Day 24

Day 24

Writing the titles for this series of blogs has been pretty straightforward, obviously.  Writing it today I had a sense of it coming to an end soon. Slightly melancholic feeling, which is weird after wishing the time away.

The Lockdown will probably end to be replaced by another form of restriction, but the Lockdown blogs will end with Level 4 ends. OK!

The sharemarket – as if its a being – appears optimistic about the current economic prospects. Shares have largely rebounded strongly, not regaining all the gains of the last few years, but quite a bit of it. Investors are seeing signs that COVID-19 as a medical issue is largely dispatched, and the economy can fire up again. Yes it’s more complex on both fronts, but I think that’s the perception.

The government led us strongly into economic freeze to stop the ‘rona spreading. It will say there’s still lots to be done, but by the look of the amount of traffic on the streets today, many people have stopped listening. Business is coming back ready or not I think.

I went on a walk again today, a long walk, Maungakiekie and Cornwall Park, Te Kopuku/Mt St John and Maungawhau/Mt Eden. The body needed a big workout to match the mental energy this past week and it paid off.

Do watch Unorthodox on Netflix which I finished tonight. If you don’t need to wipe your eyes you might be a sociopath! It’s only four episodes.

Although there’s quite a few things I like about the Lockdown, I do miss the weekend drive, the coffee in the cafe and riding my motorbike.

So the challenge is to hold on to new ways whilst grabbing back the best of the past.

Leaders can make this their mantra in the refreshed world in a week or two.

Stephen

Day 23

Day 23

Who would have thought that almost the entire New Zealand inside is painted the same colour – more or less? Or that it took only 2 days and everyone started wearing Saturday morning sloth clothes?

I started the day on a video call – Hangout as Google calls it – with Ireland, and then it never really stopped until about 7.15pm. You see lots of the inside.

Working days at home on constant calls I’ve found really quite tiring, so I was tempted to break the walking chain. Of course not! But it was only 3 km and now I’m watching Unorthodox.

It’s the story of a young woman who escapes from her Hasidic Jewish Brooklyn community and goes to Berlin.  She’s taken in by a group of musicians. It flashes backwards and forwards from her old life to her new one: charming, funny and poignant all at the same time. It’s only four episodes so it’s a pleasant change from ten episodes in Sweden about a series of murders orchestrated by those high up in society!

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We’re all living out of our normal environment right now. When you’re outside your norm you can learn unexpected things about yourself. I haven’t minded at all the  non-contact. I’ve enjoyed the meetings that start promptly on time. Everyone gets heard. I’ve lived in a more structured manner, and enjoyed it. I work less in the evenings and weekends than I ever have. I walk a lot. I eat better. It’s okay, but the economy can’t survive this indefinitely, or much more at all.

Brandenburg Gate In Berlin. Germany

The finance minister said today at the 1pm briefing that the government had paid $9.8b in wage subsidies. We can’t run an economy for much longer by borrowing. So let’s hope the projections of the 2 weeks in Level 3 then down to the working level – level 2 – turn out to be true. By the way, why is the 1pm broadcast orchestrated like a piece of propaganda? The flashing banners to dob in companies about prices, the STAY HOME! warnings, the repeat instructions telling us what to do and not do. That might be newsworthy but it shouldn’t be pumped out as instructions. That’s not the media’s job. But I forgot, we’re in a national state of emergency. Is it supposed to feel like this?

So whatever the level, I think us knowledge workers will still be working from home for some time yet.

It won’t be so bad, in fact the new environment is an ongoing opportunity for personal growth for all of us.

Have a great weekend. I’m thinking about a COVID-19km walk.

Stephen

Day 22

Day 22

Sadly, my trip down to Christchurch to do a surprise visit for Mum’s 89th birthday got cancelled by Air NZ. Well, I’m sure Air NZ didn’t want to cancel it but they have no choice as we’re not permitted travel until Alert Level 2 is here. So Mum will have to see in her 90th year just with Dad, which will be just fine!

Mum’s been bottling fruit  since 1952 – 67 years  – as long as her and Dad have been married, and there’s no bigger fan of it than Dad who loves it with his Tip Top Boysenberry ice-cream. On our annual road trip in January, Mum picked up some apricots from the place just on the edge of Cromwell as you head towards Queenstown. I enjoyed a bottle of it tonight, slightly warmed, with some Vanilla Ice-cream. Perfect. I’ve been eating it, not regularly, but all my life. I remember the annual bottling ritual when I was a boy – it’s been apricots, peaches, plums (off the tree), pear and stewed apples. Despite the sugar that I recall going in the big vat, it must be alright for you!

