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The future is now; no reason for same old approaches, by Bob Vecchiotti

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These are the times that try men’s (our) souls,” wrote Thomas Paine centuries ago. These words personally resonate and seem so relevant today as we all fight off the coronavirus invasion.

What do we need to arm ourselves? Perhaps learning new ways of assessing our skills and abilities to think and act in this situation, will help deal with those novel events in the future.

We are attempting to ride out the coronavirus with new work policies and strong adaptability. I suggest we not necessarily rely on old skills and abilities. Instead look to the skills required for a complicated future and for both personal and business success. Experts at the Apollo Research Institute and the Institute for the Future have been analyzing what skills and abilities would be needed to survive and succeed it the decades ahead. Their recommendations are both realistic, sensible and perhaps useful today.

Such tools and perspectives are needed to be successful in this extraordinary environment. These include skills to help make decisions, see the future, and deal with rapidly changing conditions. A tool to make decisions as the earth moves below your feet is to develop “novel and adaptive thinking” — namely an ability to develop solutions and responses beyond what is neither expected nor rule based. Communicating novel thinking especially in writing, reframing circumstances by using analogies to increase understanding, and creating a new perspective out of diverse data points are examples of such novel and adaptive thinking.

For the coronavirus, using analogies like a large wave sweeping ashore or repeating the analogy of a Trojan horse that releases its attackers in the middle of our cities before we realize the danger may be useful. These give a sense of urgency, prompting individual actions based on current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. This ability would also help deal with any rapidly changing events in the future.

Another future skill of interest today is “cognitive load management” (CLM), or the ability to rapidly identify diverse information for its importance and use in making the most of our cognitive functioning. Techniques to reduce information onslaught involve watching the brain deal with the situation then flattening the peak to fit human capacity. This requires reading brain waves.

For today, it’s important for ordinary people to recognize when the brain is approaching overload. Missing fast-moving data points or not having enough time to integrate and find meaning are challenges we all face today. Slowing the data and information flow with a significant pause to check understanding, and relying on others to check what’s happening; we all can do and should do.

In this coronavirus scenario, information and suggested actions are mixed and not coherent. Recognizing cognitive overload prompts the mind to ask questions for clarification and consistency. Relying on local authorities and experts can provide that consistency and relevance in your area. Staying connected helps as well to provide a common perspective for consensus and action. Cognitive load management will be a skill to cultivate long after the coronavirus is gone.

In a world of much diversified information and data. there are individual saturation points. Here, CLM provides a way of identifying what’s important and prepares you to make the most of it.

Ultimately good old compassion for each other will help us all get through. Paying attention to the needs of others and helping where you can, will be more important than ever.

Bob Vecchiotti of Dublin is a business psychologist and coach.

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