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How Aristotle Can Help You Lead Your Business Through Tough Times

Aristotle

How Aristotle Can Help You Lead Your Business Through Tough Times

Business leaders face plenty of questions as they try to get a handle on the new economic reality brought about by the COVID-19 shutdown and the resulting recession.

But the answers to those questions may not appear in their corporate handbooks. Instead, they could lie in ancient philosophies with lessons that apply just as much today as they did centuries ago, says Cristina DiGiacomo (www.cristinadigiacomo.com), author of Wise Up! At Work and founder of MorAlchemy, a philosophical consulting firm that helps CEOs and executives tackle their biggest challenges by teaching them how to think differently so they see new solutions and their companies thrive.

“We could all use a little wisdom these days because COVID-19 has caused a shift in the way people think, the way people work, the way they live and how they think of themselves,” DiGiacomo says. “Technology may change, culture may change, but acting wisely is no different in the 21st century than the 5th century.”

Too often, when people hear words like philosophy and wisdom, they conjure images of a bearded man on a mountain, with enlightenment seekers trekking to see him, DiGiacomo says.

“In reality, the philosophers whose teachings changed the world were the kind of people who rolled up their sleeves, got to work, dug deep, and spoke up despite hardship, resistance and even threat of death,” she says. “Their views aren’t some abstract idea but have practical applications in today’s world.”

So, if Aristotle, Socrates, Voltaire and Immanuel Kant opened a corporate consulting business, here are a few things they would tell you about moving your business forward as the world tries to recover from COVID-19:

Don’t be rushed into rash decisions. Voltaire said “doubt is an unpleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” Sometimes CEOs feel the need to make quick decisions, perhaps to avoid seeming indecisive. That’s not always the best approach, DiGiacomo says. “Are you making critical decisions, with long-term consequences, on the fly without actually having developed your ability to deliberate?” she asks. “Our reactionary mind wants us to set it and forget it, so it can move onto the next thing.” Resist that temptation.

Avoid letting your “darkest moments” color reality. Immanuel Kant, among others, believed your mind shapes and structures your experience. “Your mind influences to a very large degree how you see the world and how you feel about it,” DiGiacomo says. “Those things you say to yourself, in those darkest moments, are shaping your reality. But it’s entirely possible that those thoughts you have about what you think reality is might not always be true.” She says it helps to “hit the pause button” and make sure the situation is what you think it is.

Say “I don’t know” even if you think you know. The country faces uncertain times over the next several months, but that’s not unusual, DiGiacomo says. The future is always uncertain – coronavirus or no coronavirus. One of her favorite quotes from Socrates is: “I know that I know not, and that makes me a wise man.” DiGiacomo says being in “I don’t know” mode releases your mind to discover new solutions and ideas. “If you constantly believe you know everything,” she says, “then there’s no impetus for your mind to be creative or continue to look for new information.”

And finally, DiGiacomo says, Aristotle offers encouragement for business leaders who are afraid they aren’t up to the task of making wise decisions. “Aristotle’s foundational idea of being human is that we are all wise, inherently,” she says. “It’s just a matter of tapping into that innate wisdom and building the skills that will help you to not only be wise, but to act wisely.”

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Cristina DiGiacomo (www.cristinadigiacomo.com), author of Wise Up! At Work, is the founder of MorAlchemy, a philosophical consulting firm. She also is the inventor of industrial philosophy and is the driving force behind the idea of applying philosophy in the workplace for the benefit of the leadership of organizations. DiGiacomo has 20 years of corporate executive experience at companies such as The New York Times, Citigroup, AMC Networks, and R/GA. She holds a master’s degree in Organizational Change Management from The New School. She also dedicated nine years to the study and practice of philosophy.

comfort zone

Afraid to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone? Then You Can’t Lead in the Age of COVID.

COVID-19 has disrupted the business world, and the “normal” of a few months ago may never return. In this new landscape, how business leaders process and react to new challenges will be crucial.

