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Redefining “normal”: surviving and thriving in a pandemic

Kirby JamesAre you waiting for everything to get back to “normal”? There may be no going back.

Since the pandemic began, what we consider “normal” has been stretched and contorted in ways few would have foreseen. And yet we’ve adapted. Just how well is another issue.

In “‘Normal’ is a mindset,” the first of three keynote sessions at WSPS’ October 21 Partners in Prevention Health & Safety Fall Virtual Conference, speaker Kirby James zeroes in on how to embrace the current reality and adapt to changing circumstances.

In a conversation with WSPS’eNews, Kirby noted that navigating these unprecedented times has brought out the best in many of us. But as the pandemic continues, it has also caused stress and emotional hardship.

“In pre-pandemic days, I would ask an audience, ‘How stressed are you?’ If 30% were stressed before the pandemic, now it’s 50% or more.”

One of the consequences of pandemic-related stress is that people become short-tempered, angry and more easily distracted. At work, distraction could compromise personal safety and productivity.

It doesn’t have to be this way, said Kirby. “We can do more for ourselves by working on our mindset - the way we think and the way we interact with what the world throws at us - than we can almost anything else.”

“Resilience” is core to surviving and thriving in a new normal, Kirby continued. “We need it on a personal and organizational level. We can’t hold onto the way things were.”

In his conversation with eNews, Kirby cited a McKinsey report defining what factors contribute to organizational resilience.

By tracing the paths of more than 1,000 publicly traded companies before, during and after the 2007 economic downturn and subsequent recession, McKinsey found that about 10% performed better than the rest. McKinsey calls these companies “resilients.”

In the three years preceding the downturn, the resilients slightly underperformed compared to their sector peers. However, in the early days of the 2007 crash, the resilients began to outperform their sector peers 12 to 18 months before the reference group (S&P 500) had reached the bottom of the crash. In other words, the resilients had returned to pre-crash levels while the competition was still falling. By the time the recovery was in full swing, the resilients’ performance at times was close to double that of the reference group.

“They entered ahead, they dipped less, and they came out of it with guns blazing,” McKinsey said.[1]

Noteworthy characteristics among these resilients included how they prepared for troubled times, how they responded during these times, and how they came out of them. “Among the attributes,” said Kirby, “is that they nurture healthy optimism. When we’re all going through a tough time like we’re in right now, resilient organizations suffer too. What differentiates them is this idea of nurturing healthy optimism and a culture that is constructive rather than aggressive. These organizations go on to achieve 250% to 300% greater performance within the first couple years after recovery than similar firms in their industry sector.”

Given that organizations are just people working together, Kirby believes that resilient people can follow the same trajectory during and after times of crisis. “ ‘Normal’ is a state of mind and is constantly changing.”

The time to work on this is now, said Kirby, while we’re in the midst of the pandemic. “Individuals and organizations that decide to focus on nurturing a better mindset and a better culture after the pandemic is over will have missed the window of opportunity".

In Kirby’s “‘Normal’ is a Mindset” session, he will explore what it takes to embrace adaptability and how to practically change our relationship with the idea of normal.

Participants will also receive a link to a helpful online tool that can help them unleash their potential through resilience.

1Martin Hirt, Kevin Laczkowski and Mihir Mysore, “Bubbles pop, downturns stop,” McKinsey Quarterly, May 21, 2019;