He said what???
I'm writing this just as I heard the news of Boris Johnson having been tested positive for corona virus. Much like anyone who's lived on this planet these past few weeks I too have been bombarded by literally an endless stream of "news" about this bug and the disease it causes. Little over a fortnight ago I remember reading an article about the amount of times the disease had been mentioned on media reports across the internet which I'm sure you'll have come across before also. And of course, last week in the UK we had the lock down intensifying which was a source of huge amounts of debate and comment on formal and informal channels alike.
But guess what. When it comes to you and your small business none of that matters. There. I said it.
The main issue
More likely than not your business right now is in a stasis, especially if you relied on bricks and mortar previously. Even if you didn't, as anyone with a supply chain of any kind will attest, then your business is affected because they were relying to some extent or another on, bricks and mortar.
It is reasonable therefore to assume that for a large number of business people the main question right now is how to drive through from this situation and back into some form or movement, trade or even profit. In other words how to come out of the stasis.
The main problem
Because none of us has ever been in this type of situation before, the main responses I see from people is to endlessly communicate without thought or purpose. This is because the stasis I mentioned above has left us in a "productive void" and the stance that most people seem to have adopted is to generate streams of "content", rehashed or otherwise, and which tends to fall into two categories.
1) Shouty-ness (you know the kind of notice me nonsense people post about on social media, which itself sub divides to either doom and gloom we're all going to die stuff or, the less subtle "this is what the experts say" stories which they, the posters, certainly don't understand but clearly makes them feel better to proliferate)
2) False leadership (which is really a concentrated effort to exalt the virtues of ones brand rather than a genuine attempt to "step up". This is true for the vast majority of the makeshift "leaders" out there, irrespective of the fact that authority is not built on ones say so but rather on everyones says so, if you think of this logically these are people who couldn't or wouldn't step up when things were easy and good how on earth would you expect them to do the right thing in these times of crisis?)
The net result
You and your business and your suppliers and customers are now bombarded with information. Information which you cannot rationalise to find a solution to the problem described above. Information which you know instinctively you could harness to make you relevant and your brand desired and your revenue plausible in the least. Information which you are attempting to control but, the flow of which, you are coming to realise forms part of a losing battle. Information which should be your ally but is like the overwhelming uncle at the Christmas table, loud often rude and mostly irrelevant.
So how do you go about using it then?
Where we are
Information comes at us from all angles right now. Be it from the talking heads in your TV, or the keyboard warriors of LinkedIn you are more likely than not in a position where you are trying to replace "productivity" (or in other words the day to day routines of a month ago) with "productivity" (or in other words you've fallen into the trap that you must do something akin to business functions to stop feeling guilty about not working in the same way that you did before). This leads to bad decisions. For a lot of businesses and individuals right now this looks like an endless stream of infomercials on social media or online "learning" that is really re-packaged infomercials (you know for when the good times come) or endless zoom meetings where people truly talk about nothing. These are all bad decisions to be engaged with. They waste your time and offer you nothing positive in return.
And the reason why this happens is two fold. On the one hand not one of the people who advocates these "responses" actually took the time to think the unthinkable way back when we had the time and on the other hand all of us are not taking a step back right now to really consider where this information overload is really leading us to.
The best example of how dangerous information overload is, comes from the UK, and other governments across the world, who right now has elected to describe health professionals as the "front line". This happened probably with the best intentions. It happened because they needed a way to describe how important healthcare work is in the face of this crisis but also because, they wanted an audio cue, a rallying cry if you like, that people could adopt and which would have the effect of making people listen. There is no other plausible reason why every official message from the government would refer to the NHS in just about every interview and official communication as "front line staff". The mainstream media were quick to adopt these phrases, they sound heroic after all. And duly, the rest of us followed suit with endless memes and endless comments and endless clapping on a Thursday night on how great a job these guys are doing, which is true by the way. And I maintain that this stance probably stemmed from good intentions, from the need to formulate a focal point for the government's response.
In a real sense the initial message which we received, i.e. "we're all behind those folk on "the front line", we proliferated ad infinity and it couldn't hurt could it? After all the NHS are amazing, right? Well that's entirely true, the NHS are amazing, but the way in which we've decided to describe them is both wrong and dangerous.
This is because by saying that our health care professionals are the "front line" we imply that
a) they will save us all providing we support them, which statement contains a massive logic flaw,
b) we don't need to show any personal responsibility during this crisis, which is exactly what is happening right now as evidenced by the people who are still flaunting the social isolation measures put in place,
c) if they are the first line of defence then by definition there is something else behind them which is the last line of defence when clearly there is no such thing.
If we were truly critical about the information thrown at us, we would have chosen the much more apt term of "last line of defence", because we, the average person, are first and foremost through our actions the only real way we can protect our much stretched health care system.
The fight back
From speaking with various businesses in the past fortnight and especially with my clients it is apparent that this information overload is doing more harm than good.
The only response is critical thinking. As I explained above in my example about the way we describe health professionals, if instead of receiving information and simply re-hashing it we thought a bit more about what it meant and how it could benefit us more (but also whether it could harm us) we would be able to make more sense of it but also use it to our advantage.
Therefore the only real fight back is to
- categorise your inputs and consider information for what it is but also what it offers and form a response. This can be for internal or external consumption but the fact that you have codified your process means that you will be able not just to defend it but also to make the most of it.
- think before your act. Because even if it is great to simply get up and go and do something, in times of true crisis your best intentions may prove catastrophic (as they certainly will for the people I described in the example above who flaunt the official advice of staying at home probably to some extent fuelled by the false belief that even is the first line of defence fails there will be some fall back)
- seek information from multiple sources. I mean here test the veracity, or the truth, of what is being communicated to you by trying to understand if there is evidence for it or at least consensus.
- lastly communicate clearly. All of us have a responsibility during these times. Not to just "step up" but to do what is right and what will be right for the most amount of people.
These rough and ready thoughts about how to process information are just that. Tactics that can be used to make sense of the chaos right now. But there is also another hidden message in here. Sometimes communicating for maximum effect also means stepping back and not proliferating information just for the sake of "being heard". Today more than ever it seems, the right thing to do may be to process more and cut through the noise when you really have something to say.