Cooperate, And You Might Just Thrive.
“Don’t think in terms of the constraints.”
Anyone who has spent any time in the same room as me will have heard me say this. It’s typically followed by, “… think beyond them; that’s why we exist as a business!”
And then the coronavirus hit us like a tsunami, and I went from fine-tuning our 2020 strategy in anticipation of our biggest ever year, to authorising bonus pay-outs … to planning how to pay salaries in three months.
As much as I have become hardwired to think beyond the constraints, I struggled. COVID-19 is a new level of constraint; it’s the big league. This is global economies stalling without foreseeable respite. Predictions on COVID-19 repercussions continue to grow, approximations of a return to business-as-usual are anywhere from mid-2021 to late 2022. There is no certainty, only questions!
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face” is a famous misquote from Mike Tyson (although the sentiment remains valid). Being locked up away from my Tribe who inspires and holds me accountable to push the boundaries on solving the most challenging performance problems hit home. As a business owner, how do I navigate a market that is in a state of frozen animation? How do I make this sustainable? How do I meet the needs of my Tribe? How do I lead us through this?
This has been the toughest time we’ve ever faced. And while it’s taken me longer than I’d have liked, I’m there; beyond the constraints. COVID-19 is our greatest blessing.
This may feel uncomfortable to some readers, especially if you’re experiencing loss at this time (we have too). But I began processing by considering how – as a species – we arrived at this place. Newton’s third law of motion states that every action has an equal or opposite reaction.
Consider some of the actions we’ve taken as the human race:
- In 1800 the world population was one billion. It’s 7.7 billion today
- Between 1820 and 1975 agricultural production across the world doubled four times (first over 100 years, then in just 30, 15, and the last duplication took only 10 years)
- In the 1950s, chickens grown for meat took 18 to 21 weeks to grow to maturity; by 2003 this had been reduced by two thirds (due to genetic selection and nutritional modifications); we now produce a chicken in just six weeks
- The concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, as of 2018, is the highest it has been in three million years
- Seventeen of the 18 warmest years in recorded human history have occurred since 2000
As the industrial revolution found its rhythm, breathing life into machines and scaling beyond anything previously thought possible, collectively our culture and society adapted to the idea of mass-produced, widely available, and often depreciating goods. As we bought more with less money (and in many instances with money we didn’t have), we invented ways to spend on nonessentials, which we’ve had to buy additional space to keep (at year-end 2019, storage is a $38billion industry). Do you see anything wrong with this picture?! We gave birth to more and more people and required more and more resources to sustain this exploded population. Many of these practices fuelled each other to create systems of cyclical dependency.
We’ve acted like the mindless, survival-obsessed caterpillar that consumes up to 300 times its body weight per day before entering the cocoon stage. This moment in human evolution demands that “our collective human consciousness must finally stop consuming and surrender to the chrysalis, in which everything it has known itself to be dissolved” (Azrya Cohen Bequer, March 2020).
Corona is our chrysalis stage as a species; it has forced us into a cocoon and is breaking us –mindless, immature consumers – down.
In a previous insight, I explored the notion of the power of the mind to manifest multiple realities. I believe that our collective mindlessness has resulted in the realities we experience today: Newton’s equal and opposite reaction is here. If we had been mindful enough to allow our liberality to manifest as stewardship instead of prodigality, we would not be facing this crisis we’ve created.
Drake is a young, ambitious entrepreneur set on exploring space to bring back its secrets and use them to improve life on Earth. On one such mission, Drake’s team brings back a handful of symbiotes and begins testing on humans. While investigating Drake, Eddie Brock – a journalist going through a rough patch after some bad choices (who doesn’t have a string of those?) –finds himself the host of one of the symbiotes – Venom.
Initially, Eddie doesn’t realise but starts to display symptoms; super strength, the ability to self-heal, and an insatiable appetite. Eddie’s doctor (his ex-fiancé’s new man) informs him he has a parasite. Eddie becomes Venom’s most resilient host so far (incompatible humans tend to turn to mush and die), and thus Venom not only protects Eddie but starts to form a bond with him.
Eddie begins to hear a voice which he initially dismisses, but while being chased by Drake’s men, realises it’s coming from inside. As they try to outmanoeuvre D rake’s crew, Venom and Eddie start to converse, working together to stay alive. After they escape, for Eddie to truly understand why they are together, a Venom visage manifests:
Explaining the real purpose of the symbiotes’ presence on Earth, Venom says to Eddie, “Cooperate, and you might just survive. That is the deal.” Ominous as it sounds, Eddie is open to the idea of exploring Venom’s world (in truth he has no choice). As they connect and are influenced by each other, Venom – for both selfish and unselfish reasons – changes his mind about taking over Earth, saying, “I started to like you. You and I are not so different.” Eventually, in the situations that demand it, Eddie invokes Venom, surrendering control.
