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Standstill Is Not an Option

Stamdstill is not an option by Erik Schlie

Erik Schlie, Professor and VP for Global Alumni and Talent & Careers, shares his top 5 reflections on how to combat the standstill we face as a result of the flattening measures put in place.

by Erik Schlie, Professor and Vice President for Global Alumni and Talent & Careers at IE University.

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In today’s evolving dynamic context, where our connections to the outside world are mainly driven by daily curve updates and “flattening” measures, it is perfectly understandable for us to gradually slip into a state of personal paralysis as well. Who wouldn’t succumb to it?

COVID-19 has brought global economies to an abrupt standstill triggered by governmental measures ranging from “shelter in place” orders to nationwide lockdowns. Erstwhile busy roads are deserted, buzzing squares abandoned, and fellow citizens’ faces hidden behind masks, while millions of humans are forced to remain within their own four walls. Our daily rhythm and routines have toppled. The longer we are confined to self-isolation, the higher the risk of psychological distress in the form of cabin fever.

A contagious standstill

Although we as individuals cannot directly influence the inevitable global economic distortions in the challenging aftermath of COVID-19, we are still the masters of our own lives. Therefore, we must resist the creeping contagious standstill surrounding us.

That is why, now more than ever, it is time to lift yourself up (from that Netflix-infested couch) and consciously choose to move even faster in your own world. Sheer speed and the ability to leverage this downtime will be true differentiators for those seeking to emerge from this crisis as stronger, more focused individuals striving to make a positive impact on others.

Call to action

The following reflections can help you grasp the bigger picture in the midst of this trying situation and ignite your personal call to action:

1. Leverage your downtime wisely for deep, genuine self-reflection

Kindly acknowledge that you have just received the most precious of gifts: time. We never seem to have the luxury of time for proper introspection, self-examination, and contemplating our own career journeys.

Whether you are a current MBA student seeking to re-invent yourself or a trapped mid-career executive daring to break out of your comfort zone to follow your true calling, right now there cannot be any excuse whatsoever to procrastinate or otherwise be distracted. Take the personal deep dive and deliberately use self-confinement to listen to your inner voice. If there ever was a time to tackle those difficult questions thoroughly, it has to be now, so start today!

2. Recall that every crisis brings out opportunity ready to be seized

Certain sectors (e.g., commercial aerospace, air travel, insurance carriers, oil and gas, automotive) have inevitably been hit the hardest by the sudden standstill. The short- to medium-term impact on other sectors, however, is far from clear. We are likely to witness tectonic shifts in industries that were already ripe for disruption, which in turn will give faster rise to previously unforeseen opportunity.

Likewise, M&A activity should pick up in light of sharply declined market capitalizations across the globe. Our natural bias could now be to paint an inescapable doomsday scenario for everyone without careful discrimination. Such reasoning ignores the fact that some players will emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient. Opportunity will persevere, but you will have to run faster and outsmart others to seize it, for it won’t be found where everyone is looking.

3. Consciously embrace an online-everything world as the new normal

As creatures of habit, we have been far too used to hopping from home to work, traveling across time zones, physically sitting in meetings next to our dear colleagues, and presenting face-to-face to groups small and large. The forced transition to self-confinement became a natural catalyst for embracing different formats of interaction within our new constraints.

After recognizing the basic viability of the new online-only model, we now face stage two: learning how to get better at it rather than merely coping. This is the biggest-ever massive group experiment in radically conducting online everything that we would have otherwise preferred to do in person or in distinct physical spheres. Your laptop has become your sole window to the outside world and you now swiftly realize the obvious: time-consuming travel is redundant. Well-designed learning experiences can be just as powerful in online mode, and virtual-only meetings can be just as effective.

Although we could view this new online-everything world as a merely temporary phenomenon, we should accept and embrace that online-everything is poised to become, to a large extent, our new normal in the post-COVID-19 world. Giant leaps occur when you are forced to see the light.

4. Recognize the true power of virtual communities

Being gregarious folk, we relish our sense of belonging to multiple communities of meaning and take those gratifying everyday connections for granted. Since all physical mingling of this kind has been muted during periods of strict lockdown, one wonders what kinds of communities are best suited to thrive in even the most challenging times.

The answer can be found, for example, in global alumni networks that virtually connect their communities across continents. They help reassure us that we are not alone in this cataclysm and foster special initiatives to lend each other a helping hand or simply a shoulder to lean on. Many universities have granted free access to premium educational content as a symbolic contribution to societies confined to self-isolation. Overall, they represent the strong backbone that we long for and rely on in trying times. Any community group that has the power to thrive equally well in face-to-face and virtual worlds will emerge post-COVID-19 with stronger connections among its members and a deeper sense of belonging.

5. Rest assured that the world still needs talent

As with any crisis, there is a tendency to panic as an immediate reaction. Indeed, some companies are likely to suspend or scale down their recruiting efforts in the short term until the cloud of uncertainty evaporates.

Smarter companies, however, understand that they ultimately rely on a continuous influx of new talent to remain fully sustainable. While we should be prepared for some recruiting activities to be disrupted compared to their usual rhythm, let’s remind ourselves of one certainty: COVID-19 will ultimately pass and, for the most part, we will eventually return to our previous world of normality. Most importantly, this world will still be in need of good talent after all.

These five points of reflection should ideally help you look towards your own future, for there is still a future post-COVID-19. Avoid standstill at all costs and shift gears to move even faster. The call to action is yours.