Creating “NORMAL” through critical thinking

Humans are, for the most part, very social creatures. After a month of social distancing and living in quarantine type conditions, perhaps the most prevalent question on everyone’s mind is, when will we return to normal?

However, maybe the question that we should be asking is, what will normal look like in the future?

During the past month, people and companies have made significant changes in the way they live their lives and conduct business. Many of those changes have made a positive impact.

So, the bigger question might be, do we want to go back to the way things were?

Because this pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we do everyday tasks, people have adapted. We now have the unprecedented opportunity to do a reset, to look at where we were before the pandemic and identify the modified changes that we want to continue.

So, what will it take to turn this pandemic into a teaching moment? Perhaps the answer is to change the way we think.

Inverse Thinking

One advantage that we have is knowing what life was like before the pandemic. We have a mental record of how we used to do things and how we have changed doing those things. So, as we plan the future, we can eliminate unwanted outcomes.

In the early 1800s, Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi, a German mathematician, used what he called inverse thinking to solve elliptic functions. Jacobi knew that it is in the nature of things that many hard problems are best solved when they are addressed backward.

For example, if your focus were to reduce the number of road accidents in a geographic location, your inverse focus would be to increase the number and severity of road accidents in the region and eliminate those unwanted circumstances from the equation. Inversion often forces you to uncover hidden beliefs about the problem you are trying to solve.

Over the decades, many critical thinkers have built upon his theory for use beyond mathematics.

 More recently, Michael Michalko, a former US army officer, used a variation of critical-thinking techniques that he developed and applied them to solving problems in the corporate world with outstanding successes. He called it “assumption reversal” and has written several books on the subject.

According to Michalko, “You take the core notions in any context, subject, discipline and then—well –turn them on their head.”

Over time, we develop habits and specific ways to do things. Procedural tasks may have started simple and slowly evolved into something more time consuming and cumbersome than intended. By identifying the unintended outcomes of these procedures, we can refine the process.

During this period of social isolation, companies and individuals alike have been forced to find alternatives to the standard way of living and doing business. Postings on social media sites have shown that people are not only resilient but very creative in the way they approach their problems.

One prime example is telecommuting, which has had a significant impact on keeping business operating and people working. Some businesses may have found that they are just as productive with their employees working remotely as they are with them in the office. This forced experiment may have provided an excellent opportunity for businesses to examine the pros and cons of continuing the telecommuting for a portion of their staff. By the end of this quarantine period, businesses and employees will have figured out the best processes for working, communicating, and coordinating projects.

Statistics show that this shutdown has resulted in a 50% reduction in the number of crash-related fatalities in Nevada during March. Also, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is reporting a 20% decline in violent crime, a 28% decline in property crime, and a 27% decline in crime overall.

In addition, due to the decrease in traffic, there has been a 33% decrease in air pollution—PM2 (small particulate matter) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2)—in the Las Vegas Valley since the shutdown. And many major metropolitan cities around the globe are reporting even more dramatic reductions in air pollution and Greenhouse Gases. The photo below is of the Los Angeles basin before the virus and 30 days after the shutdown.

Satellite images of the California coast from LA to San Francisco showing air pollution before the virus and after a 30 day shutdown.

However, not all the news is good news. Las Vegas Metro’s Sheriff Lombardo, during an April 17 press conference, reported a 13% increase (500 additional calls) in domestic violence since the start of the shelter-in-place mandate.

Future Planning

Obviously, things cannot remain shut down indefinitely, and once businesses start opening, changes are not going to happen overnight.

However, because we have solid facts based on the result of the shutdown, we can apply what we have learned, both the desirable and undesirable facts, as we plan our future. A future that will include electric and autonomous vehicles, efficient mass transit, and future technologies that allow us to work independently.

We have also discovered the importance of social interaction and the negative effects of prolonged isolation.

All-in-all, the COVID-19 lockdown has provided an array of lessons to be learned, and teaching moments for future generations, we simply have to recognize and apply them as needed. And, by utilizing the tools of inverse or reverse thinking in our planning process, we can begin to make life-changing improvements with more desirable outcomes.

At Business Finance Corporation, we are always looking for ways to help our clients manage their business finances and improve their business. Even during this time of social distancing, we are available to help. Go to our website or call us at 702-947-3800.