Welcome to the April edition of the Uncharted Insider.
What is there to say about COVID-19 that hasn’t already been said? Do we have the capacity to digest any more predictions about the new normal? Do we have the appetite to read through another newsletter that starts with “Our Response to the COVID-19 Crisis”? The amount of content out there is making me feel oversaturated. So, similar to last month’s Insider, I’m pursuing a different approach in this April edition.
On Not Doing Enough
When I read the newsletter emails from peers and partners spelling out their “Response to the COVID-19 Crisis,” my psychological reaction is quite similar to the neighborly comparison of “keeping up with the Joneses.” There is this vague need in me to prove to the world that Uncharted is doing enough, and perhaps through the prism of that insecurity, I find myself asking spiraling questions: “Are we doing enough? Look what they’re doing!”; Maybe we should be doing more?”; “Why aren’t we?”; “Have I failed?” My mind circles this fear of missing out, of not doing enough, of somehow falling short during a crisis like this. But I’ve found answering a different question has brought me some peace: “When I look back on all of this one day, what can we do now that will make me proud then?” It is a question that de-centers the fear of not keeping up and re-centers the acknowledgement of our human place amidst all the frenzy, and it calls us to respond in the best way we know how.
Our Response to the COVID-19 Crisis
Just kidding. After all of that, you didn’t think I would immediately leap into our wildly impressive, glossy, and must-forward-to-your-network response, did you?
That said, we are using this moment to make an internal change by restructuring our organizational chart and reimagining how our team collaborates and coordinates. I will confess that this restructuring feels like we are performing deep surgery on ourselves through a reshuffling of roles, reporting structures, communication patterns, and the crafting of an “essential intent” of each role and department. It has not been easy. It’s not going to win us any press and doesn’t neatly fit into a MailChimp template, but I am placing a bet on how a tighter and focused organizational structure will make us far better at our work next week and next year. If we look back one day and say that actually the COVID-19 season was the best long-term thing that ever happened to Uncharted, I believe it will have been because we restructured the internal human and operational system. I’m proud of our team for trusting the process and letting go of the safety in our familiar status quo. Each day they are choosing to lean into an unfamiliar future with the firm hope that on the other side of this complexity, there just might be simplicity.
On Speed and Forgiveness
Like most of you, I am a human, which means on some days I take constructive feedback well, and on other days I find myself defensive when receiving feedback. Sometimes feedback goes down rather smooth, and other times it feels like chewing on raw, dry broccoli. But I've noticed that in the last few weeks, my eagerness for feedback has grown and my defensiveness around feedback has shrunk. This is not due to some spiritual epiphany or enlightenment in me, but rather due to the environmental conditions I find myself in. In a fast-paced environment where decisions come quickly and mental acuity is paramount, defensiveness impedes necessary progress and clouds judgment. When we are forced to move fast, somehow it seems more possible to assume a self-forgiving, open-hearted posture to our mistakes because we simply don't have the luxury of stewing on things. Once we’re out of this state of emergency, will our egos and defensiveness have more room to show up again? I wonder if there is a way to insert this “buffer of grace” into moments of less urgency.
On the Purpose of a Company
This crisis is raising a simple but essential question: “what is the role of a company in its community”? Maybe the best place to look for an answer to this question is the Small Town Small Business (STSB). These STSBs have written the playbook on what a company’s role and responsibility ought to be to its community. If you walk into your STSB and realize you left your wallet at home, they’ll loan you the milk on credit. If there is a family passing through town whose car has broken down, the STSB mechanic will likely bring their tools and expertise to help out, free of charge. If you’re planning an important community gathering, the STSB coffee shop will stay open late for you.
Perhaps the biggest companies have the most to learn from the smallest ones and the most scalable solutions have the most to learn from those who are least scalable. STSBs hold clues for any company seeking to understand what role it should play in its community, how it can deploy its expertise, its resources, and what it might look like to redefine the relationship between company and customer, such that a company does something as preposterous and edgy as the equivalent of loaning milk on credit! What would a STSB do? That’s where we need to start and we shouldn’t stop until we’ve redefined the social contract between employer and employee and company and community. It’s time for our institutions and organizations to view their roles more expansively and to look holistically at the opportunities for humanity in their spheres of influence.
How you can help
- As we restructure our team, it's giving us the chance to return to the basics of how we collaborate and coordinate. We are looking for practices, tools, routines, and recommendations that achieve the following trifecta: high coordination, high efficiency, high togetherness/belonging. What is working for you?
- We’re looking to be inspired by websites that aren’t just 2x better, but 10x better. What company websites just totally blow you away? Send us the exemplars.
- Homegoing: This is the best piece of fiction I’ve read in 10 years. It is a story of oppression, heart-break, and how the human spirit is gritty, forgiving, and vigorous in its ambition. This book will make you cry, but it will also situate this moment of COVID-19 into the vast expanse of a multigenerational human experience.
- 38 photographs of social distancing around the world. Here.
- Portraits of isolation from around the world. Here.
In this Great Pause, I’ve been noticing things I haven’t noticed before. There is a squirrel that traverses along the peaks of my north fence-line, bounding forward on his mysterious mission, flicking his tail, nervously glancing. There is a minor construction project underway down my alley whose plodding progress on those midweek afternoons is marked by the intermittent buzz of a saw and the zoom-click-click-click of an electric drill completing the final tightening of a screw. There is the morning sunlight as it divides and redivides my living room in swatches of warm glow: first it frames its own empty portraits on my gray walls, then it colors the leafed canopy of my cloistered houseplants, and then finally onto my hardwood floors as it makes its morning creep. There is the outstretched bend of a lone, regal plant that lives on my hutch. This floral companion has proven itself resilient to my negligence, leaning towards the dining-room window 10 feet away, seeking the sunlight as its trusted partner in survival and photosynthesis. And if I sit extra still in my rocking chair on the back porch, there is the fastidious work of a small sparrow who shuffles about in my mulch, collecting the supplies needed to renovate her nest that perches on the limb of my neighbor’s adolescent maple tree. These are some things. I'm sure there are others too; I just haven’t noticed them yet.