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Covid and the Maverick

Covid and the Maverick. Our present struggle with the pandemic engulfing us all has created a seismic shift in the way we live and work. Maverick Leaders and workaday followers alike.

However there is a greater threat to Mavericks in particular from this virus, and it’s not just the risk of catching it! Mavericks thrive on and get their energy from innovation. It is this life blood that is under direct threat from Covid 19, the reason is insidious, obvious and potentially irreversible for a generation.

The threat is a real and present danger, no hype!

Understanding the process of innovation – particularly disruptive innovation – has been the quest of many for some time. Research into these intricate mechanisms have attracted academia, industrialists and philosophers alike.

However some of the most revealing research has come from trying to understand and codify the economics of bid cities. Turns out that cities have arisen globally because of innovation. A recent paper from MIT Media Laboratory’s Human Dynamics Lab tries to explain why if the population in a city doubles the economic productivity goes up by an average of 130 percent, that’s per individual!

Their explanation for this “superlinear scaling”: Increases in urban population density give residents greater opportunity for face-to-face interaction. Face to face interaction is driving corporate productivity. Corporate productivity benefits hugely from all forms of social networking.

In other words, Social Networking drives innovation which drives wealth … By inference, Social Distancing kills innovation.

The innovation and idea exchange that fuels cities isn’t taking place within the towering office blocks down-town. The real power of ideas is occurring in pubs, bars, restaurants and the streets that the people working in the tower blocks flood into at the end of the day!

The sheer diversity and mixing of skills, ideas, concepts and conversations is the true mechanism for this remarkable innovation driven economy.

Social networking – ungoverned, unbridled and unstructured …

According to this research the most valuable real estate in offices of the pre-pandemic era were the coffee bars, restaurants and water coolers because that’s where the process of social mixing and “chatting” happens.

This phenomenon would also explain why the top tech companies dominating the global economy can trace their roots to universities … the very epitome of social networking and idea interchange.

This machine for innovation and change is the lifeblood of mavericks, their favourite domain.

However this domain is under direct threat from the current pandemic. Covid 19 has changed the way most of us have worked and lived for the last 6 months and looks like it will carry on for the foreseeable future. 

Covid and the Maverick … Covid 19 has created an environment where we are working in isolation, avoiding crowded noisy places, staying away from offices, restaurants and bars and purposefully social distancing. 

Teleconferencing and video messaging are driving interactions to be transactional only – little or no “social” aspect is within the rules of etiquette. If your child interferes with your teleconference call you apologise! If you interrupt someone on a multi-way call you are muted!

This is turning into a perfect storm! It will kill innovation dead in it’s tracks unless we recognise the problem and react. Maverick leaders are the best people to focus on this and use their intellect to re-shape the social networking paradigm.

The reason? They have the most to lose!

The UK government wants to encourage people back into the office, they can see that restaurants, food outlets, pubs etc are struggling and recognise the economic and employment issues associated with that. However, that is a short term issue … the long term one is innovation. Losing the impetus behind innovation will cause lasting and long-term damage to employment, the economy and cities.

What should Mavericks do?

If the mass return to the office does not happen and corporations close too many buildings Mavericks will need to up their game. There’s no point in mavericks returning to the office if it’s empty.

Networking is the key but there needs to be a driving mechanism behind it. A clear distinction between information gathering and exchange and implementation and monitoring. These functions should not be mixed or confused. Time spent networking for information gathering and exchange needs to be purposefully increased and locations selected that make the parties involved feel comfortable and virus safe. This means less time in the office and at home, more time in the open, in suitable restaurants and perhaps the golf course.

Time spent in the office and at home should be partitioned for implementing ideas through others and just plain thinking. 

Above all Mavericks, find ways to just “chat” because it’s worth a real fortune.

Robin Farmer
From Draughtsman in ship building to Engineer in process control to Sales and then people leadership Robin has had a varied and successful career. Focussed on high technology, in large and small organisations, Robin has worked for HP for 12 years, run start-ups and then with Microsoft UK for almost 20 years. This long career coupled to his engineer’s mind has given Robin remarkable insight into the culture and operation of Global Corporations.

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