Keep your friends close, especially during a crisis. Over the past few months, I’ve been reaching out to members of our global organization, The World Innovation Network (TWIN), to learn how they’ve been navigating. Special thanks to our friends in China and Italy for their insights.
It has been daunting and inspiring. Adjusting to quarantines, helping loved ones in hospital, keeping businesses alive, the challenges and benefits of home schooling.
A few days ago, I shared here in Forbes my Estonian friends’ Hack-the-Crisis initiative, created in one day, now with thousands of participants. Since then, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland have responded with their own versions. Hack the Crisis Finland launches tomorrow. (Shout out to Jussi Tapio and Miikka Leinonen at Ghost for co-hosting.)
Zoom Views From Italy
Yesterday morning, I was blessed to spend a Zoom hour with friends at H-Farm, the leading innovation and digital ecosystem in Southern Europe. Our confab wasn’t as fantastico as savoring an espresso on their bucolic campus near Venice, but to be under quarantine and share an audiovisual cue-filled chat was somehow profound. Crisis or not, I couldn’t have flown to Italy for a one-hour meeting and been home in time for lunch.
We explored how this crisis has been impacting their families, friends, Italian society and themselves.
My family and I have only been self-isolating for 10 days. Our friends in Italy have been at it for weeks. H-Farm partner Tomas Barazza, shared, “We in Italy are a bit ahead of your curve there in the US. We’ve been where you’re heading.”
Cartoons With Circus Clowns
We all noted a rapid change in political tone. Italy and the US have recently shared what my Italian friends referred to as “circus clown” politics. Barazza recounted that as the crisis intensified, “People weren’t willing to accept the fierce fights between the parties. I don’t remember a situation in Italy where people where not debating. This seems like a window of opportunity.”
For the US, as well. In the past week, the White House and Congress have come together around dramatic measures drafted and passed within a matter of days. Imagine that happening just weeks ago.
Should we in the US have gotten serious far earlier? “Absolutely!— though we took time to adjust, too.”
Moriella Kowalski, an expert in innovation culture at H-Farm, illustrated coming to terms with the severity of the situation. “Even if you didn’t believe this was a big deal, at some point it became like in a cartoon where one person isn’t going with the crowd— then they’re swept up in it and can’t do otherwise. We all just entered the stream of things.”
Our Digital-Analogue Reset
Everyone on our call expressed concern and hope for younger generations. Matteo Scanni, editor of H-Farm’s beautiful thought leadership publication, MAIZE, explained, “This is the first time in contemporary Italian history we won’t have nationwide exams. Teenagers are discussing. They’re angry.”
Kowalski compared this generation’s predicament to her past experiences. “This generation has the online advantage. I lived through the first Gulf War in Israel. I was 18 and was facing final examinations. We all spent weeks alone at home. We didn’t have Netflix, Zoom— anything.”
Paradoxically, Italy’s digital generation appears to discovering the value of life offline. Scanni relayed, “It’s tough for digital people, as it’s not a screen. ‘Real’ life is different, and now they want it.”
Isolation offers all of us a digital-analogue reset. One is not ‘better’ than the other. They’re different and complementary. We’re blessed to have a far wider range of ways to experience life. This crisis offers us new ways to experience and explore the worlds we’re creating.
“Everybody Needs Air”
As people became swept up in the fury of the situation, they— correctly!— began isolating themselves. With more time to consume news, “everybody starts looking at the numbers, every morning, every hour. You become attached to the numbers,” Barazza lamented.
They advised making it a priority to find time for non-business conversations with friends outside of your quarantine. Barazza prescribed, “It’s refreshing to think and talk beyond the crisis.”
Kowalski offered the most poetic and crisis-apt advice during our Zoomalogue: “Everybody needs air.”
For my Italian friends, “air” means social interactions on any platform about anything but crisis news. Pleasant distractions, serious conversations about the future, how this experience might change us, further afield topics from art and culture, even philosophy.
Through the years, I’ve often found that my Italian (and French) friends are more likely to connect their professional and personal lives to philosophical considerations. Their humanistic education is far better than ours in the USA, something I’ve always admired.
Philosophy infused our conversation. Under isolation, humanistic reflection has become more present for them. Scanni offered a perceptive syntax:
“This crisis is interrogating us in a more spiritual way.”
Let’s explore Matteo’s provocation. Because of the ways our perceptual, cognitive apparatus operate, experiences elicit arrays of possible questions. Some we recognize and confront, others we fail to note or ignore.
‘Normal’ life elicits normal questions. Crises incite new thoughts and alternate realities. Many can be distracting or dangerous, while others might suggest greater futures. What questions will you address?
Beyond the pandemic’s health implications, our challenge becomes mindfulness regarding thoughts, reactions, fears and hopes. At your most tactical and essential level, this means focusing your attention. How might you use these upended days to re-order and re-focus?
William James, who coined the term stream of consciousness, described attention as, “taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought.” (James is one of my heroes. Consider him part of your quarantine reading list.)
Curate Your Attention— And Gratitude
Our attention is one of the few components of our universe over which we— arguably— have any control. Curate your attention with care. Doing so will generate unexpected returns post-crisis.
In this spirit, H-Farm and TWIN Global will soon be sharing 5-minute video messages from our friends around the world. It will be a series entitled Afterwords (available here late next week). Not about the crisis, but insights beyond.
During our conversation, I found myself tearing up. Everyone noted how inspired they’ve been by how many people have been “willing to risk their lives to help.” Healthcare professionals, grocery store workers, public officials and security teams, even neighbors. It is to them we owe greatest thanks.
Mortal challenges can take us down, bring us together— or both. It’s up to each of us to attend to what might matter most, and to provide thanks and love in abundance for our friends worldwide— in person or otherwise.