Can Co-Creative Compliance Get America Back to Work?


Co-creative compliance

Source: Photo by David Strubler

Protected by my homemade mask, I got in line at Home Depot behind a long barrier six feet apart from others. A door monitor allowed us to enter, one at a time, while she watched for a customer to exit at the other end of the store. When I was allowed in, the aisles were sectioned off to guide customers to remain within the six-feet rule. 

Similarly, a friend returned to work in a manufacturing company making products deemed essential. Greeted at the door by intercom, he was instructed to put on the mask and gloves in the foyer. The door then opened, and his forehead was swiped to check his temperature. He was told (and monitored) to follow the rule of 6 feet while he worked. He got a paycheck and had something meaningful to do – serving customers’ needs and paying his bills. 

You get the picture. I call it co-creative compliance, i.e., specific adherence to CDC health guidelines while intelligently reopening America over time to provide products and services. Admittedly, this approach may not work for every organization. However, many or most organizations are creative and motivated enough to keep or reopen their operations safely.

Social psychologist Karl Weick (1979) created a socio-evolutionary model of organizing that works like this: New information (often disruptive) comes into an organization from the external environment. For example, the CDC, president, and governor announced the presence of COVID-19 and a shelter-down mandate. According to Weick, to reduce uncertainty and to create new assembly rules, organizations continually find and provide the latest information about the virus to their staff and their customers. Weick argues that entities naturally establish new and synergistic organizing rules to promote survival of their employees and their organizations. 

Home Depot and the manufacturing company mentioned above were deemed essential by the state or federal government and allowed to remain open with some new organizing rules. However, ‘non-essential’ businesses have been closed down. Ergo, they can not meet easily to reorganize and survive. But what if non-essential businesses were allowed and ‘encouraged’ by their governments during the shelter-down period to use video conferencing or other means to communicate?  They could quickly re-organize internally so that they are prepared to open the business within CDC compliance guidelines.

We agree that the most vulnerable to the virus are those over 60. Ironically, in my opinion, the most vulnerable to shelter-down orders are 20-somethings. Already living in relative isolation, this group of young people may have been working at two to three contingent, part-time jobs from which they have now been laid off. They had no health benefits through work nor could they afford them with their substandard wages. Or they are still living in their parent’s basements playing video games – in isolation. They suffer more than any group from anxiety, depression, co-occurring addiction and suicide. According to Stanford scientist, John Ioannidis, young people are far more likely to suffer mental illness and suicide than die from corona (Finley, April 24, 2020). Said one young man that I interviewed who was called back to work, “I was going stir crazy.  Now I have purpose. I can get through this.”  Purpose, a reason to get up in the morning, is the number one factor in health and longevity, according to “Blue Zone” researcher, Dan Beuttner.  He argues that people who have longevity, “move consistently through each day, live with purpose, and do it all with a little help from their friends (Brueck, 2019). 

According to epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, neither completely shutting down the economy nor letting the virus run wild are acceptable solutions (Bergen, 2020). Either/or solutions are flawed at best. Young people, in fact all those under 60, need to be screened, trained in new health and safety protocols, and allowed but not forced to come back to work in industries where compliance is possible.

The great thing about American ingenuity is that we are able to quickly co-create solutions, especially under pressure. First, we need to be dedicated to securing the health and safety of the elderly. This is a matter of adjusting our current services to accommodate for COVID-19 and any future virus. Second, we need a new industry dedicated to providing tests, masks, gloves, processes and protocol training to get people and organizations back to work as safely as possible. Third, each organization can create a team of internal and external experts to quickly and systematically restore their operations under CDC guidelines – new assembly rules.

Hospitals may need to create quarantine sections separate from the remainder of the building so they can perform elective surgery, thus bringing in revenue to pay staff. Schools and universities are quickly taking advantage of homeschooling and online learning, such that they can distribute their reach anywhere-in-the world. Oakland University’s President Ora Pescovitz has just announced the first get-back-to-school plans in the state of Michigan.  Along with distance learning, Pescovitz, a physician, is opening some classes and labs, however, with strict medical protocols.  She is taking a both/and approach.  Similarly, Kensington Church in southeast Michigan immediately switched to online services with 40,000 attending on a Sunday. More impressive, they reassigned their staff to make hundreds of personal wellness checks by phone to their members. They are providing thousands of meals for health care workers and those in need. Admittedly, restaurants and entertainment are the toughest challenge but even those important businesses can work to provide a safe way to sell their prepared food products and services.  20FrontStreet, a local music venue is using shelter down time to upgrade their technology for live-streaming of concerts in the short and long-run.  We are grateful for the recent opening of outdoor sports and lawn care that will bring revenues to the state from taxes, licenses and park entry fees.

Let’s use co-creative compliance to stay safe and get back to work as soon as possible. It doesn’t get any better than that.


Weick, K.E. (1979).  The Social Psychology of Organizing. McGraw-Hill. New York

Bergen, P. (2020).  Infectious disease expert: We’re only in the second inning of the pandemic.

French, R. (April 24, 2020)

Brueck,  (December 5, 2019). The man who unlocked the world’s secret to living to age 100 says you can skip the gym.

Finley, A. (April 24, 2020).  The bearer of good coronavirus news.

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