Shifting shapes during COVID- 19: Review, reflect and recreate

By Liezl Reid

Before you continue reading this article, take a breath, and allow your mind to wander. Also, you may want to get a pen and paper too, just in case.

During a time of crisis, it is imperative to stay calm, collected and sane. During a period of lockdown, it is important to use your time productively and come out of it with a new skill and a new lease on life. These are the messages that are flooding our social media platforms, nearly every second article or post you read bombards you with using this time for gaining new skills, doing the online course you never had time for, or making copious batches of banana bread and ginger beer to kill time. Easier said than done. The fact of the matter is that facing a crisis and being in lockdown is hard. As we navigate our way through a myriad of emotions, starting with panic, fear, feeling depressed, coming to terms with it and finally being able to see the wood for the trees.

Last week I hosted a “Shapeshift Thinkshop” to provide business owners, students, and managers with a space to come and think on their own terms. The Thinkshop was based on the principle of divergent thinking, where various tools, techniques, and questions allowed the participants to broaden their thinking, and uncover options and possibilities that they have in their control, even though they are faced with many things that are out of their control. This article will take you through a similar journey that the participants experienced to hopefully inspire you to acknowledge the ‘now’ and recognise the hope that is still there.

Divergent thinking is a concept that was coined by psychologist, J.P. Guildford in the 1950’s. He coined this term to refer to the thought process whereby many possibilities, options, pathways or solutions are created. This sort of thought process normally happens in a short space of time and also broadens the thinker’s ability of being able to think of solutions that do not necessarily follow the rules of conformity. He famously said that “to live is to have problems, and to solve problems is to grow intellectually”. “So why is the ability to think divergently relevant now, and how can I grow through using it?” you might ask. Simple, we are in unprecedented times, yet our plans, goals and dreams that were developed before the pandemic and lockdown remain. So, let us tackle what was, and accept what is now. By looking at this from this angle is called reviewing. Reviewing is looking at what was in place before the lockdown and assessing whether this needs change or have already been adapted.

While you are sitting, standing, or lying down reading this article, my first question to you is, what were your goals or plans before this pandemic? Another question to consider is, do these plans or goals look different now? Asking the same questions during the Thinkshop, the general feeling was that most of these plans or goals were shattered or have come to a halt. This is OK. Again, I will repeat, this is OK. It leaves us with anxiety, hopelessness, and fear of the uncertainty that we will not achieve what we set out in the beginning of the year. What this means, however, is that we need to adapt, and we already have, we may just not be cognisant of it just yet.

This is where reflection can become handy. After assessing what your plans were and how they have changed, reflecting on these plans may take your thoughts a bit deeper. So, this leads to my next question, what is your problem statement right now? And looking at the situation we are all in, what are the immediate assumptions you are making? The assumption we all most likely will want to make is that this too shall pass, but for the cynics out there, such as myself, the assumption could most likely be that life will likely not look the same again.

At this point in the article, I hope you feel the need to find hope or see things differently. I come, therefore, as a bearer of good news: there is always hope and there is always a way to see things from a different perspective. This is called ‘Reframing’. This is a powerful technique that allows possibilities to emerge when all hope is lost. Reframing is when you turn your problem statement upside down, or shake it up in such a way so that a different angle or side of the situation emerges. For example, reframing the word ‘problem’; how could you replace it with another word that could give it an entirely different and more positive meaning or energy? Would you use the word ‘opportunity’ perhaps? Challenge yourself to write down your ‘opportunity’ statement. When you write this down, think of what is still within your control, what are the small things you used to overlook when time was not on your side, and again, keep it simple and tangible. Another loaded question to throw at you is this: what insights or realisations have you had since this lockdown started?

This sort of thinking becomes quality thinking. My favourite quote is by Nancy Kline who is the author of ‘Time to think’ and she puts it forward in a simple and straightforward manner: “the quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first”. The productivity aspect that was written about in the beginning of this article needs to be redefined as something that does not add unnecessary pressure or feelings of guilt. Productivity could mean that when you do get the time to think, make it quality thinking. Think about it, 30 minutes of quality work or thinking, is more valuable than 8 hours of just sitting in front of your screen with no quality work coming from it. For a business owner, these 30 minutes of quality thinking could mean reflecting on your values and purpose, and looking at putting in place only the very first step to tackle when this lockdown has been lifted. This is an example of thinking about the future in a productive sense, even if reality looks grim. What would be the first priority or option you need to consider mitigating the aftereffects of the lockdown, as time then becomes of the essence? Again, I am only asking you to think of your first priority point, not your 5-year business plan. Recreating plans or goals might feel overwhelming but having some clarity or an idea of what the future may bring, could assist with starting to prepare for the “new normal”, post-COVID. Keep it simple, keep it tangible, and then take it from there. Developing your divergent thinking tools and techniques could be of great help in allowing you to create future possibilities, and coming up with solutions or options thereto.

As we get to the end of this article, I have decided to close it off in a similar manner that I tend to wrap up workshops, coaching sessions, or online Thinkshops: through reflecting on what you have experienced. This experience is known as Borton’s model of reflection and comprises three simple questions; “what?”, “so what?”, “now what?”. Putting this into context, what did you read? So, what? What did you find important? Now what? Now that you know what you didn’t know before, what are you going to do about it?

This article was featured on Business by Design blog on 24 April 2020

Liezl Reid is the founder of Shapeshifter Consulting where she provides coaching to business owners, postgraduate students and private clients as well as providing HR advisory support to both established businesses and start-ups, helping them to create a sound foundation for HR structures and processes. She has a BA Honours in Psychology from UNISA and an MPhil in Management Coaching from University of Stellenbosch Business School

Her coaching approach, workshops & online thinkshops emphasises ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking through using design thinking, especially divergent thinking, as part of her process.

shapeshifter logo