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Bruno Cotta, Lucy Fellow, on why it's so important to ‘see beyond’ a crisis and what we can learn from enterprising people

It was just 5 years ago that entrepreneur and now philanthropist, Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, delivered a sobering TED talk describing “the next outbreak”, warning that the world was not ready to cope with a global epidemic of the kind that millions of people are now witnessing.

As each of us attempts to ‘keep calm and carry on’ at home, or at work, two other organizations similarly known for the foresight of their founders (and whose products and services we also depend on daily as this situation unfolds), Apple and Google, have announced a joint development of smart phone technology to rapidly trace contact with coronavirus.

Meanwhile, even closer to home, the University of Cambridge is partnering with pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline to support the UK’s aim to boost the nation’s Covid-19 testing capacity and nearly 80 companies and academic institutions world-wide are conducting research and development, racing to produce a much needed vaccine.

This very human spirit of endeavour is also bringing together our next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs in equally timely efforts making a real difference to those on the ‘frontline’, where many talented Cambridge medical students graduating early as new doctors are joining the NHS workforce at this critical time.

Whilst we all hope that this arising risk to our health will subside as soon as possible, nobody can really provide any assurance that we won’t face such things again. It is this ongoing sense of uncertainty, both around and ahead of us, that naturally generates stress and anxiety, as we do our best to adapt to the changing environment of social distancing and other measures.

At times like these, being able to ‘see beyond’ a crisis is a valuable skill, but it’s a huge challenge to maintain this positive vision of what we want the future to look like, when so much that we care about in the present, is demanding our immediate attention or support. If we do give ourselves a moment to pause, we can learn a lot from enterprising people.

They see and exploit strengths, despite weaknesses and they see and exploit opportunities, despite threats. They see failures as stepping-stones to success, rather than reasons to give up. They seem (and need) to be, masters of resilience.

Such enterprising vision doesn’t have to come from ground-breaking invention or discovery, it could simply be a strong sense of purpose or mission that drives us, but much of what we think (rationally) and feel (emotionally) is inextricable, so it’s hard to see or plan for the future clearly, when facing adversity.

Translating vision into action then requires ability and motivation in oneself, but also in others. Enterprising people seem to have an enhanced capacity to creatively generate ideas, but also the skills and support to bring these ideas to life.

In challenging times, they (and all of us) can certainly draw on our ‘emotional intelligence’, including:

  • Self-awareness - your ability to not only understand your strengths and weaknesses, but to recognize your emotions and the effect they have on you and others
  • Self-management – your ability to manage your emotions, particularly in stressful situations, and maintain a positive outlook despite setbacks
  • Social awareness - your ability to recognize others’ emotions and the related dynamics of your organization
  • Relationship management - your ability to influence, coach, and mentor others, resolving conflict effectively

So, whatever your own enterprising vision might be, as each of us navigate the coming days and weeks with our family, friends and colleagues, let’s try to understand our strengths, maintain a positive outlook, recognise the needs of others, and influence them for the better.

About Bruno F. V. Cotta

Bruno is Executive Director at Cambridge Judge Business School's Entrepreneurship Centre and Fellow Lucy Cavendish College. He has over 20 years of leadership and management experience working with public, private and third sector organisations in the UK and internationally, including founding the Enterprise Lab at Imperial College London to support the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. Prior to this, he worked in R&D, product and service development in the emerging technology and telecom sector, contributing to several technical and commercial world-firsts.

He holds a degree in Engineering and an MBA and has completed executive training at the London School of Economics, MIT Sloan School of Management, Harvard Business School and INSEAD. Bruno serves on the advisory boards for Cambridge University Entrepreneurs (CUE) and Cambridge University Technology & Enterprise Club (CUTEC) and on the Governing Board of Chesterton Community College, Cambridge (Cambridgeshire Educational Trust).