If you’re ever at Mum and Dad’s the bottles are safely stored in the cupboard in the laundry. It always seems full, despite them eating it for breakfast and dessert every night. Just don’t go there at night-time because the cat is locked up in there, heated bed and all, safely for the night.

Apricots all eaten up

During the Lockup it’s definitely been a time to enjoy home pleasures and of course home-cooked food. There’s not much else. But growing up I don’t remember much else either. There were occasional visits to friends, rare fish ‘n chip nights and even rarer meals out. Nowadays, they’d never been a week, or in fact hardly a day, when I wouldn’t eat out or at least purchase out.  So maybe it’s not so bad for us all to have some, hopefully, home-cooked nutritious meals. Who knows, it might keep the ‘rona away!

I walked twice today – total 16.5km – and there’s little doubt that La Résistance are firmly in control of Cornwall Park. The security guards on duty have gone from stern occupying sympathisers, to silent, but benevolent supporters. Never have there been so many smiles and acknowledgements from passing walkers. Yes, we’re in this together, but we’re also in this– our democratically empowered exercise – together. If we have to choose, it’s the walk, so don’t mess with us!

There’s been some weird stuff in the park. A well groomed small man with immaculately trimmed barista style beard and hi-vis vest hurtling down the road from the peak of One Tree Hill on his tiny cycle, to skid sideways to a halt just before the barrier; a woman who I knew but couldn’t remember her name who claimed to have a gun to ward off runners who came too close; selfies with bulls; a child out of control on her balance bike down the hill in the wet, smiling all the way; people with masks protecting their chins only; golf; one man soccer games; and skate boards that go up hill (I need).

When we get out of our motor vehicles, play, interact and stop being busy and important, real things happen. This isn’t new to me, but like the ‘rona is said to compress the mortality rate of those most at risk from 12 months to 2 weeks, the Lockdown has compressed these great pleasures into a few weeks.

Can I say keep it up! Well the walking yes at least!

By the time you read this it will be Friday. Enjoy your dessert. Only two people will have it as good as mine was tonight.

Stephen

 

Day 21

Day 21

We turned 21 but we didn’t get the Key! Battle lines are being drawn between experts.

One group, who advise the government, says that the risks of COVID-19 can’t be understated, that Lockdown is vital and we’re so far doing precisely what we should have been doing to eradicate the virus from New Zealand.

On the other side are experts who say that the risks for most people are overstated and that the main impact of the the virus is to compress the mortality of a certain group from twelve months to two weeks. They say that we can’t ever expect to eradicate the virus, that’s just not practical.  Of course, there’s more to it than that but these are the highlights (or lowlights really).

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The first group will be saying that at Alert level 3 there should be severe restrictions on movement and that a return to level 2 should be measured and slow, ensuring all risk is eliminated.

The second group essentially proposes a return to level 2 now, but with Lockdown applying to those over 70 (or maybe 60) and those with low immunity.

One of the specialists from the first group suggested that this proposal was impracticable. I doubt it’s any more impractical than what we have! Which is not to say he was wrong but it’s hardly a fighting argument.

Naturally group two has the support of many business people who say that the medicine is worse than the disease.

Adversarial processes are used commonly in law and in parliament. They promote a “winner takes all” approach to settling a dispute. As the economy and society hemorrhage from the Lockdown we’ll see more of this advocacy.

Good leaders build consensus and in my experience, business leaders are generally excellent at it. Command and control has its place – including during a state of national emergency – but consensus will be far more sustainable in the long run.

So it’s an odd situation. We have a government that built a consensus across the political spectrum to go into Lockdown. This Lockdown was built on evidence that was available at the time – 80,000 will die if we don’t respond – and that we would be the next Italy if we didn’t take action.

A few weeks on a lot has changed. There is little doubt that the measures have squashed the curve. But we’re more or less being given the same evidence – the dementia patients dying has been cited as why we can’t relax. I know this sounds harsh, but the majority of those patients have “Do not resuscitate” orders against them. These are folk who, sadly, their loved ones have made that very tough decision about. I’ve been involved in one of those decision. You do what’s right.  These folk do not represent or crystallise a real and present danger to what the majority in the community might face. They do explain why we need to flatten the curve so hospitals are no overwhelmed. We’ve done that.

The toughest calls are not always what you do. In my work sometimes we make calls not to go for something. They’re really tough and you fight against all your commercial instincts to do what’s right. That’s not in anyway to compare the gravity of the calls that might need to be made, however, leaders need to know when not doing something is right.

