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Field Report: The 'Big Five' Things — by Brandon S. Peters, CPSM, PLA, ASLA, LEED AP

With the world seemingly on pause with an ostensibly never-ending stream of bad news, fears of our family and friends coming down with COVID-19, and uncertainty in the world and local economies it is difficult to feel in control of the future. Despite this and being in lockdown, there is a beautiful, resilient world out there in which we can draw inspiration by virtue of persevering through countless external threats.

'Safari' is a Swahili word simply meaning 'journey.’ My journey in East Africa started in 2019 when I relocated from Seattle to Rwanda to assist in developing much needed affordable housing throughout the region. While here, I have developed a great appreciation of what are considered to be the Big Five animals that roam Sub-Saharan Africa: Lion, Leopard, Rhinoceros, Elephant, and Cape Buffalo. In viewing and researching more about these magnificent creatures, there are some remarkable features that help them work through adversity in some of the harshest conditions on earth. So, what can we glean from them that can be applied to the current work environment and the A/E/C industries as we emerge from this period of difficulty and self-isolation?

5. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is your company’s TRUE competitive advantage?

Rhinos have poor vision and will sometimes even attack trees and rocks by accident. However, their hearing and sense of smell are excellent, and they often use this to compensate for their poor eyesight. In times of uncertainty, it is easy to be startled by work going awry that in normal times might seem to be solid. Don’t fret about this, it will happen to all! Instead, acknowledge that these things are likely happening because they might not be part of your company’s core focus or might not be your strength. In this pause, take stock in yourself and your company. There might not be any better time than to conduct a SWOT analysis and see how you can improve moving forward or identify a TRUE competitive advantage. Remember, stumbles are natural, but what can you do to use your strengths to your advantage?

4. What can you do now to leverage and grow your network?

A Cape Buffalo will often try to rescue another member of the herd caught by a predator. Now, perhaps more than ever, it is important to reach out to those in your network. Even if you personally do not need assistance at this time maybe they do. The robust community in SMPS Seattle and familiarity with each other in the A/E/C industries as a whole, we are all in this together and through teamwork can fight adversity. Whether it’s taking part in the virtual offerings from SMPS or connecting for a virtual coffee, it’s always worthwhile to maintain these relationships and let someone know you are there for  them.

3. Don’t turn your nose up at something!

Leopards are considered to be the most adaptable of the big cats. Leopards mostly hunt from trees where their spotted coats allow them to blend with the leaves until they spring with a deadly pounce but also can swim and will eat fish or crabs if necessary. How many people reading this have helped someone with an IT issue during the lockdown? Probably most of us! Would you have been so kind if that colleague had come to your desk a few weeks ago? Maybe. Maybe Not. We are all in this together and simply teaching someone about tech or lending a hand on a work task that is usually not your responsibility can go a long way. But, another fishing metaphor ‘take a person fishing they will eat for a day, teach a person to fish and they will eat forever’ applies here. Make sure you are helping each other learn for the future, which brings me to the next one:

2. Prepare to evolve with the changes that will come from this disruption.

Many plant species have evolved seeds that are dependent on passing through an elephant's digestive tract before they can germinate. At least one third of tree species in East African forests rely on elephants in this way for dissemination. There is little doubt that the future of work has changed. Remote work for which companies were previously hesitant is now the norm and that will likely continue. For years there has been research available on the benefits for working remote but now that companies have had a chance to practice it, it needs to stick. Think about how your firm can continue to work in this manner and how you can evolve your skillset to match this new normal. The firms that embrace this change will be those that thrive and attract top talent moving forward.

1. Be mindful, realistic of expectations and don’t burn yourself out!

Lions, the apex predator of Africa, can sleep up to 20-hours a day! Now, I am not saying that you should sleep 20-hours a day during lockdown, nor should we really be spending that much time re-watching Tiger King but try not to do too much. Productivity in bursts is a great way to handle a lockdown while being mindful of what time is allocated to work, family, and yourself. Working from home can sometimes blur these boundaries. Think of how effective you can be if you were to concentrate your most important tasks into a 4-hour window and I bet if you tried this, you would surprise yourself at all that you could accomplish.


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  1. Sue Brooks

    Jun. 8, 2020

    A beautiful and thought provoking piece. Thank you Brandon. I too have been considering nature and how survival and adaptation are key. I learnt last week that the beautiful Protea flower seeds can only be pollinated by fire. So what does that mean to me: don’t fight the inevitable but embrace it and bring out success in a different form.

  2. Liz Coleman

    May. 29, 2020

    Brandon, your insight is so powerful and appreciated right now! And your humor was on point. Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Bill Strong

    May. 22, 2020

    So simple but so powerful. Thanks for this great reminder of the power within ourselves. And keep sending more photos! Beautiful. Bill

  4. Allina Hakim

    May. 21, 2020

    I like your comparison to the wildlife in East Africa, all good points. Kudos to you Brandon!

  5. Heidi Maki

    May. 12, 2020

    Thank you, Brandon, for sharing your insight! We miss you!


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