Be Exothermic: a Blueprint for Thriving in a Post Covid World
by Paul Asel
Last week was a reawakening of sorts. A four-hour drive for my first in person business meeting since last March seemed a minor inconvenience after a lockdown that included nearly two months of quarantines. The CEO greeted me in the lobby and assured me that all employees were vaccinated. I offered the same assurance. The masks came off like a cicada shedding its exoskeleton after emerging from its seventeen-year hibernation.
Our discussion felt both novel and natural reaching baritone depths unattainable in Zoom’s tinny medium. While video calls expand the range of remote work, there is no substitute for in person meetings when forging relationships, exploring partnerships, or making irreversible decisions.
The CEO wore a company t-shirt with a phrase “Be Exothermic”. When asked about its meaning, he brightened and claimed it as the first tenet of their company culture: radiate energy. Dynamic companies, he believed, are those with employees who emit energy and give more than they take.
Be Exothermic resonates and reflected well the effusive energy in the office. It also captures what companies may hope to achieve in their transition to a New Normal.
Meetings — Insight & Serendipity
“Be Exothermic” never would have emerged in a video discussion. The shirt and lettering would not have been visible. Sure, videos are replete with virtual backgrounds and symbolic props, yet our discussions are more clipped as attentiveness wanes quickly online.
We often learn more about people by the company they keep and books they read than by what they say. Company décor, layout and interaction can speak volumes. Does the office have buzz? Are employees engaged and enthusiastic? What do their interactions tell us about teamwork and company culture? Do they talk in the “we” or “they” pronoun? How do they respond when the CEO walks past? What values are conveyed through company décor? Does the layout suggest a flat or hierarchical organization? These observations may determine whether and how one proceeds with an engagement.
Reaffirming Culture & Commitment post-Covid
Most companies acquitted themselves well during Covid. They have treated employees well and found creative ways to build culture virtually. We have made the best of a tough situation, but our best efforts are leaky. People get distracted, teamwork frays and company cultures dissipate with remote work.
“Be Exothermic” resonates more in challenging times. Exuding enthusiasm during plentiful times is easy. COVID has been exhausting and enervating. Exothermic energy is a rare element during crises.
COVID disrupted company and personal norms. Our search for a New Normal may unleash a period of creativity around the hybrid workforce and reconceive the Future of Work combining the best of remote and in person work. Our first task is to reaffirm personal commitments and company culture. Only then can we redesign work for efficiency and effectiveness. We must form and norm again before we can storm.
Leadership in War and Peace
“Be Exothermic” speaks to the importance of intangibles. In Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth showed that grit is often the best indicator of future success, particularly when overcoming adversity.
COVID was a crucible moment for companies and nations. Many CEOs have demonstrated resilience, resourcefulness, and persistence through COVID. At NGP we encouraged CEOs to “Survive and Thrive.” We have profound respect for teams that endured plummeting revenues, repeated cost cutting, and painful pivots, yet are emerging battle hardened with optimism for the future.
For those companies that have survived and won the war, the task of thriving and winning the peace is no less daunting. History shows that winning the peace differs from winning the war. Winston Churchill presided over Britain’s ‘Finest Hour’ during World War II, yet Britain turned to Clement Attlee to rebuild the country after the war. Mahatma Gandhi won freedom for India; Jawaharlal Nehru crafted an independent nation. Mao Tse Tung brought a Cultural Revolution; Deng Xiao Ping laid the economic foundation for China’s meteoric rise. Nelson Mandela led the Apartheid movement; Thabo Mbeki oversaw national reconciliation in South Africa. Lech Wałęsa led the Solidarity uprising that dismantled socialism; Lech Kaczyński rebuilt Poland as a democratic country.
Traits adaptive for surviving differ from those of thriving. As aging software assumes technical debt, prolonged stress weighs on organizations. Companies must rebound quickly as a new generation of startups await COVID survivors.
“Be Exothermic” applies well as survivors turn to the task of thriving. The vaccine has relaxed lockdown restrictions and brightened our future. The protective armor that enabled companies to survive must be shed to move quickly and thrive. Nimbleness and optimism to capitalize on new opportunities may augment the grit and persistence needed for survival. Be Exothermic.
Acquiring stakeholders is the essence of entrepreneurship. A successful entrepreneur attracts talent, partners, customers and capital ahead of its time. The ‘reality distortion field’ for which Steve Jobs is known is an inherent trait of entrepreneurship. An optimist turns a glass half empty to a glass half full. A great entrepreneur takes that one step further and with sleight of hand and mathematical chimera turns a glass three quarters empty to three quarters full.