Chris Read: Why it’s time to ‘think like a freak’

Chris Read, group CEO of Dunstan Thomas, looks at life in week six of coronavirus mandated lockdown and believes this period of self-isolation and reflection will bring out the best in us

What could possibly go wrong?

It’s an oft-repeated myth that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Scientifically tested, it actually takes 66 days.

Thankfully then, as move into the sixth week of lockdown as I write this, my newly-found idiosyncrasies of today may not become the depravities of tomorrow. That is of course unless I want them to.

I’m rather enjoying the austerity of abstinence, the practice of Asceticism. In pursuit of redemption and salvation from Covid-19, I am reminded of the story of Simeon Stylites. He lived in fourth-century Syria. Triggered by his religious zeal, he banished himself to isolate for 37 years on top of a pillar, among some ruins on the edge of Aleppo.

In this place, he would pray, abandoning personal hygiene, adopting the lifestyle of a beast – self-inflicting pain and suffering. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Amazing what a little bit of isolated quiet contemplation can do. It can make you do some really bonkers stuff. I suspect though we won’t get to the habit-forming milestone of 66 days in Covid-19- induced isolation (we are only at 37 today). While it may just be possible, is it wise? How many Ascetics does the country need? So, we will return to work just a little bit bonkers perhaps.

I’ve always liked bonkers, it’s fun. The first software product we brought to market in the late 1980s was called The Crayfish Utilities – a set of tools for a 4GL database language called PAL. We called it Crayfish, as we aspired to make enough money so that we could fly off to Sweden and feast on freshwater Crayfish. Bonkers? Absolutely!  It sold well as did our second product, Laserfish.

Blue sky thinking

I suspect lots of companies, as they reawaken from Covid torpor, will go onto do some amazingly creative out of the box things. Some will change careers as a result of this rare, lengthy pause for reflection. Many will recognise Levitt and Dubner authors of Freakonomics, the best seller that sold over four million copies, an off the wall setting of economics and behaviour.

In a subsequent book called Think Like a Freak, they advise a set of wise strategies that I believe will become common once the lockdown has dissipated.

Here are a few:

  • Put away your moral compass—because it’s hard to see a problem clearly if you’ve already decided what to do about it.
  • Learn to say “I don’t know”—for until you can admit what you don’t yet know, it’s virtually impossible to learn what you need to.
  • Think like a child—because you’ll come up with better ideas and ask better questions.
  • Find the root cause of a problem—because attacking the symptoms, as often happens, rarely fixes the underlying issue.
  • Learn to persuade people who don’t want to be persuaded—because being right is rarely enough to carry the day.
  • Learn to appreciate the upside of quitting—because you can’t solve tomorrow’s problem if you aren’t willing to abandon today’s dud.