Cool lemonade out of lemons

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Disruption is a term that the world of technology appropriated to describe the various new app innovations that are radically changing the way we live and work. Social analysts even touted the term “new normal” to describe the change to happen.

Enter Covid-19. The unexpected Great Disruptor of our time. Suddenly everything seems to be in disarray. Many of best-laid plans are on hold and need to be reconsidered. The great buzz phrase new normal  is now downgraded to mean social distancing and other health protocols.

In its wake, a young entrepreneur I know has lost millions in his new business and faces millions in debt payments. Another friend has invested the future of his business in a million-peso deal that was supposed to be consummated before Covid-19. Now it is about to be aborted.

But with every crisis is an opportunity, so goes the cliché.

My good friend who was forced to stay home has found the forced lockdown as opportunity to write the story of his life, something he has been planning to do for years. Another senior friend has now all the time to do binge-painting of his favorite subject: his rustic landscapes. Sharing them on social media to provide a distraction and inspiration to friends bored at home, he has been getting unexpected inquiries from strangers who want to acquire the paintings. My friend has turned what was supposed to be a retirement hobby into an income bonanza.

Bingeing on documentaries, I saw this piece about a young French artist, Prune Nourry, who was diagnosed with breast cancer who instead of going into depression decided to make an artistic project out of her term of trial. The result is a moving documentary dubbed “Serendipity.” The film does not take on a somber tone, as one would expect. Instead, Nourry opts to infuse her creative explorations with infectious fun that expands the profundity of her works and invites everyone to come along for the ride.

Serendipity is defined as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” What a beautiful word, a beautiful idea, so apt for this disruptive pandemic.

Like the artist Nourry and my friends I mentioned, we need to find a way to make proverbial lemonade out of lemons, squeezing this life-altering situation for all the imaginative juice we can muster.

We need to be as focused on creation in the face of destruction and to reach out for connection to others. As we pick up and sort the pieces in our now fractured world, we would do well to move toward serendipitous possibilities.

Like I always keep saying the word responsibility is made up of response and ability.

It’s not what life does to you. It’s what you do with what life does to you. What do we do with the time and situation given to us?

It’s really a matter of attitude. Or a mindset that takes stock of the situation and considers what can we do to make something good out of what is here and now. As I always keep saying, the word responsibility is made up of response and ability.  In the face of a long period of uncertainty, how do we respond to what life is giving us, echoing the insight of renowned psychologist Victor Frankl who wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning based on his experience as a concentration camp internee who faced years of hopelessness and despair during World War II.

Frankl urges us to understand, “You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.” In other words, what matters is not what life does to you. It’s what you do with what life does to you.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche writes: “My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it…but love it.”

Amor fati. Not just resign or accept everything that happens to you but find a way to love it. It’s another term I picked up from a documentary about the philosophy of Stoicism. You feel that everything happens for a purpose, and that it is up to you to make this purpose something positive and active.”

We can choose amor fati, to love our fate by first taking control over our perceptions, and then by turning our new paradigm into action. Ryan Holiday writes, “Once you see the world as it is, for what it is, you must act.”

What do we do with the time and the situation given to us now? Let’s turn it around into something good.

Consider the famous inventor Thomas Edison who at age 67, saw his laboratory being burned to the ground. Instead of dropping to his knees and crying in despair, he calmly tells his son: “Don’t worry. It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.” In what could be a major setback, Edison chose to love his fate, no matter what. Not only was he not brokenhearted, he was revitalized. Despite losing over $23 million in today’s currency, he went on to do more inventions and reap more than $200 million!

As someone said: “If it happened, then it was meant to happen, and I am glad that it did when it did. I am meant to make the best of it.”

Remember that sticky note called Post It Note? It started as a failed experiment to create a super-strong adhesive, but someone found a way to make a lemonade out of a lemon. He promoted it not as an adhesive but a reusable, “press n peel” bookmark, and it clicked, generating awesome profits for the 3M company.

Displaced by the great disruptor from our pre-Covid-19 comfort zone, as an artist, as a worker, as a breadwinner, our entrepreneurial mind must kick in.

Black swan events, such as economic recessions and pandemics, change the arc of history and cause shifts in governments, economies and businesses. Some of these shifts will continue on, creating a long-term digital disruption that will shape businesses for decades to come. It also becomes quite clear that this pandemic will serve as an accelerant to innovation. This pandemic will surely spawn entirely new categories of businesses. Already, experts are saying that Covid-19 will fuel the Next Wave of Innovation.

An inspiring example I stumbled into on social media is this enterprising couple who found a way to transform discarded plastic soft drink bottles into appealing containers that can function as flower pots or seedbed for indoor plants. They hit on the idea upon learning that more and more homebound people are getting into home gardening to make use of their idle time. This inventive couple certainly did not just sit on their butts waiting for the pandemic clock to run out.

Since most people have become accustomed to doing transactions online, programming experts may want to invent ways of developing new apps that will make the process friendlier and less intimidating. Where the work force needs to work together remotely, indefinitely, many companies will now be looking to add the human touch digitally to their work place.

Consider face masks. Why not rethink the design so it will not only be functional as a health safeguard but also aesthetically appealing, with an array of design choices to reflect one’s individual personality? Why not make the plastic visor serve as walking statement like a t-shirt used to do?

In disruption is an opportunity. Those who are relentlessly inventive and creative will thrive. Remember the song: “The fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.” The singer stopped there. If he had amor fati, he would have found a way to love the lemon and turned it into a song about a fresh cool lemonade.

So today, some see only the downside and ask “why”? But a few will go and look for that something glowing under the pandemic wreckage and then suddenly shout eureka!

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