Using critical thinking skills to make sound business decisions in a complicated, constantly changing world has never been more important, says Dr. Jim White, founder and president of JL White International and bestselling author of Opportunity Investing: How to Revitalize Urban and Rural Communities with Opportunity Funds (www.opportunityinvesting.com).

“Critical thinking in the COVID-19 era will separate effective leaders from the pack,” Dr. White says.

“Before, many of us relied on linear thinking – that is, solving problems in a step-by-step fashion. When life proceeds in an orderly way, we can draw conclusions based on probabilities: this is what happened before; therefore, it will happen again. Or, we use contingency statements: if THIS is true, THAT is true.

“But COVID-19 changed those premises. Now, there are too many unknowns to rely on lazy thinking. The volatile economy is one example: we don’t know how or when the markets will recover. What will the business community look like post-COVID? Will people continue to work remotely, and which companies will thrive and which will crumble? Will entire industries – like cruising – buckle under the strain? How will communities deal with their struggling populations, vacant real estate, and shuttered businesses?

“Now is the time for non-linear (lateral) thinking, characterized by expansion in multiple directions rather than in a straight line. The concept has multiple starting points from which we can apply logic to a problem.”

Dr. White offers the following advice to developing non-linear critical thinking:

Step out of your comfort zone. “Critical thinking requires that we see and interpret information from a different perspective,” Dr. White says. “In our old comfort zones we weren’t necessarily required to make difficult decisions. But navigating COVID requires taking steps to adapt to new circumstances. For companies, it means being nimble, finding opportunities and ways to innovate. It may mean drastically reducing a brick-and-mortar footprint in favor of a digital presence. It may mean dumping obsolete inventory at a discount. Or it may mean lay-offs.”

Dr. White thinks many people have closed minds and don’t adapt well to change. “In military training, one is taught to pivot, to escape and adapt, since there is no such thing as a perfect set of circumstances,” he says. “The species that is capable of adapting well is the species that survives.”

Don’t jump to conclusions. “When jumping out of your comfort zone,” Dr. White says, “be careful not to jump to conclusions as well. Instead, ask questions, and organize and evaluate information. For instance, business owners should be asking, is now the right time to be re-opening? Who says the pandemic is over? Who is cautioning against reopening? What will reopening look like? Coming to a valid conclusion requires studying the available data: what is happening in other parts of the world, the country, or the industry?

“One criterion we rely on is, what do experts say? What are the credentials of these experts? Carefully evaluating data has never been more crucial than during this pandemic.”

Separate truth from belief. “People often have trouble separating what is valid from what is true because of ingrained beliefs, which we all have. This ‘belief bias’ interferes with our ability to think logically,” Dr. White says. “Critical thinking means making decisions based only on data. For business leaders that means putting aside what worked in the past and being completely open to new practices and protocols.”

“In the age of COVID-19, we must embrace challenges and make solid decisions based on critical-thinking principles.”

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Jim White, PhD, author of Opportunity Investing: How To Revitalize Urban and Rural Communities with Opportunity Funds (www.opportunityinvesting.com), is founder and president of JL White International. He also is chairman and CEO of Post Harvest Technologies, Inc. and Growers Ice Company, Inc., and founder and CEO of PHT Opportunity Fund LP. Throughout his career, he has bought, expanded, and sold 23 companies, operating in 44 countries. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering, an MBA, and a PhD in Psychology and Organizational Behavior.

pandemic

How ‘No-Excuse’ Leadership Can Help Businesses Succeed After the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic slowdown created an uncertain future for businesses across the country.

Regardless of this rocky situation, though, the best business leaders will make sure they don’t allow the pandemic to become an excuse for failure, says Troy Nix (www.troynix.com), a motivational speaker, businessman and author of Eternal Impact: Inspire Greatness in Yourself and Others.

