Different times, different viewpoints

So, how are you coping? Are you self-isolating? Are you practising social distancing? Are you worried about your physical or mental health? Worried for your family, relatives and friends? Worried about your job or your business? These are difficult times, not least because of the uncertainty – not knowing how bad the pandemic will get within our communities or how long the current conditions will last for. Uncertainty is the hardest thing to deal with. Once we can define the problem, we can work out what needs to be done to apply a solution. When things are uncertain and any number of scenarios could come to fruition, the possible solutions multiply and cause stress and concern. We are at a loss to know what to do for the best.

There is nothing like enforced change to jolt us out of our comfort zones, make us reassess our priorities and alter our behaviours and attitudes. In our business life, the adoption of new processes and practices can take a long time. For years, there has been talk about using technology to facilitate working flexibly and working remotely. Meanwhile, the time taken by my commute to work has increased (outside of school holidays that is). Then, suddenly, in response to the coronavirus, there are travel bans and calls for people to work from home. On the day I did go into work there was little traffic on the roads. Compare this response, when the threat to ourselves is imminent, to our response to the environmental crisis, the direst consequences of which lie sometime in the future. Working from home and reduced commuting, such as we are now seeing, would have been beneficial to the environment and still could be, if we do not just slip back into our old habits once the threat of the virus has passed.

But making voluntary changes is more difficult. As we see every New Year, many resolutions lapse after a few weeks. To make them stick we need added motivation. One way is to change our point of view; to alter our perspective; to see things differently. I recently came across examples of how we can get entrenched in a singular way of thinking. They were described in a book about Polynesia. It describes the encounter between Captain Cook and a Polynesian navigator. In line with western practice, Captain Cook navigated with charts based on objective science and measurements of latitude and longitude. The Polynesian navigators travelled great distances over the Pacific with a more subjective approach, using the stars, winds, clouds and sea conditions. Both achieved their goals.

The book also relates how the first Spanish explorers in the region saw the Polynesians’ large ocean-going canoes, but did not believe they were capable of sailing over the ocean because they were nothing like the ships sailed by westerners. A blinkered view. Both of these examples show that, although activities may be achieved successfully in a particular way and we tend to say ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, it is still possible to learn and improve by taking a fresh look from a different angle.

Of course, to consider things differently we need to overcome our inherent bias for our established way of doing things and we need to take time to observe and listen to others. This latter requirement is not always easy and may require extra effort on our part to research and understand an alternative view.

When this time of enforced change is over, it is important that we do not blindly return to the old ways of doing things. For those who are working hard covering for colleagues and keeping services running, the time for reflection will come afterwards. For those businesses with employees forced to use technology and work remotely, there is likely to be time now to consider what works well and what does not. If we do try new approaches, it is likely that some will succeed and some will fail. This is to be expected. On the Marquesas Islands, which unlike typical Polynesian islands lack coral reefs, many varieties of fish hooks have been found on archaeological sites. This suggests that new types of hook had to be produced and tested to find ones that would work in the surrounding deep waters.
Keep safe.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within NDT News. They do not represent the views of Jacobs or BINDT.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX, UK.
Fax: +44 (0)1604 438301; Email: ndtnews@bindt.org or email Bernard McGrath direct at bernard.mcgrath1@jacobs.com

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