Creating in times of crisis

Photo by D Ross

What does it look and feel like to create in a crisis?

Like clockwork each week, three strategists hop on a one-hour Zoom call. It’s very early in Malaysia so one is drinking Diet Coke to wake up. It’s evening in Washington, D.C. where another has a glass of wine her husband pours for her to unwind from the day. For me, it’s late-afternoon. I’m contemplating whether to bike, run or do yoga after we hang up.

The pandemic impacted each of our businesses. But in quite different ways.

Since the outbreak, our D.C. colleague has worked nearly around the clock on Covid-related projects. She and her teams sped from inception to launch of a website that puts vital information at the fingertips of African community health workers — the front line in stemming the spread of the virus. Necessity may be the mother of invention but it was the shear force of creation that brought the Covid-19 Digital Classroom and its resource-rich website into being. Moreover, they did it in ten weeks instead of the usual 26-40 weeks.

Yes, there is a global pandemic. Yes, we are reckoning with racial injustice. Yes, we can’t ignore reality. Reality, however, includes the natural urge to create. Not just as an artist would. But as a parent, an entrepreneur, a journalist or a first responder does. Comforting a baby, designing a new product, writing a story and tending to the ill are all acts of creating.

“There is a deep longing to create that resides within the soul of humanity.”  – Robert Fritz, author of Creating

We create in the everyday. Therefore, we create in a crisis.

To create in a crisis, know what you want, not just what you don’t want

What people often overlook is the value of knowing what they are creating. It’s simply not enough to know why we don’t want the thing we don’t want. Imagine if the Covid-19 Digital Classroom team had stopped there. There would be no online tool today. Imagine if they hadn’t stated that the final product needs to be ready in ten weeks. It would have taken them six to nine months.

The urge to fix something that isn’t working implies a future state that is different from the current state. That’s obvious. What isn’t so obvious is the importance of being clear about where exactly you want to end up. Having clarity instills a natural tension-resolution system. That works to your advantage. It fuels your actions and pulls you forward. You create to close the gap. You create until the gap is closed. Then you have … your creation.

The baby that now sleeps.

The product that saves energy.

The story that elicits empathy.

The treatment that saves a life.

Feel what you feel, and keep going

I’ve felt ongoing waves of emotion, starting with the pandemic, growing into widespread economic uncertainty and now resounding in a national drumbeat for racial justice and police reform.

At the same time, I’ve challenged myself to make intentional choices about what I want to create in this unique time window. I co-facilitated forums with women leaders, had candid conversations about race in America, coached a story skills workshop, hosted a political candidate forum, guided the design of a new internship program, did weekly planning sprints with my niece, re-committed to Spanish language studies, deepened my meditation practice and created new routines to promote harmony at home. I also navigated my mother’s medical treatments from afar, filed our taxes and modulated my news intake. Next on the horizon is a deeper dive into structural dynamics, and designing an interactive workshop to teach leaders how to make the changes that perpetually elude them.

These times are trying and testing, for sure. Some days, we feel a surge of added pressure at home. Sometimes at work (or without work). Almost daily we’re reminded of tension on the streets in our communities and beyond.

No matter how good or how bad things get, we are creators. Of things small and of things grand. From the simple to the sublime. The mundane to the noble. We don’t cease to create in times of crisis. Quite the opposite. We attune to new realities. We adjust. In times such as these, we may even adjust our values and therefore the vision of what we want to create. That’s a good thing.