Bringing Back the Basics
Expecting Adam by Martha Beck is one of my favorite books. A story of a mother’s love for her son with Down’s syndrome and the magical journey of their lives through the eyes of simplicity. A particular scene has always stayed with me: Martha is hurriedly trying to get into the grocery store, ticking off one of the many items on her to-do list and all Adam wants to do is stay outside and smell the roses.
Introspection has been one of my goals during lock down and I would find myself sitting outside, by the roses. I couldn’t resist standing up one day to smell them and I have now made this a daily habit.
While roses do smell beautiful, this ritual represents slowing down. A quote circulating during lock-down is "in the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to". Across the world, thousands would agree that being at home 24 hours a day, having our "normal" way of life completely restricted has given us time to reflect, to reconnect, and to be profoundly creative in all spheres.
Parents have found beautiful ways to introduce their newborn babies to their grandparents, final goodbyes to loved ones are being said unconventionally. Old fashioned arts and crafts have made their way to this generation of children, families are doing chores, school work and baking together. We exercise differently with no gym or even a garden, religious holidays are celebrated with entire apartment buildings singing the same songs on their balconies. Our work lives have been overhauled with many needing to repurpose their businesses or brands just to keep an income.
The world has been creative in finding ways to reach out. Artists are collaborating beyond borders, offering free concerts from rooftops or bedrooms, Broadway is streamed live. There are virtual tours of Mach Pichu, the Kruger Park and museums, as well as free courses from Harvard. This has been a great expression of a "World in Union", coming together to raise funds or simply to raise spirits. This pandemic has forced us to slow down, to get off the treadmill of life and to return to basics with unlimited creativity.
What does going back to basics in organisation’s look like?
This has been on my mind as I undertake a virtual behavioral change with a team. Three aspects have particularly stood out for me: humor, mindfulness and purpose.
Humor - As the team that was largely responsible for ensuring the organisation was equipped to work remotely, they did not lift their heads or stop to take a breath while preparing for lock-down. Online meetings to discuss change management principles were met with silence. To try and break this ice, we introduced a lock-down, quirky day to try and shift this dynamic. Photos were shared, comments passed, and much laughter arose and the energy of the team lifted to a higher vibrational frequency - we also got to know each other a little better. "Working adults are in the midst of a laughter drought". Babies laugh, on average, 400 times a day; people over 35, only 15 (Harvard Business review).
Two highlights from the research (Smith, J, 2013) which I found to be true in this time are:
- Humor is humanising and helps build trust. Humor is about creating a sense of humanity, allowing people to bring their whole and most authentic selves to work, our quirky day experiment was a case in point.
- Ha + Ha = Aha! Humor is critical in creative thinking as it helps people lower their internal critic so as to deal humorously with themselves, and see things in new ways.
The change in perspective and reappraisal of situations is what positively impacts psychological well-being and births innovation (McGhee, Michael Kerr).
Mindfulness, which is ‘present-focused consciousness’ (Hyland, Lee & Mills, 2015), led me to tune in to my surroundings and notice the roses. It is about being in the present moment, not pondering the past or future. There are many benefits but two which lead us back to basics in my view are:
Improved social connections. We are social beings and optimal functioning, especially in organisations, is dependent on people. In the same way that we need to be reminded to laugh, we need to be reminded to connect and how, something we assume everyone has mastered. Mindfulness helps to develop empathy and an awareness of how to approach people positively. Further, it helps improve our self-awareness, reduce the negative affect of other’s emotions on ourselves while also aiding us in regulating our own (Hyland et al., 2015 in Craig, H).
Slowing down. To help us continue with a better pace and quality of existence we should give up some of what we have learned; that multi-tasking is a skill to be revered, that the faster we work (so we can take on more), the better and that busy-ness and self-sacrifice is a sign of heroism. Instead, taking a breath, practicing gratitude, noticing small events and miracles within and around us, working on one activity a time and being fully present, will help us become more mindful, efficient, productive (ironically) and happier. Headspace is a popular app with meditations as short as 5 minutes, a great way to start a new habit!
Frederic Laloux looks at the evolution of organisations in parallel to that of human consciousness. We are evolving from a world where our pursuit of love, recognition or success has led us to “wear other people’s faces”. Our purpose “is not to be successful or loved, but to become the truest expression of ourselves, to live into authentic selfhood, to honor our birthright gifts and callings, and be of service to humanity and our world” (Laloux, 2016). We then have to take a few steps back and ask who am I? What is my why? This pandemic has either forced us to answer this to reinvent ourselves or afforded us a chance to introspect and search for it. Simon Sinek advocates that our ‘why’ is our compass, which deeply affects how we carry ourselves in this world and ultimately how we fulfil our birthright.
The collateral beauty of Covid-19 has been the gift of perspective, a chance to learn a different way of being, realising how little we need to survive and what is essential in our lives to thrive. Connection and purpose kindle the flames within ourselves, our families, and in organisations, humor offers us light heartedness and infinite creativity. Mindfulness offers us some peace. Let’s stop to smell the roses.
Beard, A, “Leading with Humor”, 2014. https://hbr.org/2014/05/leading-with-humor
Craig, H, “Mindfulness at Work: Using Mindful Leadership in the Workplace”, 2020. https://positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-at-work/
Laloux, F, “Reinventing Organisations”. Nelson Parker, 2016.
Kerr, M, “Humor at Work”. https://mikekerr.com/
Papousek, I. “Humor and well-being: A little less is quite enough”, 2018. Humor – International Journal of Humor Research. 31(2): 311-327.
Smith, J, “10 Reasons Why Humor is a Key to Success at Work”, 2013. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/05/03/10-reasons-why-humor-is-a-key-to-success-at-work/#18bb142d5c90