By John Graham | Guest Column

“The comfort zone is the dead zone,” says Mike Manes, a business consultant in New Iberia, Louisiana. If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that an unseen, but deadly, force kicked us out of our comfort zone.

Although the pressure is on to put the coronavirus behind us and get businesses up and running, it would be a mistake not to learn from this horrendous experience. Here are four takeaways for business:

We’ve found that going it alone is an illusion

Almost instantly this year, everyone became sensitized to those around us, perhaps like never before. At our condo community, for example, there was concern for neighbors we didn’t even know. We were keeping tabs on one another. We went from being individuals living under a common roof to being members of a community.

Yes, there were outliers. One demanded that the pool be opened because it was why she bought here. But something good happened. Most the voices quieted down and we discovered we are not just an accumulation of individuals. We not only had an investment in a property, we had one in each other.

We’re more creative than we thought possible

If there’s anything we need to put behind us, it’s the talk about the “new normal.” It’s nonsense. Just a few months ago, the nation’s offices emptied almost overnight and millions were WFH and haven’t missed a beat. The crisis unleashed their creativity. Now many say they aren’t sure they want to go back to the “old normal,” including their bosses.

An equally impressive example of creativity occurred a few months ago, when the governor of Ohio, wanting young people to stay at home and practice social distancing, turned to Ohio-based Procter & Gamble for help.

Almost instantly #DistanceDance, featuring an original dance by Charli D’Amelio, went viral with its stay at home/stay safe message, reaching 17 million or more views, posting of videos and setting off a world-wide phenomenon.

To say the least, the governor got far more than he expected. It shows what happens when we turn on our creative juices.

We’ve faced up to our own ignorance

It’s been a long dry spell since we last got excited about scientific knowledge. It may have been when we planted our flag on the moon 50 years ago. Then, out of the blue, we were hit with the coronavirus, which left us not knowing what to think. What followed has been an unending flow of technical information. It was then that it struck us that we were far more ignorant than we dared to think possible.

As it turns out, that was good news. We figured out, finally, that ignorance is not bliss – far from it. What we don’t know can not only hurt our health, but harm in other ways as well. For example, we are beginning to understand that customers are deeply interested in doing business with companies that reflect their values and concerns. All along, we thought they liked us and what we sold them.

The virus has taught us guessing in business leads to trouble. Or, as Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker points out, how easy it is to “surrender to the cognitive bias of assessing the world through anecdotes and images rather than data and facts.” And then wind up in trouble.

We’ve discovered what it means to be grateful

Why did it take a pandemic to become aware of those who work every day to support our lives? The number is shocking. It’s not just physicians and nurses, but the faceless and nameless people who deliver our packages, fix our cars, make appointments, answer our questions and stock the supermarket shelves.

Why has it taken a pandemic to make them visible? Arguably, many are underpaid. But without them, we wouldn’t make it until Friday. Yet, what’s so amazing is that they have been putting their lives on the line for us every day. The least we can do is let them know we recognize they exist by speaking up on their behalf.

Even though the experts had been warning us for years about possible pandemics, we didn’t hear them. Then came the coronavirus, the greatest calamity to strike the world in at least 100 years. Nothing has ever made such a total impact on our lives, plans, dreams, and most of all, the future. COVID-19 was a slap on the face. All along we thought we were in control of our own destiny.

As I was writing this on a summer’s day, right outside my window was a squirrel darting about picking up nuts and racing up a nearby tree to store them away for winter. Unlike the squirrel, we assume the future will deal us a winning hand. We expect tomorrow to be better than today, as if we’re owed it. Squirrels don’t make that mistake.

The coronavirus is relentless as it continues its devastation and pain. Even so, it won’t have won if we are smart enough to take advantage of what it can teach – can make a difference in how we think, plan, work, and live. •

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategy consultant and business writer. Contact him at jgraham@grahamcomm.com or johnrgraham.com.