• Hannah E Greenwood

Creating the Future: finding a third way


Photo by Bakr Magrabi

We’re in a strange betwixt and between place, aren’t we? The life we knew six months ago has changed dramatically, we are not out of the woods yet and we are daily feeling our way into an unfamiliar future. For those of us already used to transformational change, this is ironically very familiar. The landscape might be markedly different but the essence – the ‘feel’ of disruptive uncertainty, the acceptance of not fixing long-term plans, the capacity to respond flexibly to a fast-changing environment – is very known. As is the aptitude of not over attaching to one specific option and, probably the greatest attribute, the ability to re-stabilise fast in any given situation. In June in Creating the Future, part one, I wrote:

‘In times of profound and disruptive upheaval, we are given the opportunity for healthy change, including the invitation to change our consciousness and subsequent behaviour. We have experienced that the old order has failed by not protecting us and keeping us safe and we learn that certainty and tight control will not serve us to navigate safely through to higher ground. Through this process, we are forced to question all our beliefs, even our values. What we thought was absolute truth may no longer be so. It means we need to discover our own values based on our experiences, not ones we’ve inherited from our family and culture.’ And in such times, we are invited to reflect on these profound, existential questions: ‘What kind of person do I want to be?’ and ‘How do I want/choose to live my life?’ Given all that has happened in 2020 so far, many of us are indeed asking ourselves these questions, and some are already making life changing decisions based on the immediate data and landscape. I deeply sympathise with this impulse to take action, but we are still in the midst of turbulent change. To make flight/fight reactive decisions at such a time might not be the wisest strategy. The tectonic plates have not yet settled and the topography will look very different when it does. If we can allow ourselves to stay in our ‘fertile void’ place, we can make good, authentic choices when the time is opportune and right (See Pockets of Light for more information on the ‘Fertile Void’) One example of this over-reactive decision making is the assumption that we shall all be remote-working permanently. Egged on by the stamp duty ‘holiday’ and the assumption that they will no longer be needed in the office, London is rife with the chatter of residents planning to sell their houses and leave the city for good. Surely it is too soon to decide this will be permanent. In a recent Wall Street Journal article: Companies Start to Think Remote Work Isn’t So Great After All Chip Cutter explores the growing discomfort with remote working in the Corporate world: 'Now, as the work-from-home experiment stretches on, some cracks are starting to emerge. Projects take longer. Training is tougher. Hiring and integrating new employees, more complicated. Some employers say their workers appear less connected and bosses fear that younger professionals aren’t developing at the same rate as they would in offices, sitting next to colleagues and absorbing how they do their jobs. Months into a pandemic that rapidly reshaped how companies operate, an increasing number of executives now say that remote work, while necessary for safety much of this year, is not their preferred long-term solution once the coronavirus crisis passes.’ Rather than wholeheartedly accepting remote working, many of my clients now find themselves caught between two seemingly incompatible desires for the future. One of my clients told me yesterday that he really didn’t like working from home all the time but neither did he wish to return to the daily commute to the office. A polarised conundrum indeed! So, is there a third way and what might that look like? What do I mean by ‘finding a third way’? First, it’s not a grudging compromise between two polarities which satisfies no-one, a 50:50 half measure. It is taking the best elements of each vision and creating a third. This new vision more often than not puts us on an unexpected trajectory. When we accept we need a third way, we don’t know what it will look like. In fact, if we do, then it’s not a true third way. Without knowing the outcome, we take a leap of faith. We intuitively know that the first two paths are defunct and that we need to create something very new and different. So how do we move into the right mindset to find a third way? How do we pull back from the knee-jerk response? We must embrace the wisdom of not acting, understand the potential of the pregnant pause, and prime ourselves to pounce only when the time is ripe. In other words, we must enter the fertile void. What helps me when I’m at this point is saying to myself: “I know there’s a third way. Just because I haven’t seen it yet, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It will come and I’ll know what to do - how to act - when that moment comes.” I touched on a similar theme of the power of restraint in Creating the Future, part one: 'We cannot stop the bullets from firing, but we can create a pause in how we choose to react. This is what we can control. We can focus on what is going to bring us inner strength and equilibrium in that ‘space between’, i.e. what will stabilise us. And from this springboard we can stretch that pause and think… helicopter vision/big picture thinking… to consider which is the best way forwards. It is these two qualities of inner stability and the ability to think creatively out of a seeming impasse, that inspires great trust and loyalty and is the true meaning of freedom and power.’ Chip Cutter observes that lots of companies are already embracing this approach to finding a third way, neither staying fully closed nor forcing their employees back into the office full-time: ‘More companies now envision a hybrid future, with more time spent working remote, yet with opportunities to regularly convene teams. CompuCom Systems Inc., the IT service provider owned by Office Depot, may institute “core hours” for its employees, similar to office hours that professors hold on college campuses. The idea under consideration is that teams would agree to come together for a limited time on certain days of the week to bounce ideas off each other, collaborate and strategize, says CompuCom president Mick Slattery. Online education provider Coursera expects half of its 650 employees to work “blended” hours once the pandemic passes, with staffers spending three days a week in the office and the rest remote, says Chief Executive Jeff Maggioncalda.’ The future of remote working clearly isn’t written yet, but already we can see a creative and exciting trajectory taking shape. And, of course, this is but one example of the countless ways our lives are changing in directions we cannot control or predict. So, in this strange betwixt and between place we are in, how about giving yourself permission to pause, to create precious micro-decompression moments to build your inner stability, resilience and equilibrium and to do whatever you need to be ready for what is to come. The future we create for ourselves is dependent on a positive mindset. As we march towards it, we are called on to remember one thing: timing is everything.