Ultimately Eddie and the antihero – Venom – save the Earth from a symbiote invasion, by accepting each other and working together. At the end of the film, they pull back half of Venom’s face to show half of Eddie’s. They answer a question together; “We are Venom”.
The film is a very literal reading of the Jungian concept of the shadow self. The binary light /dark way in which we learn to see the world and measure ourselves and others encourages us to push our own darkness away. We hold traumas, pain, and pathologies at arm’s length or greater, always attempting to focus on the light – the good. This judgment makes us feel safe; it helps us put distance between the parts of ourselves that terrify us and those we feel comfortable to express.
What we fail to recognise is that our realities are defined by the interplay of the conscious and subconscious. The id we cover-up will make its way toward the ego we project; we can either be brave and welcome the shadow into our consciousness, or fearfully keep it at bay for it to bubble up like magma. It might ooze out over time, but it might also erupt violently, incinerating the world and covering everything in dull, grey ash.
COVID-19, not just the virus itself but the Carnage that has come with it, is that eruption; an entirely predictable response-manifestation of years of repression; of operating off a programme we have not understood, given light to or challenged, let alone integrated into “we”. We’ve lied to ourselves, each other, and the planet. It’s not necessarily all our fault. I’ve written in previous insights on the role of environment and context, as the nature versus nurture argument becomes relevant. The field of epigenetics unpacks the phenomenon of heritable phenotype changes; essentially the ability of non-genetic factors to facilitate or impede the expression of genes.
If mice have been found to inherit fear epigenetically, why not humans? In preclinical studies, addiction, depression, anxiety, stress, fear, obsession, and even consumerism have been shown to be transmitted or inherited. If we can inherit psychoses, trauma, and fear, we aren’t just facing our own lived traumas, but those of the generations before us. Apartheid, corruption, domestic violence, economic uncertainty, world wars, genocides … the residue of scarcity, fear, and survival has impregnated us with a victim mentality. We are overwhelmed and lose our capacity to examine reality. We are overcome (and stockpile toilet rolls for no good reason at all).
That is the question the realities that have been brought about by COVID-19 begs us to attend to. How do we look after the Earth and our resources? How do we improve the quality of life for all humans? How do we change so that our descendants inherit a different mindset? Instead of fear; confidence. Instead of survival; thriving. Instead of scarcity; abundance. Instead of competition; cooperation.
We must expunge our trauma – individual and collective. We must use this time to dip our faces into that black pool we’re so afraid of; allow the poison to run through us; surrender to the chrysalis and the dark abyss of the cocoon. This is not easy. If it were, we wouldn’t be in the situation we find ourselves. How do we move through the sludge our mind created to safeguard us from the pain? What’s most difficult is that this is a question of identity; if I’m not this, then what am I? This process questions our very existence, and that is scarier than what we might find in the shadow. But therein is the opportunity to create who we are. There’s no alternative. It’s victim or creator. And so we do the work that moves us beyond victim and into creator.
As Venom says to Eddie …
COVID-19 has been traumatic for many. For business– like for the individual – this is the time to choose. We do the work, reconcile consciousness and shadow, and rewrite the narrative of how we do business going forward. Pure profit motives are unsustainable; the cost of doing business will be acceptable to all (including the Earth).
Instead of being part of a business based on non-essentials; consider being in one that provides essential value. Instead of extracting value; create value. Instead of working for a paycheck; work for a purpose. Instead of feeding the consumerist machine; do something that feeds your soul. There is this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to emerge from the cocoon as the butterfly, ready to pollinate, fertilise, and help the Earth prosper. Now is the time to consider these choices while the distractions of life have been suspended long enough for us to create the space to think.
Eddie calls Venom a parasite every so often; it’s the running joke. But Venom – your shadow self– is a symbiote. The darkness is your symbiote; you and your shadow are not so different. As you learn to negotiate with your darkness, you will surface the neutral, addressing and healing the dark manifestation of it, and creating a new narrative in which the light version is expressed.
As Eddie says to Venom at the end of the film, “We have to have some ground rules. ”Do the work. Rewrite your narrative, and you will rewrite business, the economy; our Earth; our humans.
Cooperate, and you might just thrive. That is the deal.