I remember when the fourth Labour Government put an end to shopping restrictions in the weekend. I remember clearly the great feeling of freedom that, finally, here was a government that wanted to stop telling us what to do!

I’m hoping for a grand consensus and freedom for those who need it, and relevant restrictions and, yes, use some of that $52B in emergency funding, and pay whatever it takes to keep those most at risk safe and secure.

Too much sitting at my computer on video calls have started to take their toll. Some soreness in joints that shouldn’t be there so I’m going to try and take a day time walk tomorrow. The walking jacket is now always on hand. The summer walks are over.

Let me out!

Day 20

Day 20

I almost broke the chain of blogs today, but no way. I could hear the 1pm press conference echoing in my ear – STAY HOME AND WRITE! – or something like that so lucky I’m compliant.

I had a call with someone outside work today who reckoned that I was just a featureless blob on the screen. I blamed the sun streaming in behind me but she didn’t let up and insisted we find another option. I was concerned that I’d become either featureless or a blob or both but I checked the mirror and I found features, admittedly in two degrees, but that’s the nature of a mirror. Later on we had a telephone call.

It might also be that this third week – three weekends in – has made us all a little stir crazy. Since school, have you ever felt so dependent on another adult for what you can do in your life? Will we get out? What will we be able to do once we get out? Can we go home early after PE? Okay so maybe the last one really was school, but you get the drift.

As I said on the D-Day Home-D blog, Freedom is my most important value. I don’t care much for unnecessary control as a consequence, so the dangling, the hope, the scolding, is all a bit much at times. But hey, we may, if we’ve done the right things, have 8 days to go until the worst is over.

There were four more deaths today. A nurse on Checkpoint this evening texted in and said that the annual influenza cuts through the elderly in rest homes in much the same way as COVID-19 does when it takes hold. A podcast of a Saturday morning interview by Kim Hill with Dr Chris Smith, a UK virologist was replayed tonight (yes I’m boring). Dr Smith said that they expect the death rate to be significantly lower than currently described once the data is in on the very large numbers of people with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic. The story of this virus will have remarkably different headlines in three years time than it does now once full information is known.

But governments can only be expected to act on data that they have available to them at the time. When they data shifts, the politics of owning the decision suddenly make it more challenging. That’s fascinating, especially given that we’ve all been under the impression that most key decisions were political, when in fact they’re not.

There’s a leadership learning here and relevant to leaders everywhere.  Have you put so much leadership or political capital into a decision that to change course unbalances the ship?

It truly was a winter’s walk tonight – 14 degrees –  dark, wet and cold and that chain, the walking chain, stayed intact too, although it was only 4 kilometres. The police approved I’m told.

And it’s Wednesday already! Plan for that last weekend – or maybe don’t just in case it’s not.  After all, Saturday week is ANZAC day and we might just sneak out and make our own freedom parade if we’re not ordered to stay home!

Stephen

Day 19

Day 19

It was a day of Nineteens. 19 new or probable infections of COVID-19 on day 19 of the Lockdown. Another death bringing the reported COVID-19 related deaths in New Zealand to 5, although we don’t have any information to know for certain the underlying cause of death in each case, but you could probably guess it wasn’t COVID-19.

It really did feel like Summer was over today. Maximum temperature 19 (really!) and squally winds on the walk. Now the real test of walking and keeping the chain going begins. It’s all well and good to walk when the weather is agreeable, but with daylight saving gone, walking is likely to be in the dark and possibly cold and wet at times. I’m up for it. Just don’t catch a cold – it’s going to be the most unsociable thing you can present with for the foreseeable future. And that’s a good thing. I very much consider that if you’ve got a cold then you STAY HOME! Some good might come from all of this.

It was nice having this long weekend, despite no ability to go away – it was good to have a break from an intensive period at work – made more challenging by working from home so intensely. Colleagues reported they were exhausted at the end of the week. The video conferencing seemed to be the common theme.  At one stage during the weekend I got excited that the end of Lockdown might be in sight, then I felt that I’d miss the new way – it’s added a lot of different energy to work, then this afternoon if felt like a grind again. Tintin in The Crab with the Golden Claws helped. If you’re a scholar of Tintin you’ll know that this is the story where he meets Captain Haddock. Blistering Barnacles!

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For most if us we’re not meeting anyone at the moment and there’s massive uncertainty for some. What does a person on a work visa do, when their job is a risk? How do they repatriate to their home country? Do they want to? How many people are getting laid off right now? It’s pretty grim for many folk and it brings into perspective my reality.

