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Pandemic survival skills? One great place to learn from is real-life survival experiences. So let me begin with a story about the time my friend and I set out on a transformative adventure of survival in the wilderness.

It was a cold weekend in 2006. We were out beneath the stars in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The purpose was to gain Wilderness Survival Skills from legendary tracker, Tom Brown Jr. We learned how to make a fire without matches, build a shelter from forest debris, and live off the land. We weren’t alone. Along with us were fifty burly men with knives strapped to their legs. We didn’t quite fit in. But we were determined.

But…confession. It was so cold that in the middle of the night I forsook the snoring tribe and my “comfy” cardboard mattress. Yes, I sneaked away to the comfort of a cup of joe at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts. Survival skills indeed! That was one skill none of the other weekend warriors managed!

That painful but powerful learning experience led me to write a book for Career Track and Park University, Go Wild! Survival Skills for Business and Life. So it worked out.

What’s Today’s Survival Scenario?

  • The Great Resignation. Forty percent of employees are considering quitting their current position according to the World Economic Forum. How do we attract and keep top talent in a hybrid workplace?
  • Engagement = Profits. Companies with highly-engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147%. Yet only 31% of employees report being engaged in their work. How do we retain top talent and thereby remain competitive through an engaging and inspiring employee experience?
  • Innovation is not Optional. According to a recent study by Mckinsey and Company, 85% of business leaders cite innovation as critical to their organization’s success. Yet only 6% are satisfied with their innovation results.

Today as SVP of Product for Innovation Minds in Silicon Valley, I  work with our clients and team to navigate a different survival scenario. Pandemic survival! And believe it or not, what I learned from Tom Brown Jr. comes in handy.

The Great Resignation has forced us to keep up with an unparalleled need to accelerate and sustain innovation. So we’ve been working with our clients to create a 5-point “Pandemic Survival Blueprint.” Our team sets up a virtual or in-person situation room with the client. In less than a week, we identify their strengths and gaps and devise tactics that will achieve measurable and meaningful improvement in “The Big 3”: Employee Engagement, Productivity and Innovation. Together we devise an 18-month roadmap that achieves a 2-5X increase in employee experience and innovation.

Here’s the 5-Point Survive and Thrive Formula for Pandemic Survival

1. Awareness

Not many people initially recognize the arrow in the FedEx logo. However once you point it out, the arrow is the first thing people see on those trucks and envelopes.

On that survival weekend, I never noticed the bird calls or animal tracks while I walked through the woods. Until Tom had us practice “Focused Awareness.” Then, suddenly, they were everywhere.

The truth is that once we’re in an environment for thirty days, we cease to notice and track new experiences. “New Eyes Awareness” is a practice used by consultants for an outside-in perspective. This can also  be achieved by temporarily moving employees from one department to another to make focused observations.

Key Actions:  

1) Map your employee experience. Create personas for hybrid and on-site employees from the time employees arrive to the end of their workday.

2) Identify the “Moments that Matter.” These should include both pain points and opportunities to improve the overall employee experience.

Your employees already have the answers you’re looking for.  At Innovation Minds, we use a confidential survey tool, asking employees to rate their employee experience. And then to tell us why they gave that rating.  We then use AI to identify quick wins that respond to employee feedback.

PS: We don’t recommend doing this as best practice in a once a year engagement survey. Using technology to “check up” on employees can erode trust. Instead, we recommend to check in with them daily to show them you care. To show them that you consider them valued human beings.

2. Adaptability

Organizations needed to quickly shift to Plan B during the pandemic. But more importantly, we’ve all made shifts as individual human beings. We’re re-evaluating what’s important to us. How and where we work. And how we provide and receive goods and services.  

In survival situations, conditions can quickly change. That’s why innovation is so essential. And this applies just as much in pandemic survival as well.

We’re in an unprecedented time of change. Not only hybrid work and shifting trends are at play. But also the impact of AI’s emergence on a shifting workforce. There’s no time to postpone your organization’s innovation muscle. You need to build individual and organizational adaptability right away.

The pandemic has also greatly impacted mental health. A study from 2020 Harvey NASH/KPMG CIO SurveyEight shows that eight in ten IT leaders are concerned about the mental health of their team. This has resulted in 58% of IT leaders putting programs in place to support their staff in this area.

