Surviving the campsite in the COVID-19 crisis

Reflections of 40 days, travelling this unexpected landscape

by Anthea Smits, CEO The Difference Incubator

All of a sudden, 40 days ago, the world as we knew it changed. For us, it was like our house had burnt down and we were on the run. We were feeling grief and pain and loss. And a lot of confusion. We did a bloody good job of crisis management in the first 2 weeks, but then we started to lose our rhythm. We were still trying to run, but we didn’t know where. Everything was urgent but we lacked clarity about what to prioritise next.

Two weeks ago, I shared with the team an analogy of a campsite. I reflected that our house has burnt down and we are struggling to reconcile the shock and the grief of all that is happening. I shared with them that I’ve been thinking that we need to set up camp, for now while we figure out how to reinvent for the new normal. We have a temporary place of residence and it’s not what we would have chosen but we can create from it. So, for the past two weeks, we have been focused on getting the campsite set up, trying to work out where stuff goes, who’s sleeping where and how to trade out of a tent.

We will rebuild a more permanent structure some day in the future but at this moment in time, I have no idea how far away that is or even what this structure will look like. We’re reticent to rush there, because we know our answers will not dig deep enough.

We don’t know what we’ll be taking with us or what we will be leaving behind. For now, what I do know is that we’ve got to get this campsite in order and work out what it looks like to trade from here.

To survive and even thrive in the camp site there are a number of things we’re finding helpful…

Grieve for what has gone

Firstly, I’d really encourage you to acknowledge the pain of your loss and allow yourself to grieve. This has been such a big turning point for me personally and for a lot of our team. We’ve spoken to numerous entrepreneurs over the past 40 days and the constant cry of, ‘I’ve spent the past four years building my business and ‘poof!’ – it evaporates in its current format overnight. It’s not fair. It’s really tough. We get it and we get the personal sacrifice involved in building business, so it feels even harder when you’ve worked so hard. When I finally allowed myself to grieve a couple of weeks ago, I stopped resisting the change and I’ve started to find my place of centre again. I don’t like what’s happening but I’m no longer resisting it and I’m seeing more opportunity in it too.

Getting the campsite organised

Next we needed a game plan for how we would survive the current situation. That began with looking at the facts and an assessment of how this directly impacts us. For TDi this meant that we had to radically rethink our model where 50% of our business was off-shore  with a face-to-face delivery mode. A solid short-term survival plan allowed us a little security of knowing how long before we run out of cash.

We then thought about our temporary business model for this COVID-19 world. We asked questions around ‘what do our partners and customers need right now and how can we be responsive to this?’

We’ve also begun to name our ‘campsite’ projects. These are the things that will help to strengthen and even reinvent our work into the future.

Who do I want to be in this?

We are traditionally creatures of habit, so when our world has been turned upside down, it makes us feel completely off-centre. We need to give ourselves time and space to acknowledge this. We need to slow down and think about who we want to be in this time.

Who you will be in this season is reflected in how you perceive things, how you behave and respond. Identifying the areas that we want to grow in is the first step. We then need to  build new rhythms and routines to support that behaviour. For some people this has meant turning off the news and Facebook feeds, for others this has meant a rhythm around meditation or yoga.

For me, it has meant a search for alternate voices and stories of hope, stories of the resilience of the human spirit. I have returned to stories from my spiritual heritage and of writers whose works I’ve followed such as Brené Brown, Rebecca Solnit, Margaret Mead among others. Their research on leadership, vulnerability, resilience and hope have helped me build a narrative of personal hope and resilience in this moment. This helps me to lead our team with an attitude of ‘This is tough but we’ve got this’.

The New Normal

When the COVID-19 situation first began I had many conversations which began with ‘when we return to normal’. I thought ‘are you serious?’. We left a world in March that we are not returning to. We don’t know exactly what the new world will look like but we are learning to adapt to new and different ways of working and communicating. COVID-19 offers us a beautiful and unique opportunity to reinvent and create a new normal. At TDi we’ve been having lots of conversations and finding co-conspirators in conceiving the possibility of a new world where we get to set the rules. I love the quote by Arundhati Roy, which beautifully sums up the gift this moment offers us.

“Historically pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred.. Our dead rivers and our smoky skies. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
–  Arundhati Roy

The topic of the campsite during this time particularly resonated with our webinar attendees, so we’ve decided to share the recording with you below.

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