Crisis Is An Opportunity To Unleash Our Individual Capacity Like Never Before

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Thanks to Zoom, I have finally seen the inside of the homes of people I’ve worked with for years. Books on shelves, photos on the desk, artwork on the wall, a cat suddenly appearing in close-up, a laughing child running in the background. All of this gives me glimpses into the lives of the individuals I’ve mostly only known professionally.

Many of us are experiencing this new level of personalization in our professional interactions, and finding it refreshing.

I think this is one of the cornerstone experiences of this pandemic. This familiarity will stay with all of us and finally make us realize the importance of honoring the individuality in ourselves, colleagues and friends.  

Every one of us is a unique mix of strengths, expertise, preferences and personalities. This is a great opportunity to embrace that truth. Let’s not discount this level of intimacy by rushing back to our old ways of suppressing our individuality in the name of preexisting rules or standards that are more about protecting the company brand and less about caring for and protecting the people who will redefine the brand’s future.

This crisis has made one thing clear: the age of personalization is in full force. The key is to figure out how to standardize “me” for the betterment of “us.”

You hear people talking about the “new normal” all the time now. All that really means is that we’re evolving. This particular evolution was forced by a huge global pandemic. Though we didn’t plan on Covid-19, the variables associated with this evolution were already in the making for some time. Covid-19 just accelerated the inevitable: the fall of outdated standards and leadership.

We are all in the process of adapting to a new normal that will be followed by a “series of normals” that will move us further away from old standardized thinking and much closer to the new realities of today’s more personalized world.  

A “standard” world maintains a feeling of order (we’re required to fall in line), while a “personalized” world feels chaotic (we’re given the room to influence things in our own way), so it’s scary – especially for those who have benefited from wielding control in the standardized world.

Healthy chaos is a defining moment. 

At the moment, we’re in a world of chaos. Aside from the chaos of the pandemic itself, the chaos of our new working arrangement is a healthy chaos. It’s forcing us to adapt and become more agile. Individuals are realizing the future is an open slate. We all know we’re evolving – but what are we evolving to? That’s up to each of us. And, perhaps for the first time, we all see and believe that it IS up to us. That we DO have a say in how our post-virus future is formed – at least in terms of the way we work.  

Our current world of healthy chaos requires us to work harder to engage with intention, to be more mindful of how we communicate and how we engage through a more virtual world. This more intimate approach influences us to think, act and innovate differently – ultimately preparing us for the day that we can all gather together again. 

Our lack of in-person connection is forcing us to understand the importance of knowing each other more as individuals. 

The opportunity in the crisis.

Crisis neutralizes the playing field and flattens the organizational chart as hierarchy and rank becomes less important and one’s individual capacity takes center stage.

In this Poynter article, one CNN reporter shares how she has felt empowered during the pandemic to speak up more.

“During this difficult time … working remotely has enabled me to embrace a new level of assertiveness in the workplace. On a conference call with hundreds of people, I asked the president of CNN a question. As an introvert, I never would have done that in person.”

A mentor helped her see where her new-found confidence is likely coming from:

“The pandemic has forced me to become a more independent worker — someone who trusts and then follows my gut instincts.”

She wonders if her new normal will survive our collective return:

“The big question I have right now is where does this leave me? I look forward to going back to the newsroom and I miss my colleagues. But I have this lingering uncertainty of whether I can continue being assertive like I have been remotely.”

That’s exactly the question we should all be asking. How can we preserve these new levels of individual influence? How can we make sure we don’t just fall back into the fold of standardization?

Manage your opportunity.

First, see this as an opportunity and actively manage that opportunity for yourself and for those you lead. Here’s what I mean.

The momentum we create for ourselves in our lives and careers comes from how we manage opportunity. We see it, we sow it, we grow it, and we share it. These are the four skills of opportunity management.

My company has been doing research for many years, with thousands of people at hundreds of organizations. And one of the things I’ve learned is this: people are most comfortable when they are being told what do to. There is not a lot of risk in that. When assigned a task, given a special project, or asked to execute a plan, employees who take direction well will work to get the job done. They keep sowing, sowing, sowing – and rarely learn how to see, share and grow.

But this is not necessarily the way we want to be. Most of us want the freedom to think creatively within the system and/or disrupt the system if it means creating more opportunity for the organization. But the system isn’t quite designed for that. So we learn early in our careers that it’s safer to do what we’re told. The workplace has trained and conditioned employees to be doers rather than thinkers. Or, in the language of the four skills – to sow without seeing, growing and sharing.

I don’t mean to imply that being a sower is bad. But if you’re only sowing what other people have told you to sow, then you’re not multiplying your own opportunities and the organization misses out on your influence. In other words, you are not managing opportunity, the opportunity is managing you. This is what happens in the age of standardization

When we can’t see with broadened observation, grow with strategic focus and share the harvest – we are stuck sowing at a very tactical level.

Pre-Covid levels of standardization in the workplace had conditioned most people to develop tactical thinking to a point that when they’re now asked to be strategic – they don’t know how, or they don’t trust that it’s safe or worthwhile to be strategic – if their ideas have been shot down in the past. An individual’s capacity to elevate their own thinking has been limited.

Start by clarifying individual capacity.

Here is a simple thought process to consider:

  • Define your values: this helps you create clarity about what you stand for.
  • With this clarity, you can identify the capabilities you possess that make you feel strong.
  • Your capabilities now guide how you can best contribute.
  • Now others know what they can expect from you and your beliefs.
  • With confidence and determination, you can unleash your individual capacity.

If you lead people, have them go through the same thought process. What you end up with is a map that helps you learn about yourself and those you lead – connecting the dots from values to capabilities to contribution to confidence to capacity unleashed.

This is a concrete way to reclaim your individuality that has been dormant for much too long. By acknowledging and elevating each other’s individuality in this way, we can maintain it even as we continue to evolve out of this crisis. Seize the moment. Don’t allow this crisis to further define you. Define it.

Learn more at www.ageofpersonalization.com and watch the Age of Personalization Documentary Series.