How can we rethink growth from the Covid crisis?


Year-on-Year Dramatic Difference fell off a bit of a cliff in Q1 2020.  Normally I’d be embarrassed to say that publicly, because it would be due to some mis-management on my part.  But the fact is that the world slammed on the brakes in February/March. It was an economic ‘emergency stop’.  An end to growth.  Or was it?

Economically, we look back and compare last year to this year to make sure that we are growing. After all, year-on-year, children get taller, broader, turn into adults. That’s what growth looks like.  

But I’ve been an adult a long time. For sure I’m ageing, year-on-year. Physically, there’s definitely decline, not growth! Yet I feel that I’m still growing because I’m getting wiser.

So, what happens if I apply that Year-on-Year QUALITATIVE growth model to my business’s Q1? Well, the dollars declined, but our creativity grew. We pivoted to virtual working at a rate I never thought possible.  We’ve made profound choices about how we work together, our best forms of connection, generating new ideas. And I’ve seen that in many client businesses too. 

There’s a danger in a concept of growth where bigger is the only form of better. I’ve partnered many executive clients as they’ve wrestled with the tensions between bigger (higher status, more money, wider remit) and better (passion, people, family, time) to make choices and find metrics for their own progress in work and life.

Many years ago, I was coaching a very senior investment banker. As a result of the Global Financial Crisis he had fired more than 200 of the 300+ staff on the Asian equities desk he ran, then he’d torn up his contract and walked away for a year.  

Coaching him during that time, two conversations really stuck with me. In one we discussed the discovery that his top human character strength according to the VIA profile was KINDNESS. (Click here to learn about VIA profiles). His first response (as a 30-year veteran of investment banking) was “What the [*#@%*] am I supposed to do with that?”. Yet when he finally returned to his banking career, it was with the intent to build and run a huge trading desk with kindness at its core. He did, and retired 3 years later very proud of the team he’d built.

The second conversation was about children (our sons were the same age). He wasn’t sure how tall his son was because “I mostly see him lying down” (asleep).  That broke my heart, and I really felt that his life was somehow impoverished. I remember discussing how many indices should be applied to measure a successful life. On a dollar index he was probably outperforming me annually by a factor of 10 or more.  But on a bedtime story index, I was the outperformer by an even higher factor. And bedtime stories were bliss for me.

How has Covid-19 pulled YOU up short and sharp?  What are the questions you are asking yourself about yourself, your business, time, money, bliss, wisdom, family, work, success, growth, failure?

At Dramatic Difference, we’re having to cope with extensive postponements of facilitation work. Simultaneously, we’re investing time and creativity to bring our theatre-led learning work into the virtual world in new and exciting ways. And we’re fortunate that many of our coaching clients have embraced the chance to talk things through virtually.

In some coaching conversations, I’m listening to CEO and other senior executives responsible for the livelihoods of thousands. Some are seeing Covid-19 as a car crash that has thrown them through the windscreen into a virtual world where their entire business model may be irrelevant.  Despite the metaphorical and financial bleeding, most are facing this crisis with courage, creativity, collaboration and calm – a testament to the personal growth that got them to the C-suite in the first place. 

Favourite quotes from CEO conversations last week include: “the strategy’s not wrong, but the timeline might be. We need to adjust our ambition to grow over three years instead of one.”  Another said: “this has provoked us to figure out how to catch up and get ahead with technology. All resistance to digitalization has evaporated and my leadership team is now embracing the change.”  A third client told me: “Wall Street is still pushing us to show bigger numbers right now. They are so impatient that they can’t see that Asia’s streets are full of opportunity for those who can exercise a little patience. I want to take this time to set us up to deliver the numbers the right way, and sustainably.” 

I began work just after Black Monday. Over 30 years in Hong Kong I’ve experienced Tiananmen Square, the Handover, the Asian Financial Crisis, SARS and the Global Financial Crisis. Covid is the latest in that list. At our own micro level, like all small businesses, we have to work hard to contain every possible cost. We are thankful that we squirreled some money away in the good years – but it won’t last forever. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a wise older adult, it’s that the current lockdowns won’t last forever either. So we continue pulling together to survive together and to find ways to care for each other, and even thrive together.  

For all of us, this Covid-19 experience hurts, but we will be wiser for it and better prepared for the next crisis. These are growing pains.


If you’re a leader in pain from the current crisis, and it could help to work with an Executive Coach, please reach out to me ( as:

  • a thought partner to help find clarity in complexity
  • a support partner so you can safely vent your anxieties and create choices
  • a challenge partner to help you find fresh ideas and courage to seize opportunities

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