Wikipedia [See note 1] says that ever since JFK said that the Chinese character for crisis was a combination of the characters for danger and opportunity, we have accepted that as the literal translation; however, the actual translation of the second character is more nuanced, meaning something like change or inflection point.
As a sustainability author, I really like that. Saying this is an opportunity is somewhat cold and calloused; however, I do think we may be at an inflection point: there are some things that will not return to the same old way we have done things, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. There are three choices we are making now to bend the curve of coronavirus infections that I think we will find so compelling that we may want to continue them. They all happen to help us live in more sustainable ways, but they also will save us two very valuable commodities: time and money.
First, telecommuting and virtual meetings. A lot of companies, government offices, colleges, and universities have been forced into telecommuting. They may be surprised to find that telecommuting is extremely feasible for most information jobs (call centers, data entry, admin tasks, accounting, software development, training). Even leadership/management jobs (planning, coordinating, financial management) can be done remotely, especially if you can touch base with people with video chats and emails. Think about your current day-to-day interactions. How much of your work involves computers, phones, or meetings? As you are probably finding out, all of those tasks can be done quite well remotely.
But what about connecting face-to-face? Replacing face-to-face with virtual meetings is a choice I know very well, as a college professor who teaches “hybrid” courses (combining online and in-class students in a single meeting time) and meets virtually with students as far away as Bosnia or Indonesia.
Video is wonderful at creating “presence” and can be used on almost any smart phone or computer with an internet connection. For technology, I really like Zoom for larger groups because you can set up “breakout rooms” for teamwork (which is also very useful for strategic planning and committee meetings); however, I use Skype for smaller meetings. There are a lot of excellent virtual meeting spaces out there and any virtual meeting platform will serve.
It will be interesting to see whether we choose to retain some of these new habits once this crisis is past. Hopefully, business leaders and managers will get spoiled with the extra time and money from this hiatus from the workplace and, after having to organize and manage work remotely, will realize that they can trust employees to work from home. Think of the benefits! There is more time to work and more time with family … savings on gas and reduced wear and tear on vehicles … better quality of life and reduced stress from avoiding traffic jams … and for our environmental enthusiasts, reduced carbon footprint. I don’t expect businesses will allow everyone to stay home all the time, but I am hoping that businesses will realize that this is a great benefit to offer employees. Every day at home is a 20% savings on gas and a reduction in aggravation, and after using this forced time at home to test innovative ways of communicating, tasking, and updating co-workers on workflow, leaders will see that this new way of work is effective and want to continue this.
Second, online k-12 schooling. With statewide school closures (some until the end of the academic year), many school systems are activating or expanding online instruction to replace classroom instruction. Although a challenge to parents, there are actually some positive aspects of this development. First and foremost is the possibility of what we in the educational arena call “variable time on task,” meaning that students can spend enough time on a task to master it. Working online at home, especially with their parents monitoring, allows kids to learn what they need to learn really, really well. Parents, working one-on-one with their kids, have an advantage over a teacher who is responsible for thirty kids and are more apt to notice if their child isn’t “getting it.” Then, they know not to move on to something new without making sure their kids get more practice. Students who do “get it” can move more quickly through the content and parents can add more intellectually challenging work for them. A balance between challenge and success is essential for sustainable learning.
Furthermore, parents are the “subject matter experts” (SMEs) on their own kids – they know what makes their kids perk up and sparkle and what makes them whine and resist.
Involving parents in their kids’ learning puts parents’ expertise to work where it is most needed. Parents can look for how they can make learning more enjoyable for their kids. They can reframe lesson examples using topics their kids like – like using a sports example for math problems, or a Marvel comic hero character to explain science concepts, or Wonder Woman to explain history. Whether kids are struggling or sailing through content, all of them need fun stuff to learn and fun ways to learn or they will start dragging. Knowing what their kids enjoy helps parents find the fun in learning. Kids will thrive!
After parents spend some quality time helping their kids learn, it will be a game changer if the school systems will leave up the online learning when kids return to the classroom. Parents could use this new understanding of students’ strengths and weaknesses to point them towards online resources to help them succeed throughout the rest of their education. A combination of teacher instruction, parent coaching and online instruction can be tailored for each child or teen in order for them to fully achieve their potential.
I heard a good news story on Glenn Beck that illustrates how innovation can make a difference in treating and saving patients during this crisis.
Glenn was interviewing a nationally-renown psychiatrist, Dr. Brian Epstein, who recently wrote an article, “How to Stop the Virus Now.” They said how astonishing it was that, just within the last 24 hours, three new coronavirus tests have been unveiled, one with results within 2 hours, one with results within 30 minutes, and one we can do ourselves and can be analyzed within 15 minutes – a real game-changer. Read Dr. Epstein’s article to see his intriguing idea for we can do now that we have these rapid tests.
In another amazing innovation, last week Glenn talked about a hospital in northern Italy was running out of some essential ICU valves that would have crippled their ability to treat patients. One medical person knew someone who knew someone local who was able to 3D print the valves to fill that need immediately.
I had just heard about this technology in two audiobooks, Abundance and The Future is Faster than you Think, both by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kottler, in which they describe some truly amazing, almost miraculous things that are being 3D printed (uniquely fitted prosthetics in 24 hours, spare parts in space). The authors believe this technology is poised for creating stratospheric change (so to speak). This is also an incredibly sustainable development – providing Just-in-Time (JIT), specifically tailored products that reduce waste, delays, and need for inventory space, saving resources and money. More innovations like this are likely to happen to meet the urgent needs that arise over the next couple of months. The benefits are immediate, but they will also have lasting effects, improving our lives. We will all benefit now and in the future.
On a lighter note, this morning I saw a video of a drone taking dog for a walk. Yes, the person probably could have benefitted from the exercise while still practicing social distancing, just as the dog did, but it is a reminder that the drones are coming.
This crisis will show the value of drone technology for everyday activities, as well as emergency use in unsafe places. In the future, there will be opportunities to get supplies or medicines to remote areas, as well as delivering dinner and packages. From a sustainability standpoint, anything that reduces traffic and fuel will also have a beneficial effect on the air quality and help save non-renewable resources for future generations, without sacrificing our own ability to improve the world through our own, God-given, special gifts.
These examples barely touch the surface of all the innovations arising from this crisis. The American way of work is the most innovative in the world, and we are at the cusp of many, many inventions that will make things more sustainable for people, the planet, and prosperity.
So, yes, this is a crisis that we need to get under control as soon as possible; however, we are finding creative adaptations to this temporary reality that are really and truly effective. They should be continued after we have found treatments and vaccines, and the coronavirus is in our rearview mirror.
(Note 1: Yes, I know Wikipedia is peer-written and not peer reviewed, but it can be very useful, and we all use it, don’t we? This definition is from the Wikipedia article on the Chinese word for “crisis