How to stay out of the emergency room (unless you’re actually working in the emergency room)

What we do in the creative industries is important, vital and valued by many in our communities. We have the power to inspire, reflect, and change through the work we share… But unless we’re on a high trapeze without both a harness or a safety net, then what we do isn’t being conducted in an emergency room. So why are so many people finding themselves there?

It’s tempting in this time of change to panic, to try to match the sense of chaos by moving companies so quickly we almost erase the past, or to stick so doggedly to old ways of doing things in the belief that the world will somehow stay still around us.

There has been a LOT of change, a LOT of incremental funding cuts, so much disruption. So much so that it’s brought many companies into an operational state of emergency. If you look around and see more than two of these then you’re probably already there:

1. A series of regular decisions which are made on ‘gut instinct’ but don’t make a great deal of sense when tested against info from evaluations or financial analysis.

2. Implementing change which momentarily fixes problems you can see right in front of you but causes bigger problems down the line.

3. A deep and sustained focus on activities which don’t connect to your core purpose.

4. Staff on the edge of burnout within twelve months of coming into the organisation, particularly staff who have been thrown running into roles without support and induction.

5. A sense of widespread resignation that the work culture can not change, and little investment in solving systemic ingrained issues.

6. An expectation that you will still manage the volume of work with increasingly depleting resources and no strategy to support it.

7. An expectation that teams working at full capacity will continue to take on additional work over a sustained period of time.

A couple of years ago I found myself in a gig at the RSPCA. A place that really did have an actual emergency room. If you didn’t go all hands on deck, death could have been a consequence. But even when you’re unexpectedly presented with 23 cats that have been living in an abandoned car in the back of a Woolworths, you still have time to assign tasks to people based on their strengths and set up a process that is as quick and painless as possible for all involved. Especially the cats. They’d been through enough already.

To make your way out of the emergency room, or prevent yourself from getting there, you’ve first got to realise that you don’t need to be in there as a mark of your commitment to your work. There aren’t many fantastic long term solutions that have come from rising panic. This kind of adrenaline fuelled anxiety doesn’t produce the quality strategic smarts to solve the problems we find ourselves in. Let it go.

If you can assess the situation, move both quickly and cleverly and implement change that is responsive and forward thinking then you’re 3/4 of the way out of the emergency room. Take a deep breath, just do it.

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