In this unprecedented time in history, both our professional and personal lives are experiencing turbulence. Our health, our personal and professional lives, and global commerce are now all intertwined in ways we'd never predicted. There is no doubt that this pandemic will change the way we live, work, and transact business. Because of this-- now, more than ever-- it is a time for mindfulness. It is a time to create an antifragile mindset.
Face Black Swans with Grace
In Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book, Antifragile, he talks about Black Swans, which he describes as "large-scale unpredictable and irregular events of massive consequences." Black Swans can "hijack" our brains, making us think that we almost predicted them in retrospect because of our mind's need for linearity and the "fine-tuning of the ordinary." When we see the randomness of a Black Swan, we can be fearful and overreact.
In Diane Musho Hamilton's 2015 article in the Harvard Business Review, she explains that conflict wreaks havoc on our brains and fearful events cause the amygdala to go into fight-or-flight mode. Unfortunately, this physiological reaction, which is designed to move us into action, can also make us ineffective in a crisis like we are experiencing today.
Taleb adds that antifragility not only enables us to face the Black Swan; understanding it makes us "less intellectually fearful in accepting the role of these events as necessary for history, technology, knowledge, everything." If a fragile mindset does not like disorder, chaos or stressors, an antifragile mindset can grow stronger through adversity. Stress can create resilience. He says that we can benefit, grow, and even thrive when we have to face some form of shocks, volatility, randomness, and disorder.
These are powerful words in uncertain times. I think the coming several months will make us stronger as families, as a community of nations, and as co-workers who care for building a company together. But it will take a contrarian thinking.
Show Grit and Think Differently
The two most important lessons I learned from the 2000-2001 Internet bubble and the 2009 U.S. financial crisis (when I started Nutanix) were to focus on things we can control (work smarter: learn, think, and automate) and let the rest fall into place. Being on a treadmill and running faster than ever with old habits in a time of crisis might seem like showing grit. What's harder to do is to step aside from the treadmill and think differently.
From a business perspective, history can provide us with some lessons. The advent of the Internet in 1995 changed Microsoft in profound ways-- they were clearly dead otherwise. Satya Nadella's leadership and mindset of always learning and reacting to change moved the company to the forefront. The advent of HTML5 changed Netflix in equally profound ways, and it wasn't without trials and tribulations that the entertainment services provider is now very successful. The mobile Internet also forced Facebook to be a different company, and Mark Zuckerberg has kept mobile strategy at the forefront to make sure it stays relevant. Between the Black Swan events and digital disruption every decade, companies wither away or thrive.
You might not be able to control Covid-19, but you can control how to be best organized and challenge yourself to think differently during these times. This can mean setting aside a specific time each day to slow down and check-in with yourself. Practice recognizing what the amygdala does to our reactions and how you can shift your response. We can also write more often (goals, blogs) and find new ways to express our thoughts and come to new conclusions. We can make a promise to ourselves to not doing the same thing manually more than ten times. We can work together and build camaraderie with new shared goals.
In this time of mindfulness, I am reading and writing more, as I travel less. I am smiling more, as I watch my 6-year-old twins more intently than ever before. I am sitting with my parents and talking to them about their health and well-being more than ever before. And lastly, I am listening more.
As we navigate through this pandemic, we must be vigilant-- paranoid, yet optimistic. Balancing the left brain and the right brain is hard but will be the only way we can navigate this crisis together, and keeping this balance is at the heart of strong leadership.
Where my mind is focused is on what I can control and where we can help. I'm focused on our employees and focused on our customers and how we can help them during this time. As I've told the team at Nutanix, sleep well, don't speculate too much, and yes, ignore the Wall Street roller coaster. Real money sits with Main Street. Everything else follows.