Brilliant Reads: The Covid-19 Edition
Because of these strange and uncertain times, we wanted to do something different with this month’s article.
Like many other businesses, our Slack channels have been pretty busy lately as we all try to make sense of this new world by sharing stories, articles, memes, announcements, thoughts, feelings and coping frameworks.
Every morning Antony, our CEO, writes a company-wide address to us all. These moments are bright spots in our day and have sparked a deep sense of camaraderie, team spirit and kindness – which is exactly what we need right now.
Here’s a collection of Antony’s addresses, our responses and thoughts, coming straight at you from the Brilliant Noise Slack account.
Wednesday 25th March
Antony Mayfield 8:16 AM
Good morning Brilliant People!
As I said yesterday, one of our mantras is: “the ability to adapt to complexity and change is a competitive advantage”. The only certainty we have is that we can keep taking action, running experiments, looking for the results in data and feedback.
‘Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless because they cannot think new thoughts.’ — Salman Rushdie, ‘1,000 Days Trapped Inside a Metaphor’, NYT Times 1991.
Write a journal for yourself if you get the chance. You don’t need to write it for posterity – though it may be interesting to look back on one day – you need to write it for yourself, to have a conversation with yourself which turns into a story – your story – about the life you are living. You don’t need to have a profound thought or something fascinating to record to write something in a journal. I often try it when I am stuck or in a dilemma or just can’t seem to get something done.
Try it out. Tell a story about your new life. About the new world we might make after this strangeness has passed. The world will be crying out for new stories, for new ways of understanding itself.
May your day be bright.
Thursday 26th March
Antony Mayfield 8:30 AM
Dear Brilliant People,
It’s our second Thursday of being a completely remote working company. We’re getting used to it, whether we like it or not, as the world whirls about us.
It’s complicated. It’s moving fast. That’s OK. We’ve trained for this…
It’s complex. So we take it one day at a time.
The OODA loop concept is front of mind for many at the moment. If you don’t know of it, it’s a framework for making rapid decisions under pressure, developed by a fighter pilot. It has proved useful to people in all lines of work.
- Orient – what’s the nature of the situation.
- Observe – what are the dynamics at play, the options you have.
- Decide – pick a course of action.
- Act – make it happen.
And then you’re back to observe or act, of course. It’s a loop of rapid decision making.
In some ways it could look like common sense, but it’s powerful because it reminds you that even when all your previous plans have stopped working, you have this process to go through. Again and again, as quickly as is useful.
It’s an antidote to feeling helpless, or being frozen by panic. If you or a client or a friend are stuck, start walking it though… “OK – what’s the situation? What are the options? Let’s do one. What has that done? OK, so what’s the situation now?” And so on.
Ed Baker 9:13 AM
On a similar theme – this is really useful.
FACE COVID is a set of practical steps for responding effectively to the Corona crisis, using the principles of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), by Dr Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap
F = Focus on what’s in your control
A = Acknowledge your thoughts & feelings
C = Come back into your body
E = Engage in what you’re doing
C = Committed action
O = Opening Up
V = Values
I =Identify resources
D = Disinfect & distance
Kate Winter 11:37 AM
This blog about an astronaut isolated in space for a year deeply resonated with me. I’ve read so many of the ubiquitous ‘WFH tips’ littered across LinkedIn and my personal socials. But this one stands out. He’s not working from home for a few weeks – he dropped out of life for a whole year.
This reminded me of when I spent a whole year in hospital, during which time I couldn’t just pop out to the shops or for a walk. My parents would bring me in clothes for the changing seasons, and I learnt to realise that the small things – my morning coffee, or the sound of the birds outside – were in fact the big things.
Because of that, I learnt to meditate, and every year now I attend silent meditation retreats for ten days at a time. No phones, no physical contact, no speech – just me.
Hope you all like the author’s tips, I’ve tried to incorporate them into my days when I can. But when I can’t, there’s always tomorrow.
Lou Whitfield 12:13 PM
This was a nice, clarifying read – it’s a great question to ask yourself once in a while.
I like how it’s written in a relatable way, using human language. This talks about personal experience which I’m always drawn to, especially when it’s in a relevant industry context. I also love the inherent advice in it about prioritising and always asking WHY. This is my biggest tool, and has been in my career, so it was nice to see it called out. We should always do this. It gave me some comfort, because it’s a shared experience.
Stephanie Hubbard 13:20 PM
I love this article Lou, especially this bit, which sums up my last two weeks perfectly:
‘After endless news watching on all devices, incessant amounts of video calling for work, endless video calls with friends and family, regular exercise and a strange indoor happy hour with a weird array of leftover spirits at 6pm, I’m starting to grow tired of my desperate scramble for a sense of routine and normalcy.’
