“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” – H. G. Wells
As we South Africans join millions of others around the world in mandatory isolation for several weeks, the sense of anxiety and fear is palpable. In an age where many of us have grown accustomed to quickly extricating ourselves from uncomfortable situations, it is understandable that we feel wholly unprepared for a crisis which can only be solved by time – rather than money, connections or power.
However, while the challenge is real, it is up to each one of individually to choose how we perceive and react to our new uncomfortable reality.
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable
This philosophy is one that my tennis hero, Novak Djokovic, attributes much of his success on the court to. Tennis is a sport that constantly puts you in extremely uncomfortable positions. Being exhausted at five-all, thirty-all in the final set of a big match is not a comfortable place to be. It’s at this exact moment when all your fears and insecurities come knocking. You have to choose. Be overwhelmed by the situation? Or accept that this is an uncomfortable situation and embrace it for what it is – an opportunity to learn and to grow.
While I have by no means mastered this ability, I know for sure that my success rate is far higher when I choose to accept my situation for what it is, focus on the process and free myself from the possible outcomes.
Adapt or die
To be clear, successfully navigating an uncomfortable environment does not mean sitting idly by and accepting your fate. Rather, it’s about adapting to the new reality in which you find yourself.
There is an old Chinese proverb that says: “The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water moulds itself to the pitcher.”
It is for this reason that I have spent the past week doing video calls with business owners around South Africa, focusing specifically on how they can adapt to their new realities.
Understandably, every one of them has recognised that need to make urgent changes in their businesses or face certain annihilation. I have worked with some business owners who have seen their revenues drop to zero in the space of just a few weeks.
What has surprised me however, is that almost all of them have chosen to focus on taking defensive measures to protect their bottom lines, rather than seeing this as chance to pivot their business strategies and adapt to the current environment.
Therefore, I have focused almost exclusively on getting entrepreneurs take a fresh look at their assets and capabilities to see how they can repurpose them to meet the changing needs of new and existing customers.
A great example of this is during World War 2, US car maker General Motors became the country’s largest manufacturer of military equipment such as bombs, tanks and aircraft. They realised that their core competency lay not in making automobiles, but rather in their understanding of production lines and the ability to produce goods at scale.
It has been incredible to watch entrepreneurs’ eyes light up once they start thinking in this way. We have come up with some fantastic ideas that have the potential to transform their businesses, both now and into the future. Arguably of greater importance, these offensive measures serve to provide hope to the owners and their staff that they, rather than some unseen virus, are in control of their destinies.
This same thinking can be applied to the way we see our home environments over the next few weeks and months. Our spare room has been converted into a home gym, the deck into a mini tennis court, my skateboard into a swing for my daughters (the jury is still out on that one) and the sitting room chairs and cushions into an obstacle course. My wife has even taken to calling it a staycation and planning all sorts of activities.
Framed in the right way, this is a golden opportunity to get creative and free your mind. Remember, it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.