Isn’t it strange that for all the buzz that the seven original wonders of the world garnered in their day, there’s only one of them left standing for us to marvel at? The Great Pyramid of Giza remains an awe-inspiring look at our past, however, even the nature of the Egyptian’s construction still eludes us (or is a more closely guarded secret than anyone realizes). I find it stranger still that we don’t collectively have more interest in “the other wonders” that are long forgotten. It speaks to a deeper amnesia that I feel we all have relative to simple human responsibilities like carrying knowledge across time. If we were better at doing this, would we have lost principles like the ancient architecture methods that originally allowed such marvelous feats to be engineered?
King Solomon — who some claim to be the wisest man to ever have lived — offered some sage advice for humanity to consider that perhaps we need to dust off and apply for ourselves. He offered the proverb, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” In the age of Covid-19, it illustrates a perspective that’s quite obvious, if true: We must already have the answers to our quandaries!
Unfortunately, the metaphorical keystone of the economy has dropped out of place and we’ve all been too worried about the archway stones falling on our heads to realize that all that’s happened is a slight shift that caused them to fall. Put simply, when the dust settles, we’ll still be left with exactly the same amount of materials we began with (and the stones will be largely no worse for the wear). The only difference is that they’re now in a disorganized pile instead of a functional and balanced construct. States and cities are in crisis with the biggest drop in tax revenue since the Great Depression but, in my opinion, many are looking at the “bricks” that lay before them like foreign objects, expecting someone to magically come by and put them back into place. It’s this failure to act that’s deepening the amnesia.
Back to Solomon’s advice for a moment, though, it’s my contention that the answer we’re seeking is within, rather than without. Brookfield Asset Management’s Bruce Flatt was recently quoted in a Bloomberg interview saying “there’s not a legitimate CEO that doesn’t want their team back in the office” and I couldn’t agree more. In-person communication, collaboration and compassion trumps any level of productivity gain that can be expressed in “the bottom line.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in how much the pyramids originally cost to build or who they were for; I care about their deeper significance. Human interaction has always been the keystone of problem-solving and it’s clear that when we lose these beats for long enough periods, we lose touch.
There’s debate around what shape the global economic recovery will take, but many CEOs believe we’re in for a disruption period that could last two years or longer. Whether this plays out, I’m quite confident that we can expect the next six months to be the most challenging and uncertain that small businesses in this country have faced in 100 years. But this does not have to come to pass if we start taking chances and collaborating with each other again.
Uncertainty can cripple us like we are letting it, but we can also harness it as a catalyst to ignite a harmonious resolution on the other side. Whatever we’re capable of building back toward, we have to at least give ourselves ample opportunity to find out what that is, and that will undoubtedly mean living through a bit of tension on the way.
Being a fervent “Dead Head,” I can speak to the satisfaction I feel after being dosed with a healthy amount of agitation. For those unfamiliar, the Grateful Dead have a formula for their style of music which takes you on a journey from harmony at the beginning, followed by a crescendo into chaos and entropy (filled with sharp tones and confusingly composed sounds), before finally evening out and releasing the uncomfortable tension with a beautiful melody to close. In our corollary, we are in the middle part of the song where we must find a way to enjoy this phase of life with each other, for if we do some hard work with a smile, a shiver-inducing satisfaction awaits at the end.
As the leader of my own company, it’s my responsibility to honor its legacy, while also pivoting toward what is yet to come by capitalizing on the opportunities that exist to redefine value in terms of what that means in tomorrowland. The factual trend is that deflation is the new model of labor and this will reduce our ability to have a relationship in the old system as individual value erodes. So, the new system naturally must be built on a collaborative foundation.
Not to be outdone by The Grateful Dead, a crucial thought to maintaining this ethos rings truest in a line from a recent Bob Dylan song, “I Contain Multitudes”: “I’m a man of contradictions, I’m a man of many moods, I contain multitudes.” It somehow embodies how I feel as I chart the course ahead for those who I’m leading because even if I don’t make the perfect call every time, the wisdom that comes from looking to Solomon’s advice suggests that I won’t get anywhere unless I — and other CEOs like me — decide to damn the outlook of eroding value and decide that the most disruptive technology of all is allowing ourselves to meet, greet and eat together once more, lest we forget how to do that too.