During the Great Plague of London in 1665, Isaac Newton [not Sir yet] decided that he should leave his studies at Trinity College in Cambridge and head to his family farm roughly 60 miles away. Here, far from the horrors besieging the big city, Newton placed himself in “self-isolation.” This “alone time” however, did not go unproductive. As a matter of fact, it was so productive that it is now known as his “year of wonders.” It was during this time that he focused his energies on such monumental ideas as his theories of optics, the laws of motion, and, of course, with the help of an apple, the laws of gravity.
We find ourselves in a similar situation today. These last weeks, and for the foreseeable future, we are going to be stuck, not doing what we wanted to be doing or thought we would be doing but doing what we need to be doing—isolating. Such is life, PLANS CHANGE. The question is, what are we going to do with our “time [hopefully not year] of wonders?” We can only binge on Netflix originals, The Andy Griffith Shows, and make chocolate chip cookies for so long. Why not point our energies in a productive direction.
It is often said, and I believe, that in the midst of difficulty lies great opportunity. Maybe we’re not as brilliant as Newton (I know I’m not), but like Newton, we have the opportunity to stop, catch our breath, think, and even rethink. We have the opportunity to examine the way we’ve always done things to see if there is a new way, a better way of reaching our goal. We have the opportunity to create change. Alvin Toffler once said that “the illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” I take that to mean— those who cannot change. So, let’s embrace this time of social distancing (pun intended) and self-isolation. Let’s embrace the opportunity for change.
First, can we all agree that change is generally uncomfortable? Like a new pair of shoes that don’t quite fit yet, but given time they become our favorite pair. At the same time, especially looking at how fast our new world is moving, can we also agree that change is inevitable. Nothing moves forward without it. Once upon a time, there was no such thing as a forward pass in football. Once, there was no 3-point line in basketball. Once, if you wanted to turn on your TV or change the channel, you literally had to stand up and walk across the room to do it.
Here are six ways to take advantage of this opportunity for change:
- Keep the right, positive attitude: Earl Nightingale called attitude the magic word. The great Green Bay Packer quarterback Bart Starr said that next to love, the most important word in the English language is: Attitude. We need to manage what we take in, what influences us. We need to find the positives of our situation. Whatever is happening in your life—embrace it with the right attitude.
- Develop an open mindset: Sure, we’ve always done it that way, and it’s always worked. But have we looked at other possibilities, solutions, perhaps better solutions? This is a great time to challenge the conventional.
- Develop a curious mindset: What we get isn’t always what we were looking for. But that doesn’t make it wrong, or bad, just different. Great creations have come about by people trying to do one thing but winding up with something else – AND THEN – having the foresight to recognize that this new unknown outcome might have possibilities: Teflon, post-its, X-rays, Velcro, and even Viagra.
- Innovate / improvise: This is a marvelous time to try and fail and then try again only better. Let’s fiddle with our creations and ideas. Using a technique from theatre improvisation, keep asking “yes, and…?” to bring about unexpected ideas and fresh perspectives.
- Seek out others: First, we are human beings, social creatures. We are at our best when we are connected, sharing stories and emotions, bouncing ideas off one another. Second, people drive change. Even if we are isolated from our physical work or can’t be with our team in the room where it happens, we have wonderful technology today that allows us to connect: share ideas, discuss problems, and seek wisdom. Like most of you, I’ve learned an awful lot about ZOOM in the past few weeks.
- Impact others: We can influence and motivate others through our words and actions. What we do and say can lift someone up, move someone forward, and give them the inspiration to persist and excel in these unusual times.
As we go about our daily routine, which is becoming more routine every day, let’s accept the challenge to change and ask ourselves, “How can we make this time our “time of wonders?”