Resiliency: How People Make Things Happen

The previous post described the power of a shared narrative. When members of a group make sense of the world in a consistent way, they have a greater capacity to call upon one another. With a shared narrative, they more readily become a coordinated resource for addressing adversity.

A central part of any narrative is describing who or what makes things happen. General ideas of what causes what lay the foundation for a world view. One worldview is that it’s all luck. Try as you may to achieve greatness through hard work and diligent networking, the deciding factor in landing a plum position is whether you sit next to the right person at a dinner party. Although some may dismiss such a perspective as the domains of flakey thinking, it shows up often. Some people would really rather be lucky than smart. In his 2012 commencement address at Princeton University, Michael Lewis lavishes credit onto luck. The word appears 19 times in a speech that would usually extol the virtues of hard work and lofty values. It reflects a respect for forces that easily overwhelm the puny might of individual will. The evidence would also show that Michael Lewis worked diligently as an analyst and a writer; there is little evidence that he waited around for luck to come his way. But that quality of a narrative appealed to him.

An opposing world view is that people make things happen. Inspired leaders make choices, develop plans, and influence others in ways that bring about ideas, music, projects, and products that never existed before. If you want to make something happen, you need to take initiative. If you conclude that you are not the right person to lead an initiative, the fallback position is to find