Published 27-March-2020

The Corona Virus has given you ‘Future Shock’

The shock of rapid change brought about by Corona Virus. Can you cope?

In 1965, Alvin Toffler was asked by Horizon magazine to write an article about our un-readiness for the future.

In it Toffler introduced the world to the term “Future Shock”, to “describe the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time,”

In 1971, in his book “Future Shock”, Tofler explainedthat the accelerating rate of change in society was outstripping the “limitedpace of human response” resulting in “personal and psychological, as well associological, consequences[1],”by people’s “premature arrival at the future”.

Whilst Tofler’s specific concerns seem very out of date to us now, the experience is very much real. You may have seen the 6 minute film made in 2006 from a PowerPoint presentation by Karl Fisch: Did you know?/Shift Happens[2]. It went viral on the Web in February 2007.

Today the shock has accelerated to light speed with the Corona Virus. It has almost overnight created a new normal, one that changes almost daily. The shock comes from three sources:

  1. The change required to everyday behaviour,
  2. the change to expectations of the future,
  3. The change to the predictability of the future.

All of these cause psychological distress in most people the broad response to which are:

  1. Denial: I am going to carry on doing what I always do.
  2. Self-protection/Panic:Panic buying, aggressive behaviour towards others, anger towards the government.
  3. False Hope: It will all be over in a couple of months.
  4. Fear of loss- of life, of loved ones, of livelihoods and expectations.

The good news is that there are steps that can be taken to bring these understandable responses under control. The steps are ‘simple’ but not easy. They aren’t easy because they require us to change our behaviour and most people find that a hard thing to do. But your mental wellness and may be your life, or at least the quality of your life, may now depend on it

Step 1: Acceptance

This isn’t acceptance of the reality of today: The way things are now and how they will be tomorrow. The timeline of expectation needs to be drawn in to the next 48 hours and deal with what is in front of you.

This is the Stockdale Paradox: Based on the experiences of Admiral Stockdale[3], and requires a mind-set of confronting the brutal facts and dealing with them whilst believing that things will get better.

"You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose —with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."

This also addresses false hope. Optimists don’t survive. Fallacy based deadlines and expectations destroy resilience when they don’t happen.

Step 2: Making the current reality better

Now we are confronting today and tomorrow we can start to make it better.

The mechanism to deal with rapid change which has been largely overlooked is Ross Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety, eloquently explained by Dilts[4] as:

“...the more complex and variable a particular system becomes, the more flexibility and variety is required to manage those changes”

So, the brief answer is that we must be more flexible in our behaviour to be successful: the greater the change, the greater the flexibility required. However, we can turn this into something more directive and prescriptive.

Ashby calls stuff that changes a system, Disturbance. As the level of Disturbance increases, to be successful, it must be responded to with an increasingly wider range of behaviours. Flexibility requires creativity, innovation, experimentation and trial and error to find a successful response to the disturbance.

This applies to your personal life and to your business.

Step 3: Faith in the future

Being successful in the first 2 steps creates a strong resourceful platform from which to build belief that the current status will pass and things will get better. The trick here is to believe in better, but not to believe in a future that is tightly defined. So believe that when this is over you will go on an awesome holiday, but don’t set any specifics that could lead to disappointment e.g. don’t have ‘false’ hope.

This is also part of acceptance. Accepting that the future you expected may not happen. For example, believe that you will go to university, but don’t expect that it will be when you originally intended-because that might change if it's September 2020!

Step 4: Get Help

This may all be tough to do on your own, so try and get people around you to help.

We have reached out to our network of specialists and are ready to help you Survive & Thrive.  So whatever your support needs, we either have it or can help you find it. From software tools to innovative services, products, behaviours & strategies.  

Connected Intelligence - Connecting you to Smarter

- James Bryant

[1] Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, p2 Bantam Books
[4] Dilts, p47, The Law of Requisite Variety,1998