One of the jobs I did over the break was to sort and tidy my home office. A big sort out, usually brings lots of distractions as I reconnect with things I had forgotten or things that remind me of another time.

My office is no different, I re-discovered resources that I have kept  – the business consultant/trainer version of my “Man’s shed”, with lots of things that “will come in hand one day!”

A book I bought 25 (or more) years ago, is The Empty Raincoat, by Charles Handy. In this book I was first introduced to the concept of paradox – of the dilemma of unintended consequences of the good things we had created to make our life easier, more productive, more efficient. It was published in 1994, after the boom and bust decade that was the 80s.

I haven’t re-read the book, (although it is interesting dipping into it) but it reminded me that my biggest takeaway from the book at the time was the need to learn to manage paradox, to understand the trade-offs we might need to make.

2020 has tested us, we have had a year of great uncertainty, anxiety and change. As we enter 2021, it does not look like things are going to change quickly. We still have the threat of Covid19 hanging over us- we have the paradox of learning what our new normal is, while the world is still battling the effects of Covid.  The need for us to be self-reliant is more apparent than ever.

The uncertainty may bring great opportunity as we remain one of the few countries in the world where life and work is back to normal.

I believe we can mourn the loss of things we had -like tourism and international travel- at the same time as embracing the opportunities of (eg) domestic tourism, more people (and their skills) returning home.

Our workplaces are changing as more people are working from home and continuing to use the technology we embraced during lockdown. This will bring changes to the team dynamics that we will need to work our way through. New ways of working will develop.

Maybe 2020 also helped us to work out what is important.

Charles Handy titled his book the Empty Raincoat after a sculpture he saw which included an empty raincoat.  Maybe the last word should be his.

The empty raincoat is, to me, the symbol of our most pressing paradox. If economic progress means that we become an anonymous cog in some great machine, then progress is an empty promise. The challenge must be to show how paradox can be managed. Charles Handy, 1994.