How to achieve your (business) goals despite the Coronavirus crisis?
On 15th March 2020, it became clear that I had to change my plans.
In the previous four days, I had given my Brain-Friendly Slides workshop at the Munich Creative Business Week and trained freelance trainers in Ulm on how to pitch their services in a brain-friendly way. At the former event, I had a full room. At the latter, it was two-thirds full. These were the days when companies in Germany started switching to remote working. The speed at which the virus was closing in on normal life in Europe was accelerating. So I had to abandon the original plan of giving a taster workshop and having a meeting at the OSCE in Vienna two weeks later. It was time to find a way back home to Brasilia.
Changing my original flight from Vienna seemed impossible since I could not get through to the online travel agent I had booked it with. Therefore, I bought a ticket from Munich, where I was, to Brasilia via Lisbon, scheduled for a couple of days later.
Less than 24 hours before the first leg of my journey was supposed to start, while trying to check in online, I found out that the second leg had been cancelled. And a notice on the Portuguese national carrier’s (TAP) website advised agains going to Lisbon if one had no valid onward ticket. To make things worse, not only had the daily Lisbon-Brasilia flights been scrapped, but TAP had reduced its ten regular flights to Brazilian destinations to only two — Rio and São Paulo. This meant that all the people booked for the cancelled eight daily flights would be competing for places on these two. And there would not be many seats up for grabs to start with since there were plenty of travellers with tickets for these two most populous Brazilian cities. The noose was tightening.
During my career, I had learned how to keep my cool in high pressure situations, focus, improvise if necessary and perform at my best. But here too much depended on factors I had no control over and could not predict.
It was time to resort to my secret weapon, which I had only learned about a couple of months earlier. It came from a recording of a Tony Robbins event on YouTube. Tony suggests asking ourselves a question starting with “How can I…” or “What do I need to do to…” and then finishing it with the outcome we wish to achieve. In my case, this was “How can I/What do I need to do to get back to Brasilia within two days?”.
I know that many (business) people may be skeptical about a mental technique producing (business) outcomes we desire. How on Earth can just asking yourself a question produce the results you want? Especially in difficult circumstances.
Luckily, I knew from training attended many years earlier that the brain sends out electromagnetic signals, which are able to travel way beyond our sculls, and as the whole world around us is an electromagnetic system, our thoughts travel much further and have more influence than what we credit them for.
From my previous learning and experience, I also knew that most of us do not tap into the full potential of our minds and that our minds can solve seemingly insolvable problems if we tell it what outcome we are after and do it in a way it understands and responds to. And the way to instruct it is through questions, because they engage the mind a lot more than statements. (It’s no coincidence that one of the best ways to engage your audience at the beginning of a presentation is by asking questions.) Therefore, by asking ourself a “How can I + outcome?” question, we are telling our brain to find the solution, to take us to that outcome.
Having issued such a question-command naturally does not mean we can lay back and need not do much about it any more. On the contrary. We have to invest energy and keep working towards our envisioned goal, even if we do not see how to get there. What will happen is that in this quest for a solution, through the choices we make and through what we refer to as our intuition, our brain will guide us to the defined result in ways we may not even be aware of consciously.
This may sound like mumbo-jumbo to some, but I had experienced it in action multiple times. The most powerful example prior to trying to get back to Brazil was filling the room at the Munich Creative Business Week despite the Coronavirus concerns getting more serious in the run-up to it. Suffice to say that less than a month before the workshop, not a single person had registered, but with the last two registrations coming in less than 17 hours before the workshop started, all tickets were sold. Later I heard that at many parallel workshops there were more empty seats than in previous years.
Let us get back to my efforts to come home from Munich. As I said, the noose was tightening, airlines had started grounding larger and larger parts of their fleets and flights were being cancelled left and right, including the second leg of my journey from Lisbon to Brasilia.
After realising how increasingly difficult my situation was becoming by the day and giving my brain the command to get me home in no more than two days, I started making calls to reschedule the Lisbon-Brasilia leg of the trip to Lisbon-São Paulo or Rio. All I got was long hold times and music to listen to, but nobody to talk to. When the time came to leave for Munich Airport to catch the flight to Lisbon, on my wife’s advice I decided to go, hoping I could reschedule the second leg there. At the eerily empty airport, I was told that they can only put me on a waiting list for São Paulo, but they cannot secure me a seat and I should try to do it when I arrive in Lisbon.
(I was the only one going to Munich Airport, © Ákos Gerold)
So I left Munich, where I would have been able to stay longer if needed, for Lisbon, where I knew nobody, not being sure if I would be able to travel on. When I landed and tried to talk to someone at the TAP desk, I found it fenced off. Portugal had just declared a state of emergency a few hours earlier and police were guarding the airport entrances. There were about two dozen Brazilians queuing in front of the building, but I am not sure what they were hoping for as it was around 23:20. The flights to São Paulo and Rio had just left.
I went to a nearby airport hotel, slept from midnight to 5:15 and arrived at the airport at 6:20 the next morning, hoping to rebook. What greeted me upon arrival was at least 120 people already queuing in front of the airport. After five hours, I was the third in line, but then the queue stopped progressing. We didn’t move for 30 minutes, 60, 90, 120.
During this time, TAP employees told us that both flights to Brasil for that day had been overbooked and instructed us to call the consulate and the TAP call centre to rebook. But nobody answered the calls. A little later, we were told there were no seats for the next 2-3 days, then the next 10. Then, they told us that four days later, they would scrap the Rio flights and instead of flying to São Paulo daily, they will only offer three flights a week. I started weighing up the option of staying longer in the airport hotel or waiting for months in another European city for the Corona storm to calm down.
By this point, I was the first in line, because one person in front of me had given up and another had been rebooked as she was flying to a European destination. Feeling tired, suffering from constant lower back pain due to the long standing and needing a toilet break, I decided to go back to the hotel to answer the call of nature, eat and rest. The new plan was to come back in the late afternoon, hoping that some of the people who were now behind me would give up and that I would be able to get one of the seats that might become available due to no-shows. I even called my wife, who had urged me to stay and persevere, and my mother to tell them I would leave and come back later, because the chances of being rebooked any time soon looked bleak.
But I couldn’t leave. My intuition simply did not let me. I started looking for solutions. I managed to go off to a nearby toilette and also to sit down and thus alleviate the excruciating lower back pain, while remaining first in line. I realised that the only chance to get back home “within two days” was to be the first person in the queue and get the very first no-show place to Brasil. And after 14 hours of waiting, that is exactly what I did. I left Lisbon that same night. The next morning, getting a flight from São Paulo to Brasilia was only a formality.
Two days after I gave my brain the command to get me home within two days, I landed in Brasilia. Despite the constantly diminishing odds. Despite not knowing how exactly I could do it. But my brain led me to the solution. Four days after I arrived home, about 1,600 Brazilians were still stranded in Portugal, unable to come back.
This was not just my way to return home. This is also our way to survive and perhaps even grow (our businesses) in spite of the Coronavirus crisis. It’s not impossible to achieve your goals against the odds and despite not seeing what the way out is. You just need to know how to use the untapped power we all have — our brains.
If you would like more advice on how to do this and how to present and communicate based on the way the brain receives, processes and remembers information, I’ll be happy to help. Drop me a line.
Stay safe and healthy and take care of others.