Take a bold route to our ‘new normal’

Lt. Col. Justin Fox
General Surgery Flight Commander 
88th Surgical Operations Squadron
Caption
Lt. Col. Justin Fox General Surgery Flight Commander 88th Surgical Operations Squadron

Think different.

In 1997, Steve Jobs partnered with the ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day to reimagine the public image of a struggling Apple® brand. The print ads featured a multicolor Apple Inc. logo superimposed over black-and-white prints of celebrated 20th-century visionaries. Beneath the Apple logo was the simple, grammatically incorrect slogan, “Think different.”

The campaign was a call to action for “crazy ones” to change the world – ideally while using an Apple computer.

For the last several years, I’ve had a poster from this campaign hanging in my office. The print is of a disheveled Albert Einstein, hand resting on his chin, looking outward beyond the page, compelling the viewer to “think different.”

In the current environment, this slogan has taken on added meaning as we have been forced to “think different” about how we conduct business, whatever our business may be. Many times, this felt disruptive in a negative way.

At Wright-Patterson Medical Center, the in-person doctor’s visit has given way to emails, phone calls or telehealth visits; personnel have been shuffled from their usual assignments to unfamiliar ones, placing strain on the losing unit, which is now forced to do more with less; and new protocols even changed the way we access the building.

But at times, there was positive disruption. For some, less in-person work requirements meant spending more time with immediate family. For others, teleworking proved to be a more-efficient way of accomplishing day-to-day tasks.

With growing vaccination efforts, we have turned our thoughts to reimaging a “new normal.” While it would be easy to revert back to business as usual, we have a greater opportunity to reshape our workplaces based on both the negative and positive disruptions we have all experienced, if we “think different” about our “new normal.”

What does it take to “think different” as we reimagine a new normal?

Fight against business as usual

There is comfort in a familiar routine. During the COVID-19 pandemic, that routine was disrupted in both negative and positive ways. When we decreased in-person meetings at work and still accomplished the mission, one has to ask, “How necessary were those in-person meetings?” If we revert to business as usual in our new normal, we have missed an opportunity to incorporate some process improvements.

“Think different” as a team sport

While the initial Apple ads most often featured individual people, they all had teammates – Jim Henson had Frank Oz, John Lennon had Yoko Ono and Amelia Earhart had Fred Noonan. Reach out to other sections to learn what innovations they developed to cope with the current environment. Gain support for continuing the things that worked over the last year within your own section. In short, learn from and support each other.

Be tenacious

The bureaucratic structure of large organizations plays an important role in maintaining order, consistency and standards across an enterprise. Bureaucracy, however, has seldom been celebrated as an incubator for novel ideas. I

n every organization, there are standard “reasons” or excuses drummed up for a quick rebuttal to any innovation. Push beyond these reflexive roadblocks to understand the real limitations to sustaining temporary, COVID practices that proved beneficial overall.

Don’t be afraid to fail

Not every idea is a good idea. Even some that seemed promising in one setting will not bear fruit in another. But without a willingness to try reasonable new processes, we will always revert to business as usual.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shattered our normal routines, at home and work. As we build a “new normal,” we have a tremendous opportunity to reassemble the pieces into a future shaped by lessons learned over the last year. To do this, we must “think different” about what the new normal can be, not what it once was.

In 1997, the script that ran with the Apple ads concluded with: “The people who are crazy enough to believe they can change the world are the ones who actually do.”

As we navigate beyond the difficulties of 2020, we all have the opportunity to positively impact our part of the world and workspaces, even if it is only the small part we share together.