Leading in the Age of COVID

Now is the time for non-linear thinking, characterized by expansion in multiple directions rather than in a straight line.

by Jim White, PhD
Man thinking
What will business look like post-COVID? Which companies will thrive, and which will crumble? Will entire industries buckle under the strain? How will communities deal with their struggling populations, vacant real estate and shuttered businesses?

COVID-19 has disrupted the business world, and the “normal” of a few months ago may never return. In this constantly changing landscape, critical thinking skills have never been more important.

Before, many of us relied on linear thinking—that is, solving problems in a step-by-step fashion. When life proceeds in an orderly way, we can draw conclusions based on probabilities: this is what happened before; therefore, it will happen again. Or, we use contingency statements: if this is true, that is true.

But now, there are too many unknowns to rely on lazy thinking. The volatile economy is one example—we don’t know how or when the markets will recover. What will business look like post-COVID? Which companies will thrive, and which will crumble? Will entire industries buckle under the strain? How will communities deal with their struggling populations, vacant real estate and shuttered businesses?

Now is the time for non-linear (lateral) thinking, characterized by expansion in multiple directions rather than in a straight line. The concept has multiple starting points from which we can apply logic to a problem:

  • Step out of your comfort zone. Critical thinking requires that we see and interpret information from a different perspective. Navigating COVID requires taking steps to adapt to new circumstances. For companies, it means being nimble, finding opportunities and ways to innovate. It may mean reducing a brick-and-mortar footprint in favor of a digital presence, dumping obsolete inventory at a discount, or it may mean layoffs.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. When jumping out of your comfort zone, be careful not to jump to conclusions as well. Instead, ask questions, and organize and evaluate information. Business owners should be asking: Is now the right time to reopen? Who says the pandemic is over? What will reopening look like? Coming to a valid conclusion requires studying the available data: what is happening in other parts of the world, the country or the industry? 
  • Separate truth from belief. People often have trouble with this because of ingrained beliefs (which we all have) that interfere with our ability to think logically. Critical thinking means making decisions based only on data. For business leaders, that means putting aside what worked in the past and being completely open to new practices and protocols. PM

Jim White, PhD, is author of Opportunity Investing: How To Revitalize Urban and Rural Communities with Opportunity Funds, and founder and president of JL White International.

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