“I admire leaders who don’t complain about circumstances or point the finger at someone or something else,” says Nix, founder and CEO of First Resource Inc., an association management company specializing in manufacturing networks.

No, business leaders didn’t create the circumstances that led to the pandemic and its aftermath, but it is their responsibility to get their businesses and their people through the challenges they now face, he says.

“Whenever you’re leading an organization, the ultimate responsibility for any failure is yours,” Nix says. “It may be because you failed to train people properly or because you failed to hire the right person. It may be because you failed to develop a proper strategy or because you failed to develop the right culture. It’s ultimately your failure, and no excuse can ever absolve you of the responsibility of personal ownership.”

This is a mindset Nix learned in his days as a West Point cadet, where excuses were not allowed. To be successful in the coming months, he says, business leaders need to:

Set an example. Ultimately, you would like everyone in your organization to take responsibility and refuse to make excuses. “But you can’t expect that if you aren’t willing to set the example and claim responsibility for any failures yourself,” Nix says. “The best leaders take the high road and there’s no throwing anyone under the bus. Setting an example will have a constant impact on your employees, and they will know they can rely on you and depend on you.”

Do a little introspection. Nix says that, if you feel the urge to make an excuse for any failed business performance, look inward instead and ask yourself the following questions: Could I have acted differently to prevent this outcome? What could I have done to better improve the end result? How did my actions or inactions play a part in the failure? “I guarantee that if you do this and are honest with yourself, you will inevitably find a linkage for errors, disappointments, and fiascos directly back to yourself,” he says.

Take ownership. People don’t understand just how much they affect others when they make the decision to take responsibility for any and all actions. “We must own what we do, and we have to own what others under our command or influence do, even though it might be miles away from us and somebody else is executing the plan,” Nix says. “When you get up every morning and look at yourself in the mirror, are you owning what you are doing, or are you making excuses?”

“Making excuses – whether it’s in the crisis we now face or some other situation – will lead to dead ends,” Nix says. “I’ve seen time and time again that when people take control of their lives and eliminate the excuses, a life of excellence and fulfillment is the end result.”

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Troy Nix (www.troynix.com), author of Eternal Impact: Inspire Greatness in Yourself and Others, is the founder, president, and CEO of First Resource, Inc., an innovative association management company for America’s manufacturers. Nix, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, served in the armed forces for a decade before moving into the business world.

office

Navigating the Dynamics of a Split Office

Experts are divided over when workers will get back to the office after COVID-19. Google is looking at June 1st at the earliest. A report from the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University recommends holding out until August. But both Google and Harvard agree that the return should be staggered in order to protect workers.

The Harvard report recommends starting by letting 20% of at-home workers back into the office. Start with a few days per week and then expand to five days as testing ramps up.

Not only does working in shifts reduce office density, but it also prevents overcrowding on sidewalks and mass transit. But it also comes with challenges, including the fact that some workers will feel less connected to the rest of the company. Here are three tips for keeping workers safer, happier, and more productive as companies transition into a split office setup.

Don’t rush everyone back

While you may be tempted to get everyone you can into the office at least some of the time, that’s not really necessary.

“We may see some companies realize they can run their businesses effectively with a much smaller office and many people working largely from home,” said Elizabeth Brink, principal at global design and architecture firm Gensler. Dr. Anna Tavis, academic director of the Human Capital Management Department at the NYU School of Professional Studies also predicts that many people will continue working from home indefinitely. “We kind of assume that collaboration means physical presence in one place,” Tavis said. “But now we’ve learned that’s not the case.” Indeed, the average company sees a 10% to 43% increase in productivity after going fully remote. And in a recent survey, 54% of workers said their productivity had improved since working from home full-time and 64% said their work quality has improved.

Google won’t require workers with caretaking responsibilities or other special considerations to come into the office. You may also want to encourage workers who live with healthcare workers or “essential” workers to stay home. The Harvard report recommends bringing workers who have recently tested negative and show immunity in reliable antibody tests back into the office first.

