In a New York Times editorial today, Neil Irwin commented that surprising ripple effects we see as result of this current Covid-19 crisis “tend to result from longstanding unaddressed frailties.” He goes on to remind us that issues we ignore during the good times can emerge to haunt us during the down times. None of that is really eye-opening news, but it serves as a reminder of things we tend to ignore in our daily lives.
In my April 4th post, I listed four components that house the main issues in our lives: challenges, values, resources, and safety/security. Mr. Irwin’s comments caused me to think that I might expand on that post. Those four elements serve as cornerstones of a systems model in the shape of a tetrahedron (a pyramid with four triangular sides) called a Pyradigm. I will pose a few sample scenarios to demonstrate how the system can be used to speculate on the impact of strengths and weaknesses in the cornerstones.
Scenario #1: Imagine that you are financially overextended; your resources are essentially depleted but you are able to keep things afloat. You are meeting the challenges in your life…but just barely. The things you seem to “value” drive you to make financial commitments you can’t really afford. As you continue to “live on the edge,” you ignore the threats to your “safety/security” cornerstone. You're living paycheck to paycheck, but you tell yourself, “it’s ok,” you’re managing. Covid-19 hits! Your income drops. What now?!?
Scenario #2: Your company has been doing very well. You have good financial reserves and a good reputation with the public. Currently, and over the long haul, you have not really valued your employees beyond paying minimum wages and offering a few other meager benefits. The demands of the job are high. You have had a consistent level of turnover but that has been built into your financial plan. The profits gained through your low wages has more than offset your employment costs. Covid19 hits! You’re lucky because you are considered an “essential” business. Because employ health and welfare are low on your “value” list, you take minimal action to protect them from infecting each other as they continue to work in close proximity to one another. As time passes, rates of Covid-19 transmission within the employee ranks far exceed local and national averages. Your plant must be shut down. What now?!?
Scenario #3: Your company has done well. You could have increased profits by holding employee pay and benefits down, but you decided to take the high road. Your focus was on the “safety and security” of the company across a broad platform. Because you “value” your employees as people, beyond their abilities to produce for you, you have created financial and physical safeguards. They love working for you and can feel the value you place on them. Covid-19 hits! What now?!? You are not considered an essential business and must close your facility. You choose to continue to pay people and provide benefits. Your employees are willing, and looking for ways, to provide some level of service to the company. Everyone pulls together. This is no guarantee of future success, but at least you have a fighting chance.
In scenarios #1 and #2, frailties that had been ignored had the potential of creating real problems under the stresses imposed by Covid-19. Scenario #3, on the other hand, demonstrates that effectively paying attention to all four cornerstones offers at least some capacity to meet the challenges associated with the serious challenges like Covid-19.
You might consider taking a hard look at the strengths and weaknesses in each of the four cornerstones in your life, or your business. The Covid-19 challenge might have already brought some of those to the forefront. If not, be proactive and get a head start. As you find "frailties" in your cornerstones, consider the impact on each of the other three. They will all be affected in one way or another...some more than others. Think about how one or more of the other cornerstones might bolster, or eliminate, the frailty you found.
As an example, imagine that you found you have a weakness in your Resources cornerstone. Specifically, that you don't push your customers/clients to pay in full at the time of service and you don't stay on top of your accounts receivable by notifying clients of past due amounts. Your resource deficits are the result of avoiding the Challenge of asking for what is due you. That avoidance might be the result of your failure to Value your work, your fear (Safety/Security) that asking for payment will upset your customer, subsequently hurting business, or something else.
As you move through the system looking at this situation, consider what is happening at each corner in response to what is happening in each of the others. This is not simply a complicated problem where you bring your expertise to collect data, analyze it, and come up with a solution. This is a complex situation where the relationship between cause and effect is really only seen in the review mirror. There are unpredictable emergent issues, which require responses but are not understood well enough yet to be avoided.
The Pyradigm model does not provide answers but does help you probe the system for possibilities. You probe, look at the outcome, and create your response.