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What my son taught me about Resilience

I think I am justifiably proud of my son. He’s a 'top of the class' boy and he attends a special class for kids who are a bit more advanced – they quaintly call it an 'Opportunity Class' but it blows my mind how much advanced stuff they are doing. He challenges me every day with increasingly more complex questions, and I have no doubt that by the time he finishes primary school he’ll be of the opinion that his Dad is no longer the all-knowing super hero of his younger years.

One discussion I had recently with him stands out. We talked about resilience, and I wound up relating the things he was talking about back to my experience in business.

There is a poster on the wall in his classroom:

Resilience is Never Giving Up, Even When Things Get Tough – An easy statement to make but what does it really mean? My lad talked about working a lot harder than he ever had before and sometimes having to go back over homework problems that he found really hard. For my part, I talked to him about the way we go about working on problems for customers. We’re often called in to assist with a hardware or software error that is intermittent, or seems to be caused by multiple things all interacting. It can be really tough to diagnose and it isn’t unheard of for problems to remain outstanding with vendors for weeks or even months. I pointed out that no matter what, we don’t give up. We keep pushing to find a resolution. It may not always be what we first thought would be the solution, but at the very least we try to find a way around the problem.

'Your customers must love that, Dad', says he.

'I guess so', I replied, 'Although it isn’t something we talk about a lot.' – Maybe we should!

Resilience is Trying Even if You’re Not Sure You’ll Succeed – Interestingly, my son started talking about his science class where they learned about experimentation and trial-and-error. I likened this to the application development process and bringing new products to market.

In recent times we’ve released QuickTrans, which is a low-cost simple file translator for business to business transactions and file integration. We developed it partly as a technical exercise and partly because we just had a hunch that there was a need for it. The concept took us a while to get right, and the design of the application went through a number of significant changes during the solution’s gestation.

I’ll put my hand up and say I wasn’t completely sure it would succeed and I’m equally ready (and very glad!) to admit my fears were unfounded. The thing is a hit, but would have never happened if we’d only put our energies into a sure thing. Stupid risks are just that – stupid – but I think the lesson here is that if you have a belief that you 'could' succeed then the good ol’ Aussie 'have a go' spirit can net some great results.

Resilience is the Courage to Come Back from a Failure – and every second business article I read says we’re supposed to embrace failure these days. My young fella talked about his first days in his new school trying to make new friends. He tried and failed on the first day to find a mate and I remember that feeling in the pit of my stomach that all parents get when they know their kid is hurting. The best my wife and I could do was reassure him and encourage him to try again the next day. He did and now has some really good mates he kicks around with. For him the lesson was to learn from his mistake on the first day – trying too hard and not being himself.

If I think of how failure relates to our business, I’m drawn to our Disaster Recovery practice. We exist to help customers deal with failure. We help them plan and test and revise and test and plan some more. All so they can come back from a failure. Over the years I’ve had senior IT staffers at customer sites call me in tears because something “big” had gone wrong. In one particular case the simple fact of Team being on the end of the phone, gently reassuring the customer that they were on the right track, was enough to calm the situation. Then we could get them focused on the steps they needed to take to bring their systems back on line.

Resilience is Getting Back Up Again When You’ve Been Knocked Down. My boy and I laughed a lot about this one. He described the schoolyard soccer matches that happen on a daily basis at lunch times. He tells me they are pretty rough and ready affairs with few rules and plenty of argy-bargy. The very day we talked about this poster he’d been vying for a ball with another kid and the managed to trip each other up. In the process he got a knee right where it hurts, and the other kid hit the concrete hard (yes, they play on concrete so perhaps these kids aren’t quite as gifted as I’m told). Apparently both of them spent a couple of minutes breathing hard trying to not cry in front of their mates but both re-entered the game to prove they could “take it”.

I explained that business is a bit like his soccer match. We have competitors and we also have those on our side. We don’t win every time and nor do we always escape without injury. There have been times we’ve been knocked down pretty soundly. Once or twice it’s been at our own hand and other times we’ve be wronged by a vendor or a customer. I explained to my first-born that it isn’t important how many times you get knocked down that counts. It’s making sure that you get back up exactly the same number of times.

As a parting shot, I asked my son whether he thought resilience was as important as they get taught at school. His response floored me.

'I guess you have to be resilient. There’s always stuff that goes wrong no matter how good you are at something. So I think you have to be at least as resilient as you are good. I think successful is being good AND resilient.'

Strewth – 10 years old and way more eloquent than me.

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