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May 19, 2020 | by M. Robert Weidner, III

The Next Version of Normal

“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.” – Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki

As many of you know, I lost my mother a few years ago. Anyone who has lost a parent, spouse, or child knows that the world never will seem normal again. Or, at least it takes a long time to get to your next version of normal.

The world today is undergoing a similar realization, albeit on an even more profound scale. Hundreds of thousands of souls have been lost. Jobs too.

No matter how much we want it to, life as we knew it is over. As Major General (Ret.) Malcolm Frost said on one of our recent COVID-19 weekly webinars (click here for information about these sessions), we are living through a “new abnormal.” We have no idea how long it will last, but we must successfully (and safely) navigate it in order to get to the “new normal.”

But how?

First, we must accept that the next version of normal will not look like January 2020. Disruption of this magnitude demands a new vision, and a new roadmap. Our businesses—and this trade association—will not be successful if we simply hope for a return to yesteryear.

I recently read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. It reinforced something I learned during Kathy’s journey with cancer: live in the moment and embrace positivity when confronting change. Frankl says, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

We will need to change how we travel, gather for large (even small) events, communicate, advocate, approach budgeting, capital investments and expenses, and onboard and train our workforces.

In addition to helping our members navigate the current crisis, our MSCI team is rethinking our own platforms and programs to reimagine how they can continue to deliver value to our metals community. COVID-19 poses an existential threat to the traditional trade association model. It requires deeper thought to complex challenges. Virtual content is now king. Changing a 111-year-old institution will not be easy—and we appreciate your patience and input—but it is necessary.

Our second task is to acknowledge our own uncertainty and vulnerability. A recent article from the management consulting firm Korn Ferry explained, “Vulnerable leaders incite organizational curiosity, creating a culture of ‘collective genius.’” Or, in the words of Shunryu Suzuki cited above, vulnerability enables us to see possibilities.

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed how little we really know. As Dr. John Koehler pointed out on our May 13 safety webinar, at first the medical community thought COVID-19 was a pneumonia. It is not, and treating it as such possibly harmed some patients.

No epidemiologist, no economist, and no policymaker has all the answers. We need to acknowledge that fact in order to learn—every one of us needs to see the world, and our industry, through the eyes of a beginner. We must collaborate and explore the new abnormal together in order to discover the best way to provide everything from a safety-first culture and data analytics to conferences and continuing education.

Our third task is to look at this crisis through the lens of the future. We must identify where the opportunities are. This new era will not be about how to eke out continuous improvement, it will be about making radical shifts.

Educator and author Peter Drucker said, “The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.” Our communities are full of this mindset today. We’ve seen nurses pulled from the surgical wing and put on the COVID-19 floor to perform heroic tasks with few resources. We’ve seen distilleries like our favorite Journeyman Distillery in Michigan go from making spirits to sanitizers. And we’ve watched as MSCI member companies change their operations and protocols to keep their employees safe while producing products that are in desperate need during these despairing times.

We are all disruptors now. And that ambition and entrepreneurship will help us as we rework supply chains and bring them back home, restore North American manufacturing, and reconstruct our economy.

If we acknowledge that the past is gone, see the world through beginner’s eyes, and embrace disruption, the next normal can, and will, be better than the last.