Inflection Point

By Russ Levanway, President

Throughout the course of a human life, our brains are constantly changing. This neuroplasticity is very good news for anyone hoping to take up the ukulele or overcome a phobia. But at certain stages, the brain makes especially big leaps. One of those leaps happens in adolescence, between childhood and adulthood, when brain matter and computational power increase, but the brain relies more on the limbic system (i.e. emotions) than on the prefrontal cortex (i.e. logic). Anyone parenting a teenager will understand what I mean here!

Like the human brain, the human race is constantly making incremental changes and adjustments. We also occasionally make major leaps in advancement. Think of the prehistoric revelations of fire and the wheel, which really catapulted human progress. Or there’s our understanding of germs and what causes them, after which our life expectancy shot up. During the Industrial Age, the discovery of coal as a source of energy pushed us into a new era of productivity, innovation, and comfort. Refrigeration and large-scale agriculture have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of food insecurity. Computers represented another major leap ahead, allowing us to do many things in a matter of seconds which previously might have taken hours, days, or much longer. Computers drastically, exponentially increased our productivity as a people.

Of course, each advancement has not been without its unique challenges.  Coal is incredibly polluting.  Pesticides used in large-scale agriculture have both pollution and health safety concerns. Computers help you do the wrong thing faster than ever before.  But even so, each of these leaps has created great improvements for society overall.

One giant leap for mankind

We may be at another inflection point now with vaccine technology. We’re getting close to living in a world where we can rapidly immunize people against new illnesses and diseases. Even just a short while back, developing a COVID vaccine would have taken 10 to 15 years, whereas recently scientists developed several vaccines over the course of just a few months.  This is an absolute game-changer in terms of our ability to protect people from the ravages of disease now and in the future.

Even though COVID has made these days extremely difficult and challenging, it’s exciting to know humanity hasn’t stopped making those leaps. History illustrates that tragic events often force our hands. The last year has been a trial for most of us. We have been pushed to our edge. Many moments felt threatening, scary, and unprecedented.

But think about the days leading up to each of history’s inflection points. Moving from an agrarian era to an industrial one was unprecedented. Before the computer age, no one could have imagined we’d be carrying tiny, outrageously powerful computers in our pockets and purses. And just a year ago, folks couldn’t imagine a vaccine being developed to change the course of humanity in just a few months. But here we are.

Purpose under pressure

I think recent movements forward in vaccine technology portend a bright future. We often need a kick in the pants to motivate us to do something big, courageous, and bold, and that’s okay. The takeaway is that we as a people rise to the occasion when responding to a big challenge.  There is nothing like a fundamental threat to our way of life to galvanize our focus on something big, bold, and future-changing.

There is a way to make this relevant to our own businesses.  Getting your teams to think about and brainstorm around the big, tough challenges can result in some great ideas.  Giving them space to develop some moonshot ideas is well worth it.  You can generate a lot of excitement and interest around these activities by connecting them to shared values and purpose.  Or perhaps there is a threat to the way you have been doing things that is driven by outside forces, and a new way of delivering your services is needed.  If your team knows what the threats are, and has space to experiment a bit, they are likely to respond in a creative and problem-solving way.  Is there room in your business for this?