Friday, March 9, 2012

Lean Quote: Adversity is an Opportunity for Growth

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger." — Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher

We've all heard the old saying, "If it doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger," in some form or another. Most likely from our parents, or teachers, or someone else trying to toughen us up.

A new study published in the December issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, has found that although we all hope for a life free and clear of stress, the happiest and healthiest people are those who have had at least some early exposure to tough experiences.

Problems, large and small, present themselves to us throughout our existence. Regardless of how sharp, clever, or happy-go-lucky we are, we will encounter struggle, challenges, difficulties and at times, heart wrenching moments.

Learning to deal with, and overcoming adversity, is what makes us who we are. Every challenge, every difficulty we successfully confront in life serves to strengthen our will, confidence and ability to conquer future obstacles.

Business adversity is like a fire. It’s from the inferno where culture is born. Mature cultures know how to deal with the blaze so it doesn’t burn out of control. Without adversity, your culture is nothing more than the potential for greatness. The company’s culture wouldn’t be as strong and mutually supportive as it is. It wouldn’t be as prepared for the next conflagration as it is.

Are you resilient? The possibilities for setbacks are endless. Adversity can make you stronger when you make the choice to grow from it.

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  1. Morning Tim, seeing your article, essentially on organizational resilience, got me to check the study you cited. That article, from 2010, by Seery, Holman and Silver does speak to individual's adversity hardening.

    They also state, "High levels of adversity, on the other hand, are more likely to overwhelm individuals’ ability to manage stress, thereby disrupting toughness and mastery."

    Who determines what temperature the organizational fire needs to be to harden versus melt the culture?

    Seery's study lasted 5 years and had an N of initially 2,398 with 15% dropping out.

    You might also take a look at Felitti's ACE study (Adverse Childhood Experience). The initial N was 17,000 and has continued longitudinally since 1995, so 17 years. The CDC website has a great overview of the ACE study (the ACE webpage is currently being redesigned).

    Felitti's findings are that adverse experiences are far more common than acknowledged and have a powerful relationship to adult health even half a century later. There have been 50 additional research articles leapfrogging off of his study.

    Is there a way to interpret Felitti for impact of adversity on individuals on organizational culture? Yes, as an individual can be traumatized, so can there be systems trauma.

    My read is we tend to minimize/justify many adverse incidents in organizations as 'trial by fire' or initiation ritual (new MDs working 36 hours straight), all which are counter to Lean values. People do not come out of those unscathed, more often are scarred. This is not respect for the individual or the work the individual does.

    In general terms, through shared, contained and managed adversity, a culture can grow. Too much adversity over too long a time period and a culture is stunted. Having a solid map of the current state and future state with as many of the hazards and potential potholes considered is key...and good leadership. At the same time, there has to be high sensitivity (respect) for each individual and his/her ability to deal with adversity.

  2. If doesn't kill it makes you stronger. The problem is those that are crippled and maimed never write a book about it.