The Power of Doing Nothing: What I Learned in a Pandemic

Article by Jane Bertch, the founder of La Cuisine Paris

It was Heraclitus the Greek philosopher that told us “Change is the only constant in life.” For all of us, we know this to be the case, and particularly for entrepreneurs and small businesses, we often have to deal with these changes in quick succession and sometimes without the benefit of a larger team to problem-solve.

The crisis of the pandemic brought many changes, and for most of us, difficult changes that are far greater than we have ever faced. Through this new world that we learned to navigate, we were forced to manage our lives and use every tool to survive in a new economy: The Lockdown Economy.

Learn more on LockdownEconomy.org

As 2020 started, here in France, we had already been forced to deal with a challenging few months due to National unrest that included regular demonstrations and a disabled transport system. Difficult as they may have been, we could not have anticipated what was yet to come. As February approached, we started to feel a new sort of tectonic plates agitating under us — and in a way that was foreign and unfamiliar. It wouldn’t be long after that my business (and so many others in the domain of leisure and tourism) would feel these changes violently racing towards us.

As a business in culinary tourism, we benefited from being a part of an ecosystem, that under normal times, has performed exceptionally well. Paris is, after all, one of the most visited cities in the world. Normally a flourishing and very vibrant industry, tourism does have its weaknesses. First and foremost, it is very sensitive to the environment. The tourist sector is heavily and swiftly impacted when there is a threat of any sort: currency, safety, weather, etc. What makes this impact even more devastating, is that it is equally troubled by a very long tail of recovery. Tourism is inevitably the first to be impacted and often the last to recover. Having managed through a number of challenges over the years — the Ash Cloud, Transport Strikes, Terrorism— 2020 posed us not only changes none of us has experienced but the changes that had no visibility.

Dealing with them is an inevitable part of life, and especially for a small business. Yet, changes are not all the same. There are some we impose — strategic, operational and other changes — and there are changes imposed upon us such as legislation and market fluctuations. Each different in their respect, palatable or not. But often they share the commonality of 1) instructions, 2) a plan, 3) and perhaps even a timeline to manage towards. The world of the COVID-19 pandemic was of a change that provided neither. However, there are tools to help us navigate.

Early on in the crisis, I was interviewed by the Think Tank AlterContacts that developed a wonderful initiative to solicit entrepreneurs around the world — with the sole focus of understanding and sharing how they are surviving in the new Lockdown Economy. You can see my talk as well as others here.

Watch the Lockdown Economy interview with Jane Bertch, the founder of La Cuisine Paris.

You will hear me mention several points I believe are important when faced with managing through our new world, and frankly any crisis:

  1. Partner or Perish: Using partnership as a tool for community survival
  2. Pivoting without Panicking: Redefining yourself in a way that is still in line with your values
  3. Vulnerability: Being open and clear with yourself and others. No one makes you love and appreciate Vulnerability more than Brene Brown
  4. Strategic Procrastination: The healthy pause before taking action

All of these tools have played and will continue to play an important role as I navigate onwards. Yet one that has been such a refreshing surprise and most influential is the concept of Strategic Procrastination, a term I discovered reading Originals by Adam Grant.

What is Strategic Procrastination?

Let me start with what it is not: strategic procrastination is not the failure to take action.

Strategic Procrastination, as I have come to interpret it, is the pause needed to take future action with the benefit of having collected the greatest amount of information possible. This pause allows us to take action in a way that is intentional, thoughtful and hopefully most effective.

Five Key Benefits of Strategic Procrastination:

  • It pardons you: In a world where speed is valued above all else, Strategic Procrastination pardons you for moving a little slower.
  • It allows you to reflect: A needed pause before racing in allows you the important space to assess and collect information. This information collection is a crucial support for your decision making.
  • It allows you to be intentional: Having observed and assessed, you are armed with new data that helps you to create an action plan that is intentional rather than reactive. This allows you to truly Pivot rather than Panic.
  • It gives you time to reaffirm your values: The silent moment between reflecting and taking action allows you to thoroughly consider your values. Affirmation of your values helps you to create a future plan in line with your core business rather than a short term reaction.
  • It supports idea generation: Rather than racing to a quick solution — strategic procrastination allows you to the time to really challenge your assumptions and allow space for questions. Racing to an answer kills the beautiful question and the opportunity to surface new ideas.

In summary, there are many tools to employ, and whether you are a multinational or an entrepreneur, Strategic Procrastination is a wonderful tool allowing you the time and space to plan your path forward.

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.