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Resilience is a Group Exercise

Every business owner has heard the mantra that there is nothing constant but change itself.  A quick review of the last two decades points out one very salient example; in the 1990’s, books were sold in Mass Merchandising stores (Kmart, Wal-mart, and others).  That entire department of products then became the domain of book retailers like, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, etc.  Within the last month, Borders has declared bankruptcy. 

 Another example can be found in the movie rental business.  Remember a time when movies were only available in theaters? Then, Blockbuster created a business model that allowed people to watch movies at home after a time of theater release.  In short order, there seemed to be one of their retail stores selling or renting videos in every town.  Then, cable television included movies for rental through their service, online downloads, Redbox kiosks, and Netflix allowed for immediate or more convenient forms of movie watching.  Blockbuster is now viewed as irrelevant and has closed the majority of their stores.  Businesses that are not able to react to the fast-moving changes and surprises in the marketplace are quickly passed by and either fail, or are significantly compromised.

Expect Surprises and Be Reslient

Harvard’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter has five lessons to pass on to business owners that are worth heeding.  Of the most important points made by Kanter, the recognition that surprise and change are the new norma is the one worth focusing on for both businesses and individuals. Therefore, the resilience for individuals is the new skill. By definition, resilience is the ability to bounce back successfully when facing stressful or even traumatic experiences.

According to Kanter, “experience suggests that most of us are not very reliable at predicting how we’ll behave when facing difficult situations.”  For some, that may mean how to deal with Divorce, for others it may mean the loss of a major client or perhaps having to close an office or store location.  Those that have undergone a significant life-altering event will often feel that they were naive to think that they could continue forward without addressing the impact of the change.  One commentator  said upon his own experience with a spouse’s Alzheimer’s Disease, “I can tell you now that I should have multiplied my expectations by 8 to 10. My training in stress management didn’t improve my predictive ability, although it was a great help in managing much of the stress.”

The Right Stuff

When looking within ourselves, each individual will have to determine if they have within themselves the ability to remain; resolute, tenacious, creative, opportunistic, and focused enough to stay competitive in the face of so many challenges.  In short, do we have the “right stuff” or are the forces that seemingly conspire against us just too much, the hills too steep, and the rivers too deep.

One’s attitude is often the giverning factor in how one approaches challenges (those identified and unforeseen). Resilience is not a matter of personality, genes or even the nature of our stresses and traumas. Rather, it can be viewed as each negative event a person faces leads to a coping attempt.  That event forces each of us to introspectively assess own capabilities,and evaluate our network of support (personal and professional). By determining just how substantial or reliable one’s resources are, a more insightful determination can be made about one’s ability to address change and coping with it.

WARNING

However, there is a practical limit that exists. If one has too much stress (frequency and/or level), the human mind and body can not withstand it and will suffer.  On the other hand, if one has too little experience with trauma, stress, change, etc.,then any introduction of stress will be seen as a knock-out blow.

A study by Linda Hartling of Wellesley College demonstrated that overcoming hardship and adversity is based more strongly on one’s relationships than on one’s indivdual make-up or individual toughness.  Resilience is strenghtened by the network of relationships one keeps and that sustain the individual.

So, if you are confronting a tough time at work, be sure to kiss your spouse, hug the kids, and talk to friends.  Going it alone may actually harm more than help your business.

David Zahn