I recently took the time to watch the painful documentary on PBS about the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic. It was sobering. There were so many similarities to that pandemic and our current, Covid-19 crisis, but, fortunately, there were many dissimilarities as well. In 1918, folks feared that we were on the verge of the extinction of the human race. They didn’t have the medical or scientific knowledge or ability, as we do, to fully understand the virus or how to deal with it. As a result, 500 million people--one third of the world’s population--were infected with the virus and over 50 million died! We now have the ability to prevent this degree of devastation – as long as we fully deploy and follow proper interventions and remediations.
These are dark times. In addition to the pandemic, politically, culturally, and economically our country has hit new lows. Recent polling shows that 79% of Americans think we are moving in the wrong direction, and have totally lost confidence in our current leadership to bring us to a better place. And I agree.
Nonetheless, there is a way to create a better future. The 1918 pandemic was devastating, but we emerged from it in a better, wiser space. Now is not the time to lament or ruminate on how bad our situation is or to give up. I am mindful of the words of Abraham Lincoln, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today!”
Now is the time to act. Now is the time to say, “enough is enough,” and to mobilize ACTIVITY that will produce effective change! Now, more than ever, we need to act responsibly today to ensure a better tomorrow; focusing all our energy, efforts, attention and genius towards making it something beneficial for everyone.
Robert Kennedy said it well, “It is not enough to understand, or to see clearly. The future will be shaped in the arena of human activity, by those willing to commit their minds and their bodies to the task.” Step One is to make the commitment. Complacency produces no good.
Step Two, is to step back and honestly assess all the variables and conditions that created our current environment, and determine what went wrong and what is within our scope of ability to make better. This must be broad-minded and thorough, and be driven by “what if” coupled with a dogged drive to unearth the truth. We cannot solve problems without understanding them. This includes acknowledging mistakes and errant thinking!
Step Three, think big! I’ve never been into Eastern philosophy, but I do love this proverb written by Confucius, “If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.” It goes without saying, if we want a wonderful, productive future, it will take not only great vision, it will take time and carefully orchestrated education. For my organization, I have always kept in mind the question of what we want to look like in five, 10 or 20 years from now. As we think about the future of our society, we need to be bold and comprehensive. Never be content with the way things are – they can always be better, but only when we create a path through a bold vision.
Step Four is to anticipate and be prepared for resistance, challenges and major obstacles! Whether you like the man or not, Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, has been a brilliant business strategist, driving his organization to the pinnacle of ongoing success. This quote of his will serve us well as we look into our future, “What we need to do is always lean into the future; when the world changes around you and when it changes against you - what used to be a tail wind is now a head wind - you have to lean into that and figure out what to do because complaining isn't a strategy.” Promoting change requires fortitude; an all-terrain vehicle able to navigate a treacherous, sometimes daunting pathway.
Step Five is to be resilient and innovative! In teaching workshops on business innovation, I have often used this quote by Henry Ford, who said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have told me faster horses and buggies.” How true! Change is difficult for everyone; it is far more comfortable to stay on a gentle pathway than to traverse up a steep mountain. If we are to have a successful, healthy future, however, it is going to take hard work coupled with tremendous creativity.
The history of American expansion is a history of big dreams, determination, innovation, and tremendous resilience. Those people that ventured west knowing it would be perilous, saw something far greater – potential! They saw a better future and were willing to risk everything, including their lives to achieve it. Out of this emerged our national rail system, sea-to-sea telegraph service, eventually evolving into far greater innovations. If we want our future to be better, we have to have that same spirit and drive!
As I watch the daily news, read the headlines, and contemplate the debauchery, corruption and disintegration we are experiencing, it would be very easy for me to withdraw and give into hopelessness–or a strong drink! Yet, every day we see small glimmers of positivity, jewels of hope, expressions of wisdom, and a rapidly swelling wave of frustrated people demanding change. It is time for every one of us who wants a better future for ourselves, our kids, our grandkids and all who will follow in our steps, to not only jump on that wave, but to help drive it forward with Commitment, Honesty, Vision, Fortitude and Resilience, and Innovation.
As the late, great Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it!” And together we can do this.