Nothing New About Normal

By John Blumberg, Andersen Alumnus and author of Return On Integrity (

Recently, there seems to be an increased longing to arrive at a “new normal.” And I personally “get” that longing. It even has a tinge of feeling progressive on the surface – so much more insightful than just wanting to get “back to normal.” Yet is it?

No doubt, this has been quite a year. Heartbreaking. Demanding. Confusing. And for so very many – an unimaginable deep loss. Anything, but what conventional wisdom would consider to be normal.

At the same time, this past year has been enlightening. Which is what makes me suspect of most any form of normal.

Normal, in itself, is an interesting term. It raises a lot of fair questions:

  • Normal for who?
  • Normal on whose terms?
  • Normal by which measures?
  • Normal in what way?

Could it be that “normal” is a code word for comfortable?

Normal has all kinds of connotations of “good.” Yet, by definition, it means standard, common type – usual state, amount or level.

Some have referred to this pandemic as the great reset. It seems that resets come with a great cost if “normal” is one’s standard. Even if it is a “new normal.” With a greater vision, one might reset their perspective and turn the pandemic into a meaningful investment. The question becomes … an investment in what?

I’d propose there is nothing new about normal.

Normal isn’t good enough. It has a comforting addiction that often leads to mindless addition. The donation lines at most any Goodwill store, over the past year, might be tangible evidence. I sat in one of those myself for almost an hour.

No question for many, a natural tendency would be to take the safe route to normal … even if we disguise the backward tendency of it by adding the adjective of “new.” It appears to be without risk.

Yet this natural tendency may risk everything.

Especially the missed opportunity of a new way forward. Every government, every business, every educational institution, every church, every family and every individual are vulnerable to missing (or even worse yet, avoiding) this opportunity – especially if we are not willing to be vulnerable enough to explore a creative new path forward.

Recently, I had the opportunity to share a presentation on exploring the paradoxical blessings of 2020 with 20/20 clarity. One of my presentations explored how this pandemic has brought the opportunity to focus on simplicity. In preparation for my presentation, I stumbled across a good bit of insightful information on barnacles. It proved to be a good metaphor. It said this:

Of the more than 1,400 species of barnacles, found in the world’s waterways, the most common ones are called acorn barnacles. Removing barnacles requires some elbow grease (or a pressure washer). These barnacles secrete a fast-curing cement that is among the most powerful natural glues known – an adhesive so strong that researchers are trying to figure out how it can be used commercially.

Barnacles like places with lots of activity – like underwater volcanos and inter-tidal zones, where they reside on sturdy objects like rocks, pilings, and buoys. Moving objects, like boat and ship hulls and whales, are particularly vulnerable to the pesky critters. Large barnacle colonies cause ships to drag and burn more fuel, leading to significant economic and environmental costs. The U.S. Navy estimates that heavy barnacle growth on ships increases weight and drag by as much as 60 percent … resulting in as much as a 40 percent increase in fuel consumption.

The barnacle-like objects in our lives … activities, commitments, expectations and the entitlements we add to our lives … are often attachments that are connected with an adhesive any barnacle would be proud of. They can create their own form of drag …

And in so many ways take-on the essence of normal.

This pandemic will be talked about for decades, if not centuries, to come. Instead of setting our sights on getting to a “new” normal, what if we began to creatively explore, with great wonder, a new way forward.

Instead of the chatter of future generations being focused on the great cost of this pandemic, what if it was filled with awe of the great transformation that followed? Not a new normal … but rather something really new. And wonderful.

What would be one element of a new way forward that you would love to see? We could all benefit, if you would be so kind to share your thoughts email me at!