Going Wrong All at Once

Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership


Pandemic Panic:

When things seem to be falling apart, and I am lamenting my bad luck or unfortunate circumstances, I often remember this passage from Anne Lamott’s book, Traveling Mercies.

Lamott relates a story about a train trip, a friend, Carolyn Myss, took. Lots had been going wrong in her life, and Myss had started “whining” to a seatmate on the train. She found out later that he worked for the Dalai Lama. He made this remark.

“And he said—gently—that they believe when a lot of things start going wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born—and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.”

Indeed, the business leaders I know, are quite distracted. They are worried about their family staying safe and healthy. They are concerned about keeping employees safe, healthy, and financial whole where possible. That means, of course, that they are worried about their business both short term and long term.

What Might Be Trying to be Born?

There is no doubt that things have gone wrong quickly. From what I can see, many of the people around me are struggling. So the question we might ask is, what is trying to be born or reborn? The answer will differ depending on who you are and what you were doing before the lockdown. As of April 16th, the Washington Post announced that more than 22 million Americans filed for unemployment since the President declared a national emergency. The actual number is bound to be much higher since people have not been able to apply for unemployment due to the volume of claims to process.

If you are one of those 22 million newly unemployed, I imagine that all you are hoping for is a quick rebirth of the company for whom you worked so that they can call you back to work soon.


If you are a business owner, you are feeling even more isolated than ever. How long can you last with a massive reduction in economic activity? [Update 4/29/20— GDP in the first quarter contracted 4.8%, compared to estimates of a 3.5% drop, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported.] What lies on the other side of this crisis?

We know that some companies are doing very well as their products or services are now in demand. News reports indicate that Amazon is trying to hire 100,000 employees to help meet the demand for shipping products. Several companies I know are struggling to meet demand, keep personal distancing, and deal with supply chain disruption—all at the same time.

There are new opportunities. An independent merchandising and retail consultant I know was getting ready to leave an exciting project since it was nearing completion. Then the pandemic hit. The customers for the retail salon space began calling and saying they didn’t want to be in an open salon setting, and neither did their clients. Luckily, construction was not quite finished, and since there were no clients due to the lockdown, the company pivoted, broke the open salon spaces into closed in suites, and retained their customers. They also had the foresight to forgive the rent for salon spaces during the lockdown. My consultant friend is managing the new project, and the salon owner now has a competitive advantage.

Business Model Rebirth

I am expecting that I will see a lot of process improvement during this downtime. I hope many businesses will get caught up with their documentation. I believe I will see those who are willing to step back and look for new ways to use technology to keep employees engaged, will have a competitive advantage.

Many of us have been at this lockdown thing for more than six weeks now. What lessons have we learned that will keep us ready for a possible resurgence in the fall? What permanent changes can we make to take advantage of the new ways our employees are using collaborative technology? Sadly, we will lose many small businesses, and others will consolidate. How will we take more market share when we are back in business?

What “something big and lovely” is trying to be born in your world?