I’m privileged in that it actually hasn’t been too bad for me so far. I’ve been able to try and imbed some new structures in work practices that I’m finding useful. My shiny boots and business clothes – well they’re taking a big break! STAY IN THE WARDROBE! Will we have changed the way we do business permanently? Or will we get back to the norm and wonder why we were being so dramatic over a few weeks of disruption.

We were told today that we’ll get told next Monday – a week away – what the new level and restrictions will be at the conclusion of the 4 weeks. Of course nothing might change, but I think it’s inconceivable on the current trajectory that we stick with the status quo. The economic and social imperatives, when cases are so low and connected deaths limited to the main vulnerable demographic only so far, must move us forward.

Well let’s hope so. When power is held by any one leader, it must only be used to the absolute minimum necessary, regardless of how well intentioned the use of that power is.

Enjoy the short week!

Stephen

Day 18

Day 18

Jerry Seinfeld attributes his success as a comedian to one particular habit. As he was developing his career, every day he wrote jokes and when he’d written the joke or jokes, he crossed the day off on his calendar.  Seinfeld called it “not breaking the chain”. No day missed.

Last year, having retired from running a couple of years before, I got more serious about walking for fitness. When I got to the end of the year I noticed on my app that I’d done about 325 walks in 2019. So close but yet so far to one a day. So I decided to make a go of it in 2020.

I’ve been asked why I’m so particular about logging every walk on my app. It’s the crossing off thing. I make a habit of it and the little sense of achievement drives a behaviour that keeps me walking. A quick overnight to Wellington? Pack the shoes and clothes and I’ll almost always find the time for few kilometres around the Capital. The benefits are obvious, but benefits alone don’t create beneficial habits.  I “bank” some days by walking more than once a day- although I don’t allow a longer walk to be split – no gaming the system! And there’s a minimum walk distance too. I can use those banked days when it’s just not possible – unexpected travel, long working days and so on can occasionally get in the way. So far that’s been only twice this year and I’m well ahead.

So the Lockdown has fitted very well into this routine. In fact, out and about walking these last couple of weeks has brought another dimension to the habit. Everyone seems to be in the habit all of a sudden.  Regular walkers, like runners and cyclists are a  friendly bunch and you can always count on a greeting being exchanged. When the Lockdown started, the newbies didn’t seem so certain. There was the two metre thing of course, but also could the ‘rona fly if you said Good Morning.  I noticed this weekend it’s become friendlier and more relaxed. As we head down towards freedom again, wouldn’t it be great if some of those families, couples, singles and groups who’ve made a habit, kept it going? They won’t unless they have a system.

Keep the daily walk going by not breaking the chain

This “not breaking the chain” is laid out in Cal Newport’s Deep Work that I read earlier and I’ve referenced a couple of times already during the Lockdown in the context of the Facebook amnesty and Deep Work.

When I combine a set amount of time for deep work with a daily “don’t break the chain” habit for that deep work, I’ve found a winning formula for doing what is meaningful. I realise this sounds quite obvious and it’s tempting to think “I could do that if I needed to” which is a little white lie I can tell myself. If you don’t need to do meaningful work – deep work – regularly, what do you need to do? It certainly isn’t clearing emails, filling in forms and signing off stuff – yes we need to do it, but it shouldn’t be a priority – which is where a habit for what matters comes in.

So when the Lockdown was about to start, I challenged myself to write each day on this blog. I’ve never been able to get regular with it, but I thought, make some good out of a situation and see if I can create a habit. The new insight about this chain I’ve noticed after 20 odd days, is the “skin in the game” principle that’s made it a decent challenge and kept me going. This is a blog that I try to keep authenticity in leadership at its heart – so it’s important for me that I stick to that principle. No abstract blogs, it’s my experiences combined with my own reading.  Put another way, no going through the motions. If it’s worthwhile creating a habit for, do it with integrity – some skin in the game – you won’t always get it right, but better to give something a crack properly than skim the surface. Save that for clearing the emails.

One chain we do seem to have broken in New Zealand, if we ever had it, is COVID-19. Eighteen cases on day 18. But there’s a new statistic – breaches! Hopefully that fades away real quick. And what about Iceland – they’ve tested a massive percentage of the population and found 50% of those with COVID-19 didn’t know! Asymptomatic, which begs the question about how widespread the virus is, and how really impactful it is on some people only. There’s a full story yet to be told.

But one story still going is my blog chain – unbroken for the Lockdown – although I could cheat and “bank” the three I wrote before the actual day (couldn’t I?) and  I’ve walked 122 times this year. I can’t tell you how many kilometres or the police might show an unhealthy interest!

Stephen