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When you can, ‘kaizen’: Examples of bright sparks amidst the COVID-19 crisis

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As the COVID-19 crisis continues to spread across the world, it can be a little hard to be optimistic at times; doctors and specialists still do not completely understand the virus itself, containment efforts have not been 100% effective, and the negative economic fall-out in many markets is massive. It is not the first time the world dealt with a fast-spreading virus, and indeed, pessimists like to point out that this only goes to show that the global community has not learnt one thing about epidemic control from any of the past occurrences

That said, though, the ‘glass-half-full’ set can also confidently say that depending on where you look, there are potential learnings that can be made even as the situation does not seem to be improving anytime soon. We at Kadence like to believe that every problem presents an opportunity for ‘kaizen’ (the Japanese concept of ‘constant improvements’), as we present 3 examples to prove our case:

1.     The opportunity to road-test Advanced Technology in Medical Science

It is sometimes the case that technological breakthroughs are created before a real-world use case exists, which means said breakthroughs are not necessarily relevant or have a strong market need until much later. In the case of COVID-19, however, the speed and pervasiveness with which the virus is spreading means that technological solutions are needed urgently, on top of advances in vaccination creation. From the examples below, we see that the ‘tech’ is being deployed to help and that it is not even necessarily linked to the medical field:

a)     Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning: Data scientists and researchers at Wuhan University are using programs powered by AI and ML technology to track and monitor the spread of the virus  

b)     Robots: To minimize person-to-person infections, US medical teams have deployed robots to provide care for persons diagnosed with the virus. Vital measures are being taken through the robot, and the information is then related to medical teams outside of the isolation zones

c)     Drones: The Chinese government is using drones to monitor and ensure that its citizens in at-risk cities to adhere to public health safety guidelines. Fitted with loudspeakers, identified rule-breakers will be given audio instructions, such as ‘stay indoors’ or ‘put a mask on’

2.     The opportunity of making remote working the ‘new-normal’

Prior to the outbreak, remote working tends not to be the norm in a lot of Asian work cultures: for various reasons, even though it is an increasingly encouraged in various markets, ‘going to work’ still means heading to the office for 8 hours (or more) of completing tasks with fellow co-workers, in-person. For geographically compact countries like Singapore, commuting does not present that much of an issue, compared to somewhere like Japan, where long distances to and from work is a norm that ‘salarymen’ reckon with

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However, in view of the COVID-19 virus, to minimize contact which potentially increases the likelihood of infections, nearly all companies in both markets now implement a certain degree of remote working to ensure that businesses continue to operate while adhering to public health measures. For example, Yahoo Japan used to stipulate that employees who need to work from home for circumstantial reasons can only do so for up to 5 days in a month; following the outbreak, that limitation has been removed.

Regardless when the whole situation blows over, these work-from-home arrangements have presented itself as the best time for various non-physical modes of co-working to be tested and perfected; experienced remote workers know that while the technology has been present for many years (most companies will use at least one platform or another to facilitate conferencing within and outside of the organization), the rules of engagement and methods of effectively working together have not really been established. While no one wishes for another pandemic to put it to the test again, when the necessity arises, capitalizing on the moment to iron out the best ways of working remotely can only be a good thing in the long run

3.     The opportunity for humour: improving one’s daily life through creativity

At the height of the virus’ spread across China, as part of its containment effort, residents in major cities like Shanghai were asked to stay home and not return to work, even after the official week-long Chinese New Year break in late January/early February. While some initially relished the extended break, the attendant closure of public leisure facilities soon made it clear that staying home was not going to be as easy as they thought it would be. Not long after a week passed did citizens start to compare the act of staying home akin to ‘imprisonment’, and boredom and restlessness quickly set-in, once entertainment options were exhausted

The more imaginative Chinese started to look for ways to entertain themselves and put their creative skills to the test. It is most apparent in this particular contest, organized by a local English-language magazine, to see how artistic Shanghainese can get when it comes to ‘pimping’ their face masks, a vital ‘first line of defence’ in the act of protecting oneself from the virus

While some may feel that this is an act which trivializes the gravity of the situation in China, others can argue that contextually, there needs to be a psychological ‘outlet’, a salve for the average person to let off some steam, such that they do not get consumed by the prevailing mood of paranoia, suspicion, uncertainty and helplessness. Also, China is no stranger to social media fads, and as far as this contest goes, at least it encourages contestants to put their free time to good use, as opposed to more mindless online shopping or social commentary   

All the above examples highlight a fundamental truth about crises in general: while we cannot control what happens, we can certainly control how we react to events. The ingenious chooses to exercise creativity when tackling problems, leveraging lateral thinking for solutions, while the flexible work their way around problems. Having a little fun along the way never hurts, and it certainly helps to reduce the stress of dealing with all the uncertainties of a medical emergency that are still unfolding day-by-day.

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