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About This Episode
Once upon a time on the savannah, humans reacted to every shadow — in case it was a saber-toothed tiger.
Well, there are hardly any saber toothed tigers on our Zoom calls, but we’re still operating on that archaic fight-or-flight response.
I had a fantastic conversation with Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts and author of Resilience: Adapt and Plan for the New Abnormal of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic, about the psychological pitfalls that we are still making.
We aren’t going to get back to a place of normalcy.
“We’re not in a crisis,” Gleb said. “We will never go back to January 2020.”
The problem that many companies are unaware that they are facing is that they are still using their disaster preparedness and business continuity plans.
Instead, what we all need is to recognize this era as a new abnormal.
“You need to adapt to the present and not think, ‘Hey, we’ll pass this in a couple of months and go back to what we were doing,’” he added.
Gleb walked me through 3 psychological biases that our archaic brains are hanging onto, which don’t serve us well in this modern age.
1 — The Normalcy Bias
As a cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist, Gleb has consulted and coached companies to avoid making mistakes. “Our brains are not wired for the modern environment,” Gleb said.
The fight or flight response made perfect sense when we were hunter gatherers but doesn’t really apply in the boardroom, for example.
“One of the cognitive biases, dangerous judgment errors, is called the normalcy bias. That causes us to perceive the future world as relatively normal, similar to today,” Gleb explained.
That was generally true in prehistory, but it’s a terrible idea for the modern world.
Our future is changing very quickly: technology, major disruptors like COVID-19, and the nature of modern threats.
When we make decisions based on our assumption that the future will more or less resemble the present, we are just fooling ourselves.
How do we overcome that?
2 — Optimism
A recent survey polled people about when major meetings will come back.
Most people said the first or second quarter of 2021.
Uh, remember vaccinations? Remember the economic downturn?
“Realistically speaking, in the most optimistic scenario, we can’t have a conference until the second quarter of 2022,” Gleb said.
People tend to be too optimistic about the future.
To overcome both of these biases, we need to think about what the future will actually hold.
“It’s a very low probability chance that by early 2022, we’d have a vaccine widely available. Most likely it will be something like 2023… 24… 25,” Gleb said.
What should we actually plan for?
Commit to virtual teams and virtual offerings.
Gleb provided an overview of the areas that are necessary for people to effectively adapt and plan for the new abnormal.
6 changes for your internal business model
- How do you train for your team’s virtual communication?
- How do you resolve problems in a virtual setting?
- How do you motivate employees effectively in a virtual setting?
- How do you cultivate trust in a virtual setting?
- What kind of internal controls do you need in a virtual setting?
- How do you ensure accountability in a virtual setting?
6 changes for your external business model
- How do you adapt your service offerings?
- How do you cultivate relationships with your existing clients, service providers, and political officials?
- How do you cultivate new relationships?
- How do you manage disruptions to your supply chain?
- How can you position yourself to be competitive in a situation of shifting norms?
- How do you out-compete your competition?
“You want to hope for the best, but plan for the worst,” Gleb said.
During the pandemic, it’s important to have a singular focus to keep yourself from these cognitive biases.
Which brings us to the last one.
3 — Hyperbolic discounting
Too many companies are being short-term oriented. They’re discounting the long-term future.
This is hyperbolic discounting.
(Well, technically, it’s choosing a short-term reward instead of a long-term reward. But the underlying concept translates.)
“One of the things about having a singular focus, which is incredibly important, is that you can have that long-term orientation,” Gleb said. “Don’t think about the next week. Don’t think about the next month. Think about the next 5 years.”
What will your business look like in 2025? Don’t imagine only the best scenario, either.
- What will it look like in an optimistic scenario (vaccine in 2022)?
- In a moderate scenario (vaccine in 2024)?
- In a pessimistic scenario (vaccine in 2027)?
“In each of those scenarios, what steps do you need to take right now in order to achieve the long term outcomes that you seek?” Gleb asked. “That’s the singular focus that people really need to have, and that’s how you’ll out-compete your competition and take the best advantage of this crisis to make the biggest difference for your business and your career.”
Blind spots to avoid & bonus bias
The illusion of transparency is a cognitive bias that humans have about their communication.
We believe our communication is transparent; in other words, we tend to believe our message is being understood in the same sense that we meant to convey it.
The reality is quite different, especially virtually.
“This is a big problem, but it becomes even more problematic in virtual communication,” Gleb said.
The business that recognizes the implications of the illusion of transparency will invest in virtual communication training.
“At best, the other person is a small square and on your screen,” Gleb said. “You’re still missing a lot of their body language, and you need to be aware of that”
Bottom line: You need to engage in training for virtual communication.
Gleb’s 3 takeaways
- Remember the normalcy bias. We tend to assume the future will be “normal.” It won’t be.
- Orient toward virtual interactions. As in, give up your office space lease and commit to virtual teams.
- Orient toward the long-term — and be more pessimistic than seems intuitive to you.
You definitely need to read Gleb’s book, Resilience: Adapt and Plan for the New Abnormal of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic, and connect with him on LinkedIn.