August 2021 President’s Message: Involuntary Yoga

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August 9, 2021

As I write this message in late June 2021, the announcement has just gone live that registration is open for the IIBEC Annual Convention and Trade Show, being held this year in Phoenix, Arizona, from September 15 to 20 (see the event preview on p. 8). Many of us are starting to work out the logistics puzzle that must be solved to open the gate and allow us to attend.

Over the years, the scheduling and sequencing of events at the Annual Convention and Trade Show have been optimized to the point that everything seems to run like clockwork: “If it’s 11:30 on Saturday morning, I must be in the second education session.” However, attendees in 2021 should expect some changes in the event. Why change something that seems to have been perfected? The biggest reason is that the recovery from the pandemic has imposed countless new constraints on gatherings such as this one. Planning for this convention has been like no other. Trade show layouts have been changed and alternatives made ready. We have had to reconsider seating arrangements for education sessions and reimagine the social events and meetings that are such a big part of the convention experience. And all of this has been happening amid constantly evolving hotel, city, and state rules and regulations. Our Convention Committee has had to be incredibly flexible, and we’re all going to have to be a little more flexible in how we experience the convention this year.

I’ve had a hard time finding anything really positive to take from the pandemic experience. But one hard lesson we have all had to learn is the forgotten art of flexibility. It seems that as the adoption of technology in our everyday lives has accelerated, we have traded away flexibility, in exchange for unthinking certainty and the improved overall results technology seems to promise. All this automated decision-making results in very efficient operations for large systems, but these systems can oversimplify the problems they are intended to address and create stress for the people whom they affect.

The events of the past 16 months have broken down many of our systems. Workers have had to work from home, or do their work differently, or stop working altogether. Employers have had to accommodate needed changes in staff working environments, while at the same time responding to the changing needs of their clients. Governments have had to provide unprecedented levels of emergency funding, while racing to develop policies and programs to maintain public safety. We’ve all had to suddenly become flexible in everything we do.

There has been a tendency to think of flexible people as wishy-washy or unprincipled or uninvested. But the pandemic has shown us that individual flexibility is essential to survival. Flexibility starts with working to understand the issue at hand and its context, so that relative costs and benefits can be estimated. The other key ingredient is the willingness to accept and act on the best solution, even if it means a disruption of our own daily routines or knowing that the solution will fly in the face of some algorithm embedded deep in a supply chain out in the automated world. Finally, we need to be ready and willing to repeat our investment of thought and reevaluate issues again and again, if the situation requires it. Confucius said, “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.” In building enclosure systems, flexibility of the system and its components is a key to improving building durability and climate resiliency. In the human world, we’ve now learned that flexibility is paramount in responding to global crises, and the same flexibility will assist us in embracing diversity and inclusion in our society going forward.

We’ve all gone through the equivalent of some intense, involuntary yoga over the course of the pandemic. Presumably, most of us are now picking ourselves up from our yoga mats, dusting ourselves off, and reassessing things. So now that we’re so much more flexible, let’s keep on stretching.