SOS: Signs of Spring

Spring is always a time for fresh hope. We’re not clear of the worst yet, though there are positive signs of life for humans at the changing of the season. Vaccines, Co-vax aspirations and a better outlook for battered economies are beginning to lighten the dark mood of
the world.

Despite the inevitably divisive headlines, a new climate of global collaboration dawning isn’t merely the positive thinker’s fantasy. “We’re all in this together” is a cliché that’s been rendered true by the virus. However imperfectly we respond to the crisis, our interdependence as a species is the message we’re choosing to embrace - or at least being forced to acknowledge.

‘To everything, there is a season,’ as the old wisdom tells us. We know this intellectually, yet we are all susceptible to the Perception Trap: when things are up, it’s very hard to imagine a downturn, and when it’s all desperate, better times seem like mere wishful thinking! This is true of economies, societies and also our personal lives. Even mentally recalling the cyclical, seasonal nature of life helps us to endure the down period. Knowing that a more positive period will come, and the change is inevitable, although not knowing exactly when.


The Power of Mindset

What value is there adopting this mindset?

I recall Mark Twain’s brilliant story, A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur, where a time traveller from modern days faces execution. The one tool he has at his disposal is an Ephemeris, detailing the motion of the stars. He announces that he is a great magician, and if they don’t set him free he will cause the sun to vanish from the sky.

He is fortunate: he knows the exact timing of an imminent total eclipse. Predicting its occurrence, he says he will only return the sun to his captors’ view if he is freed. He gets the promise and, lo and behold!, light re-emerges from the darkness.

The point is not that his intellectual understanding of light at the end of the tunnel made the sun come back any sooner. But it did give him the vision that, although all may have been darkness, the light would return.

Intellectual understanding doesn’t change the outer experience, but it does affect the emotional state in which you receive it. The masses didn’t know the sun would ever return, while our protagonist knew it would only be a matter of minutes. As a result he feltdifferently about the darkness.


The Big Question- WHEN will things improve?

We have to hold these two apparently contradictory ideas in our head at the same time: matters will improve, for sure, although unlike with Mark Twain’s hero, the timing is by no means predictable. But lest you think I’m abandoning my duty as a speaker and sometime advisor to companies on managing the future, I will stick my neck out and make the following predictions:

*We will recover from this crisis on exactly this timescale: sooner than you think!
*Many of the practices we have used to manage this period will continue – especially virtual meetings.
*Physical get-togethers will return – although fewer, more carefully thought out, more precious and special. Less to do with sharing information and more to do with connecting emotionally. They will become ‘hybrids’ with virtual components.
*Economies will rebound, although there will be new ways of valuing the work that’s essential to a healthy society.
*Social justice will come to the fore in discussions about how to run a society – this focus will become the norm rather than the exception.
*The young will really run with the sustainability agenda – and the old will have no choice other than to follow.

Apart from the fact that is more Utopian than the ‘normal’ Dystopian outlook we are encouraged to accept without question, your natural objection would be to ask when I expect these changes to happen. To which I can only reply again, sooner than a rational approach would ever expect.

In recent years I’ve very much enjoyed working at a Berlin based business school, ESMT. It’s situated in what was formerly East Berlin, in the modernist palatial house of that country’s former leader, Eric Honecker. In January of 1989 he was still asserting that the infamous Berlin Wall would be standing in 50 or even 100 years time. It came down on November 9th 1989.

I think of this every time I’m there. What other positive changes we believe will take decades can happen in much shorter order? In medicine, science, economies and our approaches to the big threats of pollution and climate change? I have no time scale for any of them, except that again it will be bigger and sooner than we think: the spirit the world has adopted in accelerating vaccine and Covid cure research can and will be applied to other global difficulties. Maybe not tomorrow, but in the very near future.

SOS is not just an emergency call, but also can stand for Signs Of Spring. In the English countryside it’s
already happened: the first snowdrops on January 15th, daffodils on the 31st and now the milder days. Even a little sunshine and morning coffee outside.

What are the Signs of Spring in the world’s season? The first shoots of vaccine and virus co-operation, a focus returning to anti global warming strategies and more awareness of racist and sexist attitudes are all vital indicators. Yes, just like the March frosts that will hold back some of the spring, there will be pushbacks against all this progress, periods where we feel we are going backwards.

But the trend is inexorably towards improvement: we need to see the horizon, beyond the fog we’ve been in. Simply remembering the cyclical nature of affairs, and not being sucked into the short - term misery that news headlines portray, can make an enormous difference to our well-being. And stop us being paralysed…

England, February 2021