Coping with disruption: Thriving during tough times.

by Leadership, Strategy

What is disruption?

Disruption is a break or an interruption to the normal course or continuation of activities. It is often characterized by a sudden and radical change and turn. Disruption brings about confusion since it causes interference to an already existing system.

Disruption is something we now know all too well especially with the current state of the world and is probably one of the most common words you’ve heard this far into 2020. The year began with many plans both by individuals and businesses but soon after, a pandemic hit and brought about with it a lot of change.

Uncertainty filled the air and we longer had any idea how things would go from there. Everyone was affected; one way or another. We all experienced major changes not just as individuals but globally.

The questions on everyone’s mind were, “What will be of our plans? What will be of our future? What will be of our existence? And most important, “When will this come to an end?”

To understand how we can make our lives better and how to thrive during these and other tough times, we need to first understand a few basics about disruptions and why they will always be here. 

How does disruption occur?

To find out how disruption occurs, let’s take a journey to the Honduran city of Choluteca. Here we find a bridge which was created by some of the world’s greatest architects from a Japanese firm as a state-of-the-art structure, designed to withstand the wildest regional hurricanes. It was constructed between 1996 and 1998 and built over River Choluteca to connect to a new bypass road.

It worked exactly as planned when Hurricane Mitch hit in 1998. This is the second-deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record to date, causing over 11,000 fatalities in Central America, including approximately 7,000 in Honduras and 3,800 in Nicaragua due to catastrophic flooding from the slow motion of the storm.  

While other bridges, buildings, and roads were destroyed, Choluteca Bridge stood form. Sounds like a perfect and reliable solution, doesn’t it? Well, here comes the twist.

Due to the massive flooding caused by the hurricane, the river changed its course.  It carved itself a new channel and no longer flowed beneath the bridge. This left the bridge standing firm and tall but not useful at all.

Disruption occurs in this exact way; the systems put in place are too rigid and they cannot be adjusted to work for a certain unforeseen situation and you find yourself stuck in an old way of doing things. Interruptions by themselves are already very frustrating, but it gets worse if existing systems cannot adjust.

While we may not be in control of when disruptions will occur, we can always come up with flexible systems that allow us to cope and adjust.

Strategies for courageously coping with disruption.

Disruption can be a great hindrance to so many things due to its unexpected nature. For most of us, the changes it brings about become the cause of great suffering and pain. For others, it grinds us to a complete halt. Adapting in the face of disruption is what makes the difference.

In the case of the Choluteca bridge, it was not able to adapt to the new course of the river, and that was what rendered it useless.

Here are 7 strategies for courageously coping with disruption;

  1. Accept the changes.

More often than not, we are very stubborn to change, which causes us to be stagnant in the face of disruption. We are often consumed by our usual way of operating that changing sounds impossible. While some disruptions are small and last for a short period, others are huge and last much longer.

Evaluating the disruption and finding ways to work around it helps both businesses and individuals navigate hardships caused by it. Case in point, the spread of the Coronavirus is a disruption that was unforeseen. However, with the disease having been around for more than half the year so far, it’s important for us to adapt to what has become the new normal.

Businesses that would ordinarily have clients come to their physical locations to buy their products have had to embrace delivery services as well as online shops. Online meetings are now the norm and anyone who is not accepting these changes is quickly being left behind.

If you wish to make any progress in the face of disruption, you must be willing to accept to make a change.

  • Understand what you can and cannot control.

It’s very easy to crack our minds over things we cannot control. It’s human nature to desire to know what comes next and to want to be in control over our lives. In some situations, it’s possible but in some, it’s not. In the face of disruption, it’s important to determine what you can control and work on it, and leave alone that which you cannot control.

If it started raining heavily as you walked to work for instance, it’d be prudent to get an umbrella, get under a shade or if not warmly dressed, grab a jacket or anything warm. You cannot control the rain falling but you can protect yourself by adapting to the prevailing state. Getting frustrated over the fact that the rain is falling heavily will only hinder your productivity and cause unnecessary frustrations.

This reminds me of the ‘Serenity Prayer’ written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in which he says, “God, give me the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

You may have heard a different abstraction of it but the message is the same: Understand what you cannot control and diligently work on what you can.

  • Prioritize

When faced by disruption, it’s important to determine what is more important. It may not be easy or possible to do everything you did before the shift occurred and so you need to find out what has to be done and what can wait.

For instance, you probably were in the process of launching a new product into the market, when the pandemic hit. As part of the plan, you probably had a big event planned alongside other activities. You may now be facing budget constraints that are putting pressure on the entire product launch and are probably considering cancelling the event altogether.

However, it wouldn’t be advisable to entirely cancel the launch of the product; but instead, you can prioritize which activities will take place. You may discover that the event was not as important as other activities so you could take that out or scale it down. On the other hand, a website may prove to be invaluable during this time, especially with all the online interaction going on and that may jump to the top of your priority list.

  • Always remember the vision.

Almost every established business person insists on the need to have a reason why you’re doing something. There has to be a vision, that answers the why in any business or anything you may take up even as an individual. Having this vision in mind will be very important in times of disruption because you need a reason to keep going despite the prevailing circumstances. Lack of a vision makes it very easy to give up whenever any challenge shows up.

