The CEO’s Time Machine
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” —A Tale of Two Cities
These words published in 1859 by the great author Charles Dickens describe perfectly what it’s like living and working through a pandemic (and now protests and unrest). On the one hand, it is the best of times as we are spending more time with our families at home while innovating at work. And yet, it is the worst of times with people are dying, businesses suffering and former colleagues looking for work.
We are reading and watching more and yet don’t always feel like we have the information we need to make a wise choice. Therefore, too many of us feel foolish or ill-equipped.
COVID-19 is bringing us closer together through our beliefs in everything from God and medical heroes to our American right to free speech and entrepreneurial spirit. However, it’s also driving us further apart through mandates, accusations and hate.
While we know there are challenges ahead, we look forward to the bright light of summer. Everyone hopes for a return to normalcy but despairs when we are told this is the “new normal.”
In these times, what is a CEO to do?
Well, I believe that great leaders will “start with the future and work back.”
These are not my words.
They are from a book of the same title by Bruce Weindruch, the founder and CEO of the History Factory. I believe so much in Bruce’s philosophy that it inspired me to write my own book about time travel called The CEO’s Time Machine. In this book, a CEO teaches his younger protege the value of connecting the future to the past. And most importantly, the value of being decisive in the present. As Bruce wrote in the foreword of my book, “Many of the world’s most competitive organizations prioritize initiatives critical to their future success and then systematically work back into their history to pull forward the authentic content that drives employee engagement and innovation.”
If we could travel back in time to 1919 and see how leaders responded to the Spanish Flu, wouldn’t we? The answer, of course, is a resounding YES! In fact, a number of leaders are doing just that! With employees furloughed, contracts canceled and live events on hold for who knows how long, all it takes to travel to the past is an Internet connection. From Lockheed Martin and GE to Coca Cola and P&G, there are a lot of companies who survived The Great War, Spanish Flu, Great Depression, World War II, 9/11 and recessions a plenty. You can quickly find stories online about how in 1918 “the General Electric Company” promoted “an anti-spitting campaign in an effort to check the influenza.” And right in Fern’s hometown of Cincinnati, the current leaders of Graeter’s Ice Cream are inspired by their ancestors. “Don’t forget the Spanish Flu,” says President & CEO Richard Graeter. “My great-grandmother was here for that in 1918. We survived that and two World Wars. I draw strength from knowing that our business has been through all of this before at some point in our history and we’ve survived. That’s inspiring.”
There’s no doubt that the power of live events and face-to-face commerce will survive. Like other companies, Fern survived too.
I believe this is the season of hope.
—Geoff Thatcher is the author of The CEO’s Time Machine and Founder & Chief Creative Officer of Creative Principals, an experience design firm. To learn more, please visit www.ceotimemachine.com