Sense-making what doesn’t make sense

I often joke that Friday is when I can finally catch my breath after a hectic week at work, and survey the damage. With so much context-shifting and decision-making — it’s a head-holding moment of “what the hell happened”? Well, these last couple Fridays (and perhaps into the foreseeable future) this joke has taken a more dramatic and serious note, with various covid-19 (novel coronavirus) global pandemic impacts upon markets, societal norms, sports, school schedules, travel/tourism, office work… and especially upon healthcare systems. This has become a once-in-a-century situation that almost nobody alive today has dealt with before at such spread and speed, prompting a range of emotions, generally in the zone of anxiety / dread / fear / panic. 

My next few posts will try to tackle this with a designer’s lens, especially the impact upon what it means to go fully self-isolated and virtualized when doing the work of design. Aside from “top tips for working at home” — there’s plenty of those already! — there’s an abundance of interlocking nuances & issues worth pointing out when work (or design) is virtually conducted. 

For now, however, I can’t help but recall my own 2020 New Year’s Resolution of selecting three interrelated keywords to focus on for the year, as a fresh way to commence a new year and decade, described in a post here. Indeed, we are in some trying times where those three words I picked — ambiguity, synthesis, and resilience — are now kinda paramount! Who knew?? These words, as I’m realizing now, could possibly serve as a framework for making sense, or at least offer guidance, on how to navigate these anxious, uncertain times.

Here’s an attempt at articulating that below:

  • Ambiguity: We are certainly deep in the heart of being uncertain about what happens next, whether thinking about one’s self, loved ones, our community, general society…or, even human civilization! Swift changes of daily routines amid exponential virus growth curves tend to stoke up anxiety & uncertainty. We don’t know yet how this will all end; even medical experts are learning literally each passing hour. And our own daily lives are changing rapidly, too. So, let’s admit the ambiguity — acknowledge it exists, we’re all in this, but don’t let it overwhelm. Own the ambiguity, don’t let it own you. As adjustments to daily routines occur, regard them as opportunities to experiment, try new approaches to socializing, working, teaching, while recognizing unknown frictions therein. And since we’re all in this together, we can be hopeful of forgiveness from partners & colleagues as we try new thing — and mess up! Turn the ambiguity of “what do I do”, or “how do I do this”, into moments to be creative and learn and respond to the moment. Make the ambiguity productive. 
  • Synthesis: This is about connecting dots, and interpreting information in a way that’s responsible and self-empowering. With non-stop social media feeds and 24/7 cable news, it’s way too easy to get sucked in and then obsess over the ominous anxiety all around us. Hurriedly bouncing from link to tweet to texts to TV show constantly… not good! Instead, let’s be informed about what truly matters, and use that information to prepare as needed, and instill confidence. Connect dots with others via safe social distancing means, virtually over video and yes, even phone calls! Have open dialogues about what’s going on, and how we can help each other and tackle the challenges ahead. And, to further our creativity, synthesize other pieces of information of various sources — as more webinars and talks are becoming freely accessible in this newly virtualized era, let’s take advantage! 
  • Resilience: This is about getting back up stronger and better after minor setbacks — or that’s what I originally thought in those halcyon days of January 2020! I realize now this really goes deeper into a sense of systemic strength amid volatility, preserving one’s own internal integrity — mentally, physically, spiritually — thus keeping yourself upbeat and well, sane. Focused and disciplined. Making forward progress. Again, it’s easy to go adrift with anxiety and alarm. So, keeping certain anchors like daily (adjusted) routines, certain habits like reading/playing music/working out, dedicated spaces (virtual and physical), constant social contacts via virtual means, measuring your progress on goals, recognizing what’s working and good, etc. can all help keep you resilient in the face of uncertainty. 

So that’s how I see those three key words for 2020 working out as a potential framework to address the current situation we’re all in. Hopefully this is useful for you and others.

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