We are living in a time of meta-shift. Pick your favorite historian, economist, futuris, or business sage - if you listen closely they are all telling us the same thing. We are navigating as best we can through unprecedented change that has and will continue to impact just about every facet of our lives.
These shifts have obviously occurred before - think Bronze Age, Renaissance, Industrial Revolution, the Axial Times centuries B.C. that gave birth to every modern religion on the planet; these were all meta-shifts. Yet no one who was alive during those shifts was aware it was happening. If you lived in Axial Times or the Bronze Age you were totally preoccupied with survival. The Renaissance lasted over three centuries - and don't forget the average life expectancy was below 40. You definitely did not know that you were living in a meta-shift.
We are, in fact, the first generation of humanity who will not only live through a meta-shift, but have the power to observe it, and ultimately to shape it; if we are Awake. Being Awake --- conscious, aware, observant, mindful --- is not always easy. While the last few years may make us yearn for what was, we are being called upon to recognize what is. Thanksgiving happens to be an incredible time to be Awake, to notice what is really going on in our workplace, our community and our families. Hopefully, there will be a few quiet moments to recognize and accept that it's not just the world that is changing; we are changing too. What we are feeling, our employees are feeling, our neighbors are feeling and our families are feeling. Our workers need much more than a paycheck. Our neighbors may need help and are too proud to ask. Our families may need us to just be present; because we have been too busy for too long. And yet, being Awake long enough to tune into any of these issues is uncomfortable.
Two weeks ago we held our annual Best Practices Conference - our industry chairperson, Louis Basile, CEO of Wildflower Bread Company, kept reminding us that during the conference we should be OK with being Uncomfortable. In fact, he exhorted us as leaders to try to be uncomfortable every day. The ubiquitous comfort zone apparently is part of what got us into our current socio-economic mess - and being Uncomfortable, is what is required if we want to sincerely consider thinking and acting differently than we ever have in our careers. It is uncomfortable to recognize the stress of our employees, the fact that they may be afraid to tell us what they really think or feel - because they need a job right now. It is Uncomfortable to ask colleagues and neighbors how they are really doing. It is Uncomfortable to really listen to our family and friends. Why do we need a National Listening Day except that in a demanding 24/7 hyper-connected world, we are afraid to slow down long enough to listen - and to be Kind.
I gave a presentation during our conference entitled "The Business Case for Kindness," and suggested that Kindness is a complex, grown up way of leading and living our lives, that can take courage and risk. It requires a deep level of commitment and responsibility - the kind of commitment and responsibility that the new marketplace and the new workplace of this Shift Age requires from businesses who want to prosper, communities that want to flourish, and families who want to have Thanksgiving holidays that are about more than getting through the perfect meal.
True Kindness requires us to be Awake, and the willingness to be Uncomfortable. I love this picture from the service event that kicked off our conference. It reminds me of the power of a community that is Awake, that is willing to be Uncomfortable - miss a meeting, get on a bus with strangers, be a little vulnerable - and to make the commitment to be Kind. It's the Kindness that transforms lives.
Joni Thomas Doolin is the founder and CEO of People Report, an acknowledged leader in providing restaurant executives with financial analysis and insight into the best people practices.