Third Way Thinking

Apr 4, 2020 | leadership

Have you noticed a growing trend in today’s business? Many businesses are closed. Wait a minute, we’ve been told by the government that we need to close! This is true, many businesses have been shuttered as the country fights off this invading virus.

Yet, there are businesses that have found a Third Way to content with the current situation. The interesting question is how are some businesses finding creative ways to manage this stressful time while others aren’t?

Stress & the Brain

Let’s talk about stress. When I use the word stress, I could also use: anxious, fearful, restrictive, worrying, or – you fill in the emotions you are currently experiencing. For this discussion I’ll continue using stress.

The brain has one purpose- to survive. When things happen, or you think they will happen, the brain triggers the stress response. Simply put, the autonomic nervous system is engaged and releases catecholamines and glucocorticoid to prepare the body for an immediate response (McEwen, 2016). Then the hypothalamic-pituritary-adrenal axis releases cortisol so the body retains it’s high alert status period (Mills-Koonce, Holochwost, & Rehder, 2019).

When you body and brain are primed to take self-preservation action, it can’t think up new ideas.

For years, we’ve been told we need to develop our abilities to multi task. Unfortunately, our brains really can’t perform multiple tasks simultaneously. Instead it shifts from task to task, but switches really, really fast. While the illusion says we are doing two things at once, the brain is actually only doing one task at a time .

If the brain can only do one thing at a time, then it stands to reason it can only experience one emotional response at a time. The brain can be anxious or calm, fearful or excited, or worrying or contemplative. Next time you think you are experiencing two emotions simultaneously, take note of how often you are really switching from emotion to emotion.

The key to developing a Third Way solution is to recognize how you are responding and choose to respond differently.

In most stressful situations, people fall into the black & white decision-making trap. The business can be open as it used to be or the business is closed. This dichotomous response is frequently based on the anxiety about the situation and not the facts surrounding the problem.

Let’s go back to our current problem. Businesses have been told to close. When businesses are closed, the owners and employees can’t make any money. Without money, the business will stop existing. Once the business is permanently close, the financial hit will be horrible for all involved.

I would imagine reading this paragraph brought up a ton of anxiety about your future if your business is currently closed. To start thinking about a third way, you need to set aside the anxiety so the creativity can flow.

Third Way solution plan.

What are the facts about your situation?

  1. What does your business do? (What service or product do you provide to make money?)
  2. When open, how did your business provide its service? (Store front, office, direct sales, etc.)
  3. What are the reasons you are currently closed (being identified as a non-essential business doesn’t count. What were the reasons you are considered non-essential?)
  4. How can you provide the same service, product, or a variation of them and remained closed?
  • Can you ship your product to your customer so they don’t have to come to your store front?
  • Can you meet customers via an internet platform instead of in person?
  • Can you reduce or restrict your service or product line so you can support your business yet remain compliant with the current restrictions?
  1. How can you prepare for your business to reopen?

Developing a third way plan is reliant upon you being able to recognize your emotional response to the situation and purposefully calming yourself. After gathering the facts about the situation, you can look at it through a different lens. It is this shift from anxiety to creativity that will help you see other options.


Julie Swanberg-Hjelm

McEwen, B. S. (2016). Central role of the brain in stress and adaptation: Allostasis, biological embedding, and cumulative change. In G. Fink (Ed.), Stress: Concepts, cognition, emotion, and behavior. Handbook of stress. (Vol 1, pp. 39–56). London, England: Academic Press.

Mills-Koonce, W. R., Holochwost, S. J., & Rehder, P. D. (2019). Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal (HPA) axis. In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Lifespan Human Development (pp. 1089–1090). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.