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Resilience: it’s never too late to be who you might have been

March 18, 2013

A truly shocking weekend for sporting results in the Brookes household, involving a couple of friends’ distress too.  It started at dinnertime Saturday with a defeat for Manchester City, and followed with a defeat for QPR after twists and turns in the game at Villa. Saturday finished on an extreme low with England’s calamitous defeat to Wales in the Six Nations. Then just when Sunday was looking better, Burnley succumbed to a 96th minute equalizer in the local derby with Blackburn.

Of all these, it was the rugby which hurt the most. England arrived in Cardiff with the opportunity to claim the Grand Slam, winner takes all, but left with their tail between their legs and the scoreboard recording their worst ever result against a rampant Welsh team, their resilience seemingly shot to pieces.

The venues and dates of England’s Grand Slam catastrophes have the bleak clarity of tombstones in a cemetery. Cardiff 2013 is added to Murrayfield  (1990, 2000), Wembley (1999) and Lansdowne Road (2001, 2011). The noise beneath the closed roof at the Millennium Stadium from the Welsh was filled with pride and passion, and spurred on by the bedlam, Wales retained their composure and put England in their place, physically and mentally.

As their conquerors celebrated and the fireworks went off, the England players stood in a forlorn, apologetic circle and recoiled from the reality of defeat. Second best for sure, against such high expectations. The Welsh back row of Warburton, Tipuric and Faletau led the way, out-performing their opposite numbers at the breakdown and making muscular strides with ball tucked under arm, but throughout the team there was a strength and determination that England could only sporadically match.

England were routed, brutally exposed by opponents driven by an undeniable sense of purpose. The Welsh showed resilience in bundles, even to those of us from the posh side of the Severn Bridge toll booth. The England team lacked experience in a match of such intensity. The fact that the World Cup-winning side of 2003 was similarly fallible in Grand Slam showdowns will be of little compensation. England coach Stuart Lancaster commented, Rugby is a pretty simple game, when you come down to it. This was not about psychology. We didn’t match their physicality. The words, delivered deadpan, had the ring of doom.

How will the losers from Saturday respond to defeat? Dealing with defeat is an inevitable part of life. At some point, everyone experiences varying degrees of setbacks. Some of these challenges might be relatively minor (drawing with Blackburn when you wanted a win…), while others are disastrous on a much larger scale, for example the loss of your largest customer from your business. How we deal with these problems can play a major role in not only the outcome, but also the long-term consequences and impact of the setback. Your resilience in times of adversity is key attribute if you are to ultimately be successful.

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to remain calm in the face of adversity, while others seem to fall apart? Resilient people are able to utilise their skills and strengths to cope and recover from problems and challenges, dig in and move forward quickly. Those who lack this resilience may become overwhelmed by such experiences, as it seemed early in the second half in Cardiff on Saturday. Generally, these individuals are slower to recover from setbacks and may experience more long-term distress as a result.

Resilience is the ability to pick yourself up again and keep on moving, even if the path ahead is tough or overwhelming. People who display resilience look at setbacks and failure as an opportunity to grow and develop, and they continue to keep moving forward because they’re determined to reach their goals despite the challenges they may experience along the way.

James Dyson exemplifies resilience and enthusiasm to succeed, as his autobiography, Against the Odds, outlines. Who would have ever dreamt the humble vacuum cleaner device would be so drastically redesigned and reengineered in the C20th? James Dyson did, and offers his insights on business success and what it takes to have your business idea become a ‘household name’. He narrates the successes, failures, and resilience to persevere.

Dyson is an inventor and industrial designer who has taken his bagless vacuum cleaner from the garage to a huge business. His distinctive approach to industrial design, his perseverance and gutsy self-confidence enabled him to show that even in the world of multinationals, there are still opportunities for the lone inventor to make it, big-time.

In the early development of the machine he made something like one version per day for over three years, varying things one at a time, measuring everything to exhaustion, all the while sinking further and further into debt. He was following the path of Edison for sure, but sometimes that is the only way, the ‘eureka’ quest for the quick breakthrough is actually a real obstacle to progress, and it’s down to mental toughness and resolve – perspiration as much as inspiration.

Dyson is a great story of a stubborn (bordering on the cantankerous), visionary designer turned manufacturing entrepreneur, but he sets down some key lessons about determination and resilience for entrepreneurs:

Ready yourself as a founder Too often, passionate entrepreneurs leap head first into a venture before thinking it through. To improve your readiness to succeed, take an honest look at yourself before leaping. The first step is clarify your reasons and your goals. Why are you doing this? What do you hope to achieve? What does success look like? Do I have the resilience for this journey? Whilst it may seem a daft question, at the outset ask yourself this as when times are tough, you need to understand your own mentality.

