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Resilience…

Survival of the Adapted?

In the 1950s, a young man enrolled in a public speaking course “not to prevent my knees from knocking when public speaking, but to do public speaking while my knees are knocking.”

That young man was Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest men. The course was a Dale Carnegie (author of the multi-million bestseller ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’) public speaking course and the investment was $100.

Warren Buffet has many admirable qualities and several habits that contribute to his enormous financial success. I think a crucial aspect of this success is his adaptability over many years in business and, consequently, his resilience.

Resilience has become a popular topic in recent years, discussed in the context of markets, governments and policy-making, organisational change, entrepreneurship and, of course, the individual.

The two Oxford Dictionary definitions of resilience are:

  • The ability of a substance or object to bounce back into shape; elasticity.
  • The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Adaptability is therefore intrinsic to resilience and (as I think most of us would find it hard to dispute), resilience is crucial for an individual’s survival. As it is individuals who make up organisations, neighbourhoods, countries – indeed, this community – I wanted the focus of this article to be on the individual.

Let’s face it, a large number of us have had to dig deep since the start of what is now aptly-called the Great Recession ten years ago. Lasting far longer than originally predicted, those individuals who have survived – thrived even – are the ones most able to bounce back and adapt.

I appreciate that adaptability is only one aspect of a set of survival skills and that our survival is indeed dependant on a number of external, as well as internal, factors. However, for the purposes of this article and its usefulness to you as the reader, let’s concentrate on this skill.

In their award-winning book ‘Why Change Doesn’t Work’, clinical psychologist Harvey Robbins and journalist Michael Finley provide practical and proven methods for managers to work with human nature, rather than against it. Historically, this has rarely been the method used to effect change by governments or corporations. Robbins and Finley assert that this is why change doesn’t (usually) work.

To develop and employ the internal forces that help overcome adversity and challenges, we need to build capability and competence. It would be wonderful if we could simply adapt and gain the knowledge and skills we need to acquire with a wave of a magic wand. Alas, we can’t. People need training and education, which then has to be practised over a period of time to build that capability and competence.

If we embrace what the UK’s Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (the RSA) calls the ‘power to create’, a model of change that starts from people taking action, we can avoid feeling victims of the whims and vagaries of politicians and economists. As Chief Executive, Matthew Taylor explains:-

“The power to create identifies the possibility of a tipping point, where it becomes possible to realistically aspire to all people being able to live creative lives. The tipping point results from changes in human capability and appetite, in the technological transformation wrought by the web, and in the growing demand from employers and the state for, respectively, creative workers and citizens.”

Yes, technology and its rapid development – in particular the internet – has had a dramatic impact on us, our workplaces and our homes over the past 15 to 20 years. Increasingly so with mobile usage. Cultures and borders are less distinct and more accessible, as we become more and more interconnected and networked. To a great degree, we are being forced to train ourselves in these new systems and having to rapidly adapt.

Clearly, there are many benefits to living in an age of ever-and-faster-evolving technology, but equally there are challenges and risks.

The Executive Summary of McKinsey Global Institute’s paper published in May 2013, and as relevant today, entitled ‘Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business and the global economy’ puts it well. Here’s an excerpt:-

“Business leaders can’t wait until evolving technologies are having these effects to determine which developments are truly big things. They need to understand how the competitive advantages on which they have based strategy might erode or be enhanced a decade from now by emerging technologies – how technologies might bring them new customers or force them to defend their existing bases or inspire them to invent new strategies.”

Why wait for those appointed business leaders to take action? Whether employees in large organisations, leaders of businesses (small, medium or large!) or self-employed freelance workers, we can use this power to create to continuously build our capacity and capability. For our benefit and that of our products and services, clients, customers and our communities. We can become more agile: learn, implement and adapt; train and educate ourselves and each other.

Just as Warren Buffet did all those years ago, when he attended Dale Carnegie’s public speaking course, you and I can start to effect change through our action and our adaptation.

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