different from those we were used to. We are developing the capability to gradually and progressively make decisions that are effective for the short term while considering the mid-term orientation. As this presents a high level of uncertainty, we have to continuously revise and adjust how to move on. Isn’t that one of the basic principles of “continuous improvement”? it seems so to me. The most significant difference is that now we have to do it, so we all can see how it really works, and how ready we are to make it actually happen.
Secondly, working in an uncertain context also means proving to ourselves that we have the capability to manage high(er) level of stress. Facing a greater number of misunderstandings (e.g. caused by different ways to communicate), working in a limited and often crowed physical space, and dealing with an exponential number of digital meetings are some of the factors that are increasing our level of stress. Consequently, we are searching around for practices and tips to overcome them. For instance, the number of attendees of a team meeting should be reduced, because people also need a chance to elaborate and give follow-up on the previous meeting. That means a different way to “live” meetings is possible. We don’t have to attend as many meetings as we are used to, and this can contribute (for some of us, decisively) to finding a new balance of our working life.
Next, adopting a wider a perspective beyond meetings, we are re-thinking how organize our professional and personal life. In particular, many of us are learning a clearer understanding for the concepts of “importance, priority, and urgency”. There was a kind of confusion in defining, e.g. what was of high importance but not a priority, or what it was of low important but urgent. This calls for the need to find a common method to analyze tasks/projects at the right level of importance, priority, and urgency.

The fourth lesson is that situations characterized by high uncertainty, high level of stress, ambiguity or confusion about what to do next can be best managed by effective teams. Institutions and organizations who are succeeding better than others in managing “the situation” are leveraging their best teams. It’s simply not something that can be done by a single person. Only good synergies and complementarities among team players (not just putting together the best individuals) can really allow the team to achieve a superior, or outstanding, level of success.

All the above is not rocket science, indeed there are many contributions to the managerial literature that recommend emphasizing these topics. As we know since the late 1940s – when K. Lewin was talking about "unfreezing" as a starting condition for effective change – a real, deep crisis makes clear to most of us the urgency of seriously addressing these issues.
The good news is that there is always room to learn. It’s just up to us. So the sooner we learn, the more ready we'll be to experience the post-covid situation.

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