With all the uncertainty in the world, no one, claimed author Margaret Heffernan, wanted to hear or believe what may be down the road like a pandemic.  And along comes COVID-19 to test everyone beyond their imagination.

Giving a lecture at the Rotman School of Management, her point was that while we cannot forecast or predict something like a pandemic, we can be pro-active and be prepared as much as we can.

She explained that’s called backcasting and would include activities like developing vaccines for different diseases, building strong, collaborative relationships with other countries and getting the financial and manufacturing industries on board so they are poised and ready for action if necessary.

How can we get prepared?  Margaret called it “just in case” thinking where you may not be able to see the entire picture, but you can map the eco-system and see where your organization fits in.

It calls for experimentation and thinking differently.

She cited how one financial institution involved staff from the entire organization to think through a more efficient system for collecting data.  They involved everyone and as a result, a junior engineer came up with and got to recode the data processing system.

Management also learned that no one liked the time-consuming, old-fashioned performance appraisals and a new inter-active process was launched, leaving staff feeling more motivated, productive and appreciated.

Her second example was a Dutch home care organization where the care of the patients was dictated by administrative contracts that limited the staff time allowed with each patient, leaving no one satisfied by the quality of care provided.  While the contracts were complicated, the service delivery was complex, because no two patients were the same.

When they changed the process to allow staff to determine what was best for their patients, they found that they cut costs dramatically.  Why? Because the patients got better faster with more individual attention.

The key ingredients to making the change, she found, was involving a diverse group of individuals in coming up with potential solutions.

Experiments, she advocated, get us out of the status quo mindset.

The collective approach further reinforces the collaborative efforts of everyone and builds a community where the individuals care about each other and want to stay within the organization.

Ask good questions, she suggests, ones that make everyone think beyond their normal scope.

What she was talking about are sound community development principles – bringing a diverse group of people together, giving them a voice in a safe environment and fostering ownership in the process and the outcome. When I was a community developer that is what we did to build an effective social service structure where everyone was involved in designing a system that worked.

I remember when we found that we were sending children out of the region for expensive, residential care which disrupted the family and didn’t always bring the best outcomes for the child, we knew we had to come up with a better plan.

Instead service providers came together and we came up with the concept of wraparound dollars, through which the specific needs of the child were explored and a plan devised that would treat and address the different issues by purchasing the services of the appropriate professionals.  This meant that agencies had to collaborate and step outside of their silo in order to better treat the child, rather than each organization sticking to their mandate and the child being sent away. It was creative and it worked.

It sounds as if there would be a positive ripple effect too when creative thinking is implemented in business and where all levels of staff are involved.  And while solopreneurs may not have a team, perhaps the answer is to talk to your customers. Ask what do they need from you, rather than what you want to deliver?  Involve them in directing what you offer.

Today, Margaret observed, it is not just about keeping afloat, but building businesses and communities that are holding richer, more transparent conversations and working together to create change.

Her motto is “let’s not play the game, let’s change it.”

Now that sounds like one good idea.

Anne Day

Anne Day

Company of Women

I have had an eclectic career from running non-profit organizations and being editor of a national magazine, to working for government on women’s issues. In 2003 I launched Company of Women, an organization that supports women in business. A prolific blogger, I also write for the Huffington Post, and several other online publications. I am the author of five books on women and entrepreneurship, and co-author of Good Enough. Embrace who you are. Unleash your brilliance. which is available on amazon.ca In June, 2016 I launched Full Circle Publishing offering one-stop services to get your words out into the world.