Attach to the market, not your idea Passion is an inner phenomenon, but all healthy businesses are rooted outside the founder, in the marketplace. To turn your passion into profits, focus on the market, always think about your business from the customers’ perspective; know your markets, strive to understand the needs and preferences of your core customers, and execute on your market opportunity by placing a priority on your customer’s experience and perception of value. You only have a great business if customers think so too, and buy your product.

Ensure that your passion adds up Passionate entrepreneurs tend to develop rose-coloured spectacles and thus have the same hue on their plans, over-estimating early sales, cashflow and underestimating costs. To convert your passion into tangible business value, have a business plan that makes financial sense and ask yourself ‘what if? Construct a compelling maths story, covering how the elements of your business come together in a way that is profitable over time. Think cashflow, cashflow, cashflow!

Execute with focused flexibility No amount of initial planning can accurately predict the unexpected twists and turns imposed by reality – we’re back to Cardiff again! To succeed, a new venture needs both iteration and agility. Establish an on-going process for translating ideas into actions and results, followed by evaluation. Test and adapt your concept as early as possible. Work on continually improving the fit between your big idea and the marketplace.

Cultivate integrity of communication Passionate commitment to an idea can breed reality distortion, aspiring entrepreneurs often see only what they want to see and rely on ‘feeling good’ about their venture as their only measure of success. To avoid these dangers, commit to truth-telling and welcome healthy debate and tough conversation from the outset. Curiosity, humility and scrutiny are good qualities to balance the adrenalin-fuelled rushes when headstrong self-belief demands reflection.

Awareness Resilient people are aware of the situation, their own emotional reactions and the behaviour of those around them. They are grounded in the reality of the situation, and as such maintain their control of the situation and think of new ways to tackle problems. ‘Keeping a level head’ in times of a crisis enables you to think with clarity and not panic.

Expect the unexpected Another characteristic of resilient people like Dyson is the understanding that life is full of challenges, and that they will come knocking at your door. While we cannot avoid many of these problems, we can remain open, flexible, and anticipate the need to dig in and face up to them.

Mental toughness Do you perceive yourself as having control over your own business, or do you blame outside sources for failures and problems? Generally, resilient people have what psychologists call an internal locus of control – mental toughness. They believe that the actions they take will affect the outcome of an event. Of course, some factors are simply outside of our control, but it is important to feel we have the power to make choices that will affect our situation, our ability to cope, and our future. At times on Saturday, England seemed to lack the doggedness and resolve to shape a purposeful response, the game was passing them by.

Problem-solving skills These skills are essential. When a crisis emerges, resilient people are able to spot the solution that will lead to a positive outcome. In a crisis, people sometimes develop tunnel vision, and fail to note important details or take advantages of opportunities. They don’t consider options and evaluate them. Resilient individuals, on the other hand, are able to rationally evaluate the problem and envision a successful solution. Oh for a Jonny Wilkinson on Saturday!

Have the mentality of a survivor, not a victim When dealing with any potential crisis, it is essential to view yourself as a survivor. Avoid thinking like a victim of circumstance and instead look for ways to resolve the problem. While the situation may be unavoidable, you can still stay focused on a positive outcome. Entrepreneurs like Dyson are notorious for their ability to press on with their ideas despite what other people tell them. Naysayers abound when innovators want to try things nobody has ever done.

So looking at your business, do you have the resilience to compete, the ability to absorb the unexpected and remain supple, open to re-educating yourself, even in the basics, which you may have taken for granted for too long? Are you responsive, able to remain engaged, alive and connected with a situation when under pressure, constantly identifying opportunities, challenges, and threats in your business environment? Are you able to exert and resist great force when under pressure and to keep going against insurmountable odds, with a focus on giving your best and fighting hard until the end, with persistent intensity?

The problems we encounter in business today are messier and more complex than ever before. They often can’t be solved in the ways others were. Look for new ways to think about these problems and, more importantly, look for fresh ways out of these problems.

Resilience means rebounding back from disappointments, mistakes and missed opportunities and get right back in the game, remaining optimistic in the face of adversity. We all need this marker of toughness to succeed in today’s business environment. It’s how you respond to setbacks that marks your future success. For England’s players and those from other teams who failed to achieve their aspirations this weekend, resilience start by accepting your new reality, however, if you quit in the face of adversity, you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering about it. So today,  just like James Dyson, go again. It’s never too late to be who you might have been.

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