Get everyone on the same page

Now is the ideal time to invest in project management software. If you wait until some people are back in the office, the drive to have everyone use it will be diminished since some employees will once again be able to walk over to a coworker’s desk to get a status update on an ongoing project.

Plus, project management software can help mitigate Zoom fatigue. Project management software serves as your team’s source of truth when it comes to each project’s updates, statuses, assignees, due dates, files, and more. Examples include Asana, Notion, Trello, Monday, and Basecamp. Pre-set notifications and reminders for due dates and changes mean you spend less time Slacking people about who’s doing what and more time making progress. Project management software that offers visibility into others’ schedules, tasks, and workloads can be especially helpful for partially remote teams.

You may not even need to invest in new software, but just better leverage what you already use.

“We found that it’s not so much about needing new tools but instead, leveraging existing tools to foster greater collaboration during quarantine,” Corporate Recruiter Lauren Munroe said about her team’s use of SharePoint and Microsoft Teams to collaborate on projects simultaneously since moving to WFH.

Get chatting

Speaking of Slack, if your team doesn’t already have a chat app, now’s the time! For similar reasons, you don’t want to wait until some teammates are able to talk things through in-person to encourage widespread adoption of chat.

Good chat software lets you send and thread instant messages to individuals and groups. It’s also nice to be able to search chats and snooze notifications. Other examples include Hangouts, Glip, and Twist. The ability to start a video call inside the chat app is nice, as is timezone awareness if your team is distributed. Some apps allow you to set your status so colleagues know when you’re busy or free, in a meeting, or it’s outside your work hours.

A chat app can also help you re-create some of what’s great about being in the office. After moving to WFH, Chief People Officer Meighan Newhouse created new chat channels for this purpose. “Water cooler” is for workers to check in and share updates. “Lock-down” is where they share relatable tales from quarantine. VP of People Carrie Pinkham added a “CEO,” “wellness,” and “family Fridays” channel. The last is “where employees post old and new pictures of loved ones, which seemed fitting during this time. We added new tools like Donut to pair employees for get-to-know-you chats,” Meighan said.

If you’re a Slack user, get the most out of it by syncing your Slack status with your Google Calendar.

Set up video conferencing

Speaking of video calls, video conferencing software is obviously a must. Chats and phone calls are great, but there’s nothing like seeing someone’s face in real-time. This becomes even more important when everyone is working from home. Video conferencing software makes the conversation a little bit more like you’re in the same room. Video conferencing software facilitates on-demand or pre-scheduled video conferencing among two or more people simultaneously. Generally, this software integrates with your calendar system and provides built-in screen sharing and chat functionality. Examples include Skype, Zoom, WebEx, and GoToMeeting. Facebook Messenger also recently got into the game with their Rooms product.

Since not everyone’s home internet is super fast, now’s a good time to choose video conferencing software that allows workers to call into the meeting toll-free from their phones.

Video conferencing is another good way to bring employees together for fun and camaraderie. At Clockwise we do lunch Zooms where our Office Manager Czar divides employees into smaller groups where we eat and catch up.

Share everyone’s status

It’s a good idea to have everyone, regardless of whether they’re working at home or in the office, set their working hours and add their WFH or OOO to their calendars. To easily share this information with a team, many workplaces have team calendars. Clockwise streamlines this process by adding everyone’s individual WFH or OOO to their team’s calendar automatically, so if someone forgets to update either their personal or shared calendar everyone is still on the same page.

Upgrade workers’ work from home setup

Especially since we don’t know how long some workers will have to continue working from home, it’s worth it to spend a little money to ensure they’re as productive as possible.