At Innovation Minds, we help organizations create a sustainable infrastructure where innovation is as natural as breathing. It no longer works to confine innovation to one R & D team. Nor to a once-a-year all-hands meeting 

Key Actions:

Ask and Answer these questions about your organization’s adaptability and resilience:

  1. How is your organization shifting with today’s latest technology and trends?
  2. Do you have a hybrid work plan? How has your organization adapted to hybrid work?
  3. How are you helping your employees develop resilience during uncertain times?
  4. In what ways have you built innovation into your culture and DNA? Have you created an infrastructure for both incremental and breakthrough innovation?

3. Skill

Let’s turn to one of the most competent, skilled and trained organizations: the US military. The US military summarizes the required mindset and tactics for a crisis with the acronym “SURVIVAL”:

S:  Size up the Situation

U:  Use all of your senses/Undue haste makes waste

R: Remember Where You Are

V: Vanquish Fear and Panic

I:  Improvise

V: Value Living

A: Act Like the Natives

L:  Live by your Wits

Key Action:

View a current business challenge or strategy using this SURVIVAL acronym. Size up the situation or business problem through a collection of all known data points. Place the highest value on a humanized workplace. Yes, you will on occasion need to live by your wits. But if you begin from where you are, using a multi-sensory approach and innovating WITH customers and employees not FOR them, you have a higher likelihood of thriving. Not just surviving.

4. Conservation of Energy

Putting in ten thousand steps a day is great for health and wellness. But it’s not so great for employee and organizational productivity.  

Technology has automated routine tasks and freed up your talent. Your employees can now more easily unleash their creativity and innovation.  Yet, technology can also do us in. Switching from task to task reduces productivity by up to 45%. Yes, tool exhaustion is a real thing. Especially in the hybrid workplace.

At Innovation Minds, we focus on using technology increasing employee productivity and unleashing the creativity of human talent. We build AI into our product to power insights and automate tasks to free up employee time. 

Key Action:

Look for opportunities to focus on improving the energy of your employees. Lifting the mental and physical energy of your team is part of becoming a best place to work.

Ask your employees where they feel they are wasting time on unproductive tasks. Then ask them to propose solutions. Because one of the best ways to engage employees is to listen to and respond to their feedback. You can be sure they will come up with great on-the-ground hacks to save your organization time, money, and energy.

Employees will be quick to point out mind-numbing Zoom calls and too much screen time. But they also might suggest ways to have more engaging and productive meetings. Or invest in ergonomic chairs. Or create a new virtual space in which to connect and collaborate.

At Innovation Minds, we help our clients turn these hacks into engaging weekly challenges. These challenges solve problems and increase productivity.  

5. Positive Mental Attitude

The last and perhaps most critical wilderness survival skill is Developing and Keeping a Positive Mental Attitude.

According to David Burkus, in Leading from Anywhere, high-trust organizations report 74% less stress, 106% more employee energy, 76% more engagement and 50% more productivity. 

Employees often say that they don’t leave companies, they leave managers. They also note that lack of recognition from peers and managers is a big trigger for them to seek greener pastures. 

Creating a positive and inspired workplace is essential to attracting and keeping top talent. Especially in today’s pandemic world full of both loss and uncertainty.

Key Action:

Create a culture of positive appreciation through organizational communications, rituals, and behaviors. Nothing kills culture and profits like a toxic workplace. Civility Partners based in San Diego, California works with organizations to design a positive workplace that taps into the talents and strengths of team members. Take advantage of their 30-second culture analysis.

Not everything goes according to plan. Develop “Next Action Thinking” in your organization to be ready for when they don’t.  Don’t fall into “Oh, no we’re all going to die!” every time you confront a challenge. Instead, reframe your team’s reflexes to be solution-oriented rather than problem-focused. Remember to avoid fear and panic. Think of just the next action you need to take to move forward. Pandemic survival depends on taking small firm steps.

Reach out to the Team at Innovation Minds and ask us for a Pandemic Survival Blueprint session with our top advisors in employee experience and innovation. You can mail me directly at

Rosemary Rein, SVP Product, Innovation Minds

edited by Michael Lee