I’m scrambling for positivity, and read something somewhere about discoveries and creativity coming from the boredom of quarantine and isolation – Shakespeare wrote King Lear while self-isolating from the plague and Issac Newton discovered calculus (not that anyone thanks him). But it did make me wonder what wonderful stuff will come out of this. It’s like that meme: ‘You have the same hours in a day as Beyonce’. Those of us who are privileged enough to use this time to reassess our lives and be creative should grab it with both hands.
Friday 27th March
Antony Mayfield 8:56 AM
Dear Brilliant People,
The best thing I read yesterday was a passage by MC Bateson. She is an inspiring social anthropologist and linguist who is much respected by systems-thinking scholars. Writing in her book Willing to Learn about the way that we learn each day of our lives, she offers the idea that sometimes we need things not to make sense:
‘[…] It’s confusing, but we have a right to be confused. Perhaps even a need. The trick is to enjoy it: to savour complexity and resist the easy answers; to let diversity flower into creativity. Politicians again and again try to wean people from the effort to understand complexity. They know, for instance, that war is the great simplification that makes it possible to silence dissonant opinions and to decide once and for all that guns are more important than butter instead of seeking a more complex balance.’
Have a bright sun-shiny day, everyone.
P.S. As I finished writing this I got a photo of my Grand-niece, born this morning. My younger brother is now a grandfather. The main thing I am learning from this confusion is that Grand-pappy is all I will ever call him from now on.
Monday 30th March
Antony Mayfield 10:18 AM
This is week three of the distributed, remote-working version of Brilliant Noise. It’s getting easier, and harder at the same time.
Yesterday it was a bright spring Sunday and the flowers were out and I stood in the garden breathing it in. And then it started hailing. And then it started snowing. Not just a few flakes: an actual blizzard. I retreated indoors, stunned by the freezing cold, over-egged metaphor of it all.
The coronavirus emergency dials everything up, throws everything into sharper relief. And then it dulls things and blurs the lines between objects that seemed distinct just moments ago.
We’re swinging between extremes of perception and emotion – one moment motivated, the next powerless. Everything is as complex as a crowded market square at lunchtime, then as simple as a hug in a quiet hallway. One moment you are full of irritation at someone, the next bursting with compassion and love for them. One moment you have all the answers, the next nothing but doubts.
In between those extremes, and all the way through them as well, is you. The you that will outlast that moment and this global crisis. You just have to keep remembering who you are.
We have to focus on what is in front of us and make the best calls we can. How do you know what is right? You need to turn to your values or personal principles and work from there. What’s more important?
Do the most important thing in front of you and forget about everything else. If you don’t know what the most important thing is, then prioritise working that out. If you can’t do that then you need a break. If in doubt, do something kind, even if it is just something kind to yourself like closing your eyes for five minutes and breathing slowly.
You all have my respect and love right now.
P.S. If you’ve not read it yet, the Oliver Burkeman piece on coping with uncertainty in The Guardian’s really good and practical. Lots of suggestions.
Thursday 2nd April
Todd Jordan 9:45 AM
Last night I got thinking about how we’re sitting in our homes, surrounded by books. So I designed a silly game meant to get those books off the shelves. Introducing PAGE RAGE. It’s a scavenger hunt, where you earn points by finding words, and hopefully rediscover the books you may have forgotten. It’s family-friendly (no swears), so if you’re stuck for something to do with your kids, maybe give it a go.
Monday 6th April
Antony Mayfield 7:32 AM
Dear Brilliant People,
Last week was hard for many of us and this week may be even more challenging. Certainly we are entering the heart of the storm, when the most damage will be done in terms of loss of life. The news headlines will get grimmer. I recommend checking in with them sparingly, and taking time to recover afterwards.
Time goes weird in lockdown, doesn’t it? This is the 14th day of the UK’s lockdown, and three weeks since the last time we were all in the office together, almost one month since we did our working from home practice drill. I am counting, even though it still doesn’t quite make sense to whatever mechanism I have for sensing the passing of time. Rationally, I know where we are; emotionally it seems simultaneously that we’ve been here for months, and that we just left the office last week and should really head back in now.
I’ve never been much of a monarchist, but if I was ever grateful for the Queen it was last night, when our national Great Grandmother told us it would all be alright in the end, to look forward to brighter days and that we should be very proud of ourselves for helping each other. Suddenly, as they say, I found some dust had made its way into my eye. It was a simple, concise address, delivered by the ultimate communications pro. Literally no one does it better. (If you’re a fan of The Crown, apologies for the spoilers for the 2023 series.)
On Friday, many of us met on Zoom for Friday drinks dressed up like characters from Mad Men. I’ll repeat what I said then: We don’t know what’s ahead in the next few weeks, but I do know that everyone is playing their part brilliantly right now. When we get to the other side of the crisis, we will have a party and see each other again. Yeah, like her Maj said, “we will meet again”.
Cue the Vera Lynn music…