First, make sure everyone who’s still at home has the fastest internet possible. Have everyone measure their home internet connection speeds using services like fast.com or Speedtest. For more accurate results, the Verge recommends making sure your computer is connected to the right network instead of, for instance, your ISP’s lower-speed wireless hotspot. If workers’ speeds aren’t good, or they’re running out of data before running out of month, consider giving them some money to upgrade and/or invest in a mesh network or wifi extender. To save, check out COVID-19 deals from ISPs.

Then offer them a little money to upgrade their desk, chair, light, monitor, mouse, and keyboard. If they have that stuff at the office, let them bring it home. For example, Clockwise gave all employees $100 to buy a new chair at the start of WFH and let us bring anything we were using that we could carry home with us from the office.

Going forward

Staggering your comeback to the office can be a great way to balance the benefits of an in-office environment while still keeping employees reasonably safe. The trick is to make sure no one feels left out and everyone is able to work productively whether they’re home or at the office. Making sure you have the right technology and equipment makes all the difference.

How Opportunity Zones Could Help Restore the Economy After COVID-19

The COVID-19 shutdown has created financial setbacks for millions of Americans and their communities, but economic troubles – whether caused by the pandemic or otherwise – don’t hit everyone equally.

“Unfortunately, there are many rural and urban areas across our great nation that have become distressed due to a variety of circumstances and factors – and that was true for these areas even before COVID-19,” says Jim White, founder and president of JL White International and author of Opportunity Investing: How To Revitalize Urban and Rural Communities with Opportunity Funds (www.opportunityinvesting.com).

“These areas cover the entire breadth of our nation and their populations are diverse. Poverty is a condition that does not discriminate, impacting people of every race, creed, color, gender, and age group, though it does strike minorities with far greater severity.”

But despite the problems, White says, those distressed communities have the potential to provide one path back both for the economy and for investors seeking to diversify with alternatives other than the stock market.

How so? Through the Qualified Opportunity Zone program, which Congress created in 2017 to encourage economic growth in underserved communities. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts provided tax benefits to investors who invest eligible capital in these opportunity zones to create retail, multifamily housing, manufacturing or other improvements. To qualify, the areas must meet certain specifications related to such factors as the poverty rate and the median family income. There are more than 8,000 opportunity zones nationwide.

“I believe, as we move forward to reinvigorate the economy, investing in our poorest communities is going to be the right avenue to take,” White says.

White says a few reasons opportunity zones could be an important and effective part of the recovery include:

Improvements to distressed communities will build on themselves. If businesses in the zones thrive, the communities will have more jobs and better salaries to offer. “More people will want to relocate to these areas, which will increase real estate values and breathe new life into local shops and stores,” White says. When residents and business owners are doing well, they spend more money on beautifying their homes, storefronts, public buildings, streets, parks, and monuments. Their infrastructure will improve, crime will decrease, and better health care will be available for residents.

Investors can make money as well as save on taxes. Those who invest can benefit from more than just the initiative’s capital gains tax breaks, White says. They also can see a significant return off their investments.

Investors also can help improve people’s lives. The zones give investors who want to do more than just make money a chance to have a positive impact on low-income urban and rural communities, and the lives of millions of people. “Investments have already worked miracles in several American communities and we are only at the early stages of experiencing their capabilities,” White says.

“These opportunity zones can simultaneously channel economic help to distressed communities, and create an outsized return for investors,” White says. “Both these things will be critically important as we try to bring back jobs and restore the economy coming out of the pandemic. If nothing else, the coronavirus is teaching us that we are all in this together, and that all of us, across the country and globally, must be responsible for one another.”

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Jim White, Ph.D, author of Opportunity Investing: How To Revitalize Urban and Rural Communities with Opportunity Funds (www.opportunityinvesting.com), is founder and president of JL White International. He also is Chairman and CEO of Post Harvest Technologies, Inc. and Growers Ice Company, Inc., Founder and CEO of PHT Opportunity Fund LPX. Throughout his career, he has bought, expanded, and sold 23 companies, operating in 44 countries. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering, an MBA, and a PhD in Psychology and Organizational Behavior.