A wag once said that the only one who really likes change is a wet baby, yet we face continuous, dramatic and ever-accelerating change in both our personal lives and work lives.
What we learned at our grandparents’ knees half a century ago doesn’t fit the 21st century world. When our grandchildren sit on our knees, it’s more likely they’re teaching us about a new app for our cellphone than learning from us.
Many of us work in occupations that didn’t exist when we were asked as children what we wanted to be when we grew up. Even if the job title is the same, what we do is different.
Dealing with change, especially in our careers and organizations, requires an amazing level of resilience. Otherwise it will overwhelm us. Fortunately there’s help in acquiring such resilience in a new book by Joan McArthur-Blair and Jeanie Cockell called Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry.
Cockell and McArthur-Blair are consultants who offer help in creating positive futures for businesses and organizations in part by building resilience. They tend to focus on leaders because we all know that change, if it’s to stick, has to come from the top.
They talk about how resilience is built though the focus of appreciative inquiry and the application of appreciative intelligence. There are three components in building resilience using this framework. They involve learning how to deal with hope, despair and forgiveness.
The appreciative approach centres around applied optimism and that makes hope a major component. However, being hopeful is not easy or automatic, though it comes easier to some than others. It requires focus and practise. Once achieved, it can help us get through the biggest changes and the most difficult of times. Victor Frankl, who survived Nazi concentration camps, is an amazing example of this. Organizations that have optimistic leaders who seek out positive alternatives do best.
Experience in my own business tells me that hope works. My company has always been in the gig economy and we bid competitively for work. Often, after considerable effort putting together a proposal, we don’t get the job. My response to my disappointed team is always: “We’re being saved for something better.” And something else has always come up. I don’t know for sure if it’s better than what we lost, but it’s good.
No matter how optimistic and hopeful we are, despair is an unavoidable part of life. If we’re to be resilient, we have to know how to deal with it. I’m sure that Thomas Edison in his many dozens of attempts to develop a light bulb had his moments of despair. Yet he moved past that despair by saying that he now knew yet another way how not to build a light bulb. How many leaders got past failed businesses and lost election campaigns before becoming the ‘instant successes’ we admire?
Despair from losing a job can often be dealt with by using the ‘being saved for something better’ mantra. Resilient people who practise such attitudes are more likely to find themselves in brighter circumstances in the future.
Forgiveness is a toughie. Someone has wronged us and hurt us. We’re upset. It’s not fair. They were the ones who harmed us. Why should we forgive them? Forget forgiveness. We want revenge and we’re entitled to it.
Just think of the current international trade situation with tariffs and counter tariffs popping up like mushrooms, hurting those who impose them as well those they’re targeted against. Why should we forgive and not fight back?
Because forgiveness isn’t about the country, organization or person you’re forgiving. It’s about you. Forgoing forgiveness means we continue to allow anger, resentment and even fear to colour our activities, our organizations, our view of the world and the people in it. Letting go of these negative and limiting views enables us to see more positive possibilities for our nation, our organizations and the people around us. It lets us deal with change positively and that’s being resilient.
I’ve heard only one quibble with this book and the appreciative approach it uses. It’s that it deals with the positive side of things and doesn’t dig into the snags and difficulties we all face. To me, this isn’t a problem, it’s a very necessary balancing. Too much of everything we hear and see – whether face to face, in the media or elsewhere – concentrates on showing us only the disasters, past, present or future; real or imagined.
We need more optimism. To be resilient enough to deal well with ever-ongoing change, it really helps to focus on a brighter future. That focus is more likely to make it a reality.
Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.