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On Resilience

This afternoon at work Primesight invited Linda Grant (formerly Metro, Capital, Daily Mail Group) to speak at the Q1 company update. 

She spoke at length on resilience, offering excellent advice and actionable tips based on 30 years’ experience in media and life. 

A number of themes from her talk struck me in the moment and have stayed with me as I reflect again now. 

Her first point was on impermanence being at the heart of the human experience. It’s futile to try and avoid it and in fact our biggest growth usually comes from something that tries us.

As Linda herself said “What could have been a disaster turned out to be the best thing for me” throughout the numerous ups and downs (redundancy, company sale, new product launch) of her career.

Improvisation, saying yes to new opportunities and “trying the new thing” lie at the heart of how Linda often turned a daunting moment into an opportunity.

As she says, you can look “at someone with a good LinkedIn bio and you might think it’s all gone their way […] but I’ve got a personal theory that the more successful a person is the more setbacks they’ve had.”

Returning to the theme of impermanence we’re always living in uncertain times. With Brexit and other disasters looming it might feel like these are particularly uncertain times, but look back through human history and things have often been a lot worse. When we look at our desire for comfort versus what we truly need for progress (which is discomfort) there’s always going to be internal battle between what we want and what’s good for us. 

Using Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous quote Linda demonstrated that we have to acclimatise to a certain level of uncertainty and focus purely on our circle of influence rather than our circle of concern. 

“As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Things change and it’s up to us to find the meaning. Using a quote from Steve Jobs Linda suggested that the meaning often comes after the fact – when the dust has settled and we can look back on certain career moves and see that they opened up all sorts of possibilities even when they seemed difficult at the time. 

The whole way through Linda’s talk I was reminded of one of my favourite stories and that’s what I’ll finish this with today. There are plenty of write-ups out there of this Taoist story, but my favourite version comes from thechurning.net:

There was once a farmer in ancient China who owned a horse. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours told him, “to have a horse to pull the cart for you.” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

One day he didn’t latch the gate properly and the horse ran away. “Oh no! This is terrible news!” his neighbours cried. “Such terrible misfortune!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

A few days later the horse returned, bringing with it six wild horses. “How fantastic! You are so lucky,” his neighbours told him. “Now you will be rich!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The following week the farmer’s son was breaking-in one of the wild horses when it kicked out and broke his leg. “Oh no!” the neighbours cried. “Such bad luck, all over again!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next day soldiers came and took away all the young men to fight in the war. The farmer’s son was left behind. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours cried. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

I’ve written previously about resilience here where I found the Japanese phrase 七転び八起き ‘fall seven times, rise eight’ particularly worth remembering.