Take a globally known brand like Amazon, who’s CEO is Jeff Bezos. Before establishing Amazon, he had an idea to have an online auction site. It did not do well and eventually failed. The idea was redefined and polished to be Amazon as we know it today. The concept is still the same, a marketplace, but the failure did not cause Bezos to completely give up. He figured a way around making the idea better, keeping the vision in mind.

  • Take a break and re-strategize.

We live in a time when it’s almost illegal to rest. We are so accustomed to running up and down, day and night so as to make ends meet. Taking a break is rarely ever factored in our usual schedules because it is often seen as wasting time.

When disruption hits, it is always a good idea to take a step back and think through what to do. While some disruptions require that you think on your feet, others actually need a lot more time and thought put in to figure the way forward. It also helps you to think of long-term solutions as opposed to short term ones that will help navigate the present situation only to face the same challenge later.

  • Find opportunities.

Disruptions may get really difficult and exhausting to navigate, but this doesn’t mean it should be all gloomy. A good strategy to work around an unexpected disruption is finding the opportunities that this brings about.

Let’s take the Corona pandemic once again. One of the safety measures is to stay home as much as you possibly can, which caused the closure of quite a number of businesses. With all the time spent indoors, you could very easily get something to engage in. It could be a hobby or even a new skill that you previously didn’t have the time to pursue.

Online spaces, which provide services or teach skills, have become very accessible and you can find out what you could pick up from so many opportunities presented.

  • Seek help.

Disruptions, if not properly handled could bring about trauma and great suffering for many people. So many cases of depression and anxiety-related conditions come up when uncertainty of some nature is brought about.

Think about someone who had a lucrative job and all of a sudden got retrenched. They can no longer keep up with the living standards they had. Since this was not foreseen, they probably didn’t even have a backup plan, yet bills still pile up.

It is never weak to acknowledge your inability and seek help. We discussed the importance of a life coach in a previous article and this would really come in handy in the case of a disruption. Get someone to talk to as opposed to trying to figure it out by yourself.  Speaking to someone and getting a different perspective helps open up your mind to ideas and options that you may not have seen. They’ll help you know how to gather the pieces and try something else, start again or re-strategize.

5 ways to find the opportunities brought by disruption.

One of the strategies we have discussed to cope with disruption is finding new opportunities. Here are a few ways you can do so.

  1. Solve other peoples’ needs

Inasmuch as disruption brings about a lot of negativity, it brings about needs as well. You can take the opportunity to solve the needs and fill in the gap.

For example, the Coronavirus pandemic has everyone avoiding crowds which makes them even keep off shopping malls and offices. An opportunity brought about by this is the need for door-step deliveries. By starting a delivery service business and attending to others’ needs, you will have benefited from the chaos as opposed to being discouraged and losing out on this opportunity.

  • Evaluate yourself.

When fishermen cannot go to sea, they mend their nets. This simply means that sometimes you may not be in a position to do much, but improving yourself is definitely something you can do.

Disruptions bring about an opportunity to evaluate yourself as well as your business. Through a disruption, you can tell how resilient you are as an individual or how viable a business idea is. It helps restructure and strengthen both yourself and your business or career to stand better in the future. It also exposes existing loopholes that need fixing and improvement.

  • Be open minded

Being open-minded is very necessary when trying to find opportunities in the face of disruption. Opportunities may be readily available but it takes a keen eye and an open mind to tap into them. There could be things that have been considered not valuable that may prove to be very valuable through disruption.

Keeping an open mind does not however mean taking anything that comes your way. It means giving critical thought to opportunities without putting limits on yourself, but matching your skill and talents to available opportunities.

  • Have a positive mindset and attitude.

Changing your mindset is also very important in finding opportunities in disruptions. This means taking your mind off the magnitude and effects of a certain disruption to see what good can come out of it. Instead of constantly thinking about when the disruption will cease to exist, changing your mindset will help you adapt to it. Instead of focusing on what you cannot control or solve, you need to change and start thinking of opportunities presented by the prevailing circumstance.

Keep a positive attitude. Disruptions have a way of building so much scepticism and negativity in people. Fear of the unknown is heightened and people become very pessimistic. It is important to keep a positive attitude to find opportunities in disruption, not just seeing how everything could go wrong.

  • Direct your focus to useful pursuits

Focusing efforts on what you’re able to control and work on will help you find available opportunities. As you invest resources into what you’re able to reach, you’ll be in a better position to cope with an interruption as opposed to trying to focus efforts on that which you cannot control.

For example, with the current pandemic, children are not going to school any more which has become very frustrating for both the children and their parents. Focusing efforts on alternative learning methods as well as improving talents will be more helpful.

The silver-lining

We all have plans for how we’d like our lives or businesses to go through a certain period of time. We have targets and goals we’d like to achieve at certain points. Disruptions will however not consider these plans, which can get really frustrating. It can result in many negative emotions and states including depression, hopelessness, anxiety, fear or despair altogether.

This, however, needs not be your story. There is a lot to be picked and learnt through any form of disruption. So much positivity can come out of an otherwise really dark time.  You have the power to choose how to navigate this current disruption. Help is available to you if you seek it and so is opportunity.

Remember, when looked at differently, disruption can be the beginning of very many new ideas, opportunities and journeys. It could be the catalyst you’ve needed to start a new life, a much better life.