Jerks hurt.

We are going through a very large jerk.

There are roughly two theories about how evolution works.  Charles Darwin, who wrote the book on evolution, was a believer in gradualism, slow change over millennia.  For many years this was regarded as scientific fact.  But if this was the case you would expect to see a record in fossils of small incremental change within a species.  But fossil records don’t always back this theory.  Darwin explained this by saying that there were gaps in the records.

One hundred and so years later, in 1972, evolutionary scientists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge suggested that Darwin had got this wrong.  They considered that the gaps in the records werent’ gaps but were real.  That not everything evolves gradually but that long periods of little change are disrupted by sudden huge change.  They termed this mode of evolution “punctuated equilibrium.” This means that species are generally stable, changing little for millions of years.  This leisurely pace is “punctuated” by a rapid burst of change that results in a new species.

After a huge scientific row, this was resolved by most experts into an understanding that both gradualism and punctuated equilibrium were true.  This became known as the theory of creeps and jerks.

We are going through a big jerk now in business.  Many business practices that might have changed over a period of months or even years have changed and changed suddenly.  Change that might have taken 5 years to bed in is happening fast, over a period of weeks.

One obvious example of this is the way we are all now conducting meetings.   Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts have all been available for meetings for years.  Conducting a global meeting used to mean jumping on a plane.  Now any of us could be in a meeting with colleagues anywhere in the world in the next half an hour.  Now we are all working globally.  One senior exec has said that he is having more meetings now than he ever has because the team are usually at airports, out to dinner or on a plane.  Now, with everyone working from home, its easier to arrange meetings and in some ways its easier to get closer to colleagues and team members than ever.

It is now well recorded that in some respects media behaviours and attitudes are changing at a widespread and unanticipated scale and speed.   Some commentators are saying this is human evolution turbo-charged.

Darwin also said that it’s not the strongest or the most intelligent that survive, but those most responsive to change.  The ability to pivot, to react and to take advantage of the opportunities of this crisis is currently crucial.  This is easy to say. No-one currently knows when or how we are going to come out of this.  It isn’t going to be easy or quick for economies to recover, for new business models to stabilise.

This isn’t like previous crises.  We are living through history being made.  What happens next isn’t about returning to normal any time soon.  A new normal will emerge, but for now we are operating in the new abnormal.

Now is the time to begin to re-imagine what the new abnormal means for your business.

As industry expert and WPP global president of business intelligence Brian Wieser says: “Now is a time to re-invent, to rethink, to optimise the forest not just the trees, a moment of reset the growth agenda to come out stronger than ever.”

The goal, tough as it might seem right now, must be to frame the new developments, and tech and digital adoption as an opportunity for the business and to get closer to customers.   This is what leaders need to focus on – what can we do to reframe and re-imagine and not just what must we cut.

Jerks are painful, more painful than creeps, but teams that are resilient enough to navigate them will get through these difficult times best.

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