Sunday, July 3, 2011

Third time Lucky - Thriving in the new normal

On September 4th last year, I woke up to a very unexpected sensation of the bed moving violently. Within seconds I was wedged in the door frame and my house was tossing me about like a small boat in choppy water.

Unfortunately for Christchurch that first shake was just the beginning. Since then we have had two more large, even more devastating quakes which have quite literally rocked our world. In this city, cosying up to your co-workers as you huddle under a desks is not an experience to be ashamed of!

And despite the fact that my family, our homes and our work places, have only been lightly effected (by Christchurch standards) by the quakes. It has still been a traumatic time. I remember feeling a sense of shock and later anger when I saw the Cathedral, such a symbol of strength after the first quake, in pieces. It may only be bricks and mortar, but definitely felt a huge sense of loss that I felt.

Given that a large part of my job as a Agile Test Consultant involves coaxing people to change habits formed over many years, it was with a sense of irony I noticed how uncomfortable it was to be on the other end of change! After all Christchurch is the city I grew up in and is my home - what gives The Earth the right to change it without my permission?

Nine months later, and life is quite different in the once sleepy little conventional city of Christchurch. We are still having periods of lots of shakes - it seems the earth underneath us just doesn't to want to go back to sleep. Added to this, is the difficulty that much of our land having sunk a vital meter or more and continues to liquefy in the bigger shakes.

As the earth continues to move regularly and randomly under our feet it is time for us to start to accept that, love it or hate it, this is the new normal and could continue for a couple more years at least. While this may at first seem like an unfair chore to have to go through, it is also an opportunity.

In order to see that it is an opportunity, at times such as this it is worth knowing a little more about the human condition and what really makes us happy. For instance, many people believe that winning Lotto is a one way trip to happiness but as Martin Seligman writes in his book Authentic Happiness, while such events initially bring us great joy, in the long term winners return to their baseline happiness level.

Seligman further writes "The good news, however, is that after disastor strikes, the [happiness] thermostat will strive to pull us out of our misery eventually....Even individuals who become paraplegic as a result of spinal cord accidents quickly begin to adapt... and within eight weeks they they report more net positive emotion than negative emotion"

Also, I have read some studies that have shown that although redundancy is hard at first, five years afterwards many people think it about it as a positive overall experience. This is partly due to the fact that once the safe option of going to the same job doing the same old stuff is taken away, people are forced to reassess where they are in life. For many this meant they changed their career in some way to align more with what they really wanted to do but would not normally risk trying.

As IT professionals in Christchurch we also find ourselves with a lot of challenges right now. We might be working in less than ideal spaces, have days a time when we must work from home, or have difficulty filling vacancies as it is hard to get people to move to Christchurch.
But I believe this cloud has a silver lining. At the moment we are being forced to reassess what is really important, and what we can or might want to change. Due to our adversity, there is also an opportunity for a lot of innovation to happen here. And that's what I am seeing in Christchurch.

I know of teams who are working in semi-permanent spaces who have acquired laptops and are discarding the concept of 'individual desks'. Thus while solving their immediate problem of having to move out of their office occasionally, they are also hoping to improve the communication within their team, by reducing the distance separating any two team mates.

And while getting qualified staff in Christchurch is a big issue, it could be an opportunity to focus on how best we can introduce lots of young, outgoing, Generation Y'ers into the work place. For while they will take some time to become experienced IT practitioners, I believe that many agile teams I've worked with could really benefit with an influx of collaborative, team orientated people - skills that Gen Y's are well known for. All this could actually help our businesses, particularly in the medium and longer terms.

So I challenge all of you in Christchurch to look at the position we find ourselves in now, not as a disaster, but as an opportunity. For while the changes we've had to endure have at times been hard and unnerving, ultimately they allow us to reinvent ourselves which in the long term, could be highly beneficial.

As for me, I plan to stay in Christchurch because it's still a great place to live. I love this city where I can cycle to most of my clients, and after work I can mountain bike in the Port Hills and feel a world away from the stress of the city.

And when the earth shakes, I choose to use it as a reminder that no matter how hard we try, life is neither predictable or completely safe - though a modern life might feel that way it is just an illusion. I use the quakes to remind me to make the most of each day, to be good to the PEOPLE around me, and to REALLY LIVE and challenge myself.