As the saying goes, “In times of uncertainty, perfection will only get in the way of progress”. This was, and remains the quote playing over and over in my head as we continue to dive deeper into a new world.  Our business of leveraging experiential and immersive learning for 30+ years has always been done face-to-face.  We are quickly responding to a world where live face-to-face is no longer possible… at least for now. We are learning as we go, but we are making great progress. It is giving us purpose, and clients are listening. 

In 2003, I recall George Consolver, the Head of Strategy for Texas Instruments standing at the front of a room full leaders from a variety of industries.  George held in one hand a TI 2500 Datamath calculator, and in the other, a popular Nokia phone.  George looked the audience in the eye and said “what do you do when your business of this, (the calculator) becomes a sub function on this? (the phone).”  The room pondered the question. George continued to share the story of how TI has become excellent at remaking themselves throughout their long history.  

As I sat with the question, I thought to myself “our consulting business is pretty safe, people will always meet face-to-face”.  Seventeen years later comes the year 2020, COVID-19, and a new reality for our business.  

What we have learned in less than a month:

Saturday March 7th I started writing the article “Meetings in a (Sanitized) Box”. In the article I quote the line “necessity is the mother of innovation”.  Turns out necessity had been there all along, and we were already delivering experiences on the very subject.  We were just meeting the demand in face-to-face meetings.  The need to help geographically remote teams and leaders better communicate virtually has been there.  The need to help teams to foster collaboration across dispersed global teams has been there.   Many organizations struggled with this as they began to allow people to work from home, and with flexible schedules. 

It took the forceful hand of a worldwide pandemic to wipe my work calendar clean in order for us to take what we already had, and apply it to a fully virtual setting.  

Re-awaking:  The land of “re”

With that wake-up call, we are responding quickly. We are re-thinking, re-inventing, re-purposing, re-designing, and seeing new possibilities at every turn.  With the help of our network and clients, we are testing, collecting feedback, changing, and delivering like a re-invigorated startup company.

It’s not all fast-forward.  A giant “pause button” has been pressed:

For years, Action Learning has used an image of a giant pause button to open development programs.  We use the image to talk about the opportunity right now, while away from the day-to-day, to think about who you are, who you want to be, the legacy you want to leave, your development, and what you want to change.  From the front of the room facilitating, you can watch people stare at the pause image with gears turning while you present those concepts.  At this moment, the giant pause button has been pressed for many people.  It is disruptive, dangerous, upsetting, different, stressful and scary. Perhaps there is an opportunity?  Just yesterday while on the phone with a client, we were discussing the giant push of the pause button and the quote was shared, “If we emerge on the backside of this the same way we went into it, we have missed a great opportunity for self-development”.

Re-thinking face-to-face:  

Face-to-face meetings will come back, nothing will replace the deeply human need to sit within the presence of one another and experience life.  In a shared experience together, the meaning is richer. It is why we attend concerts together, Broadway shows, poetry readings, sporting events, recitals, etcetera. Through shared experiences we see things clearer; trust, accountability, commitment, celebration, and hardship.  Perhaps as we design face-to-face meetings in the future we will better appreciate what should be experienced face-to-face, and re-think what can be saved for remote learning.  That face-to-face time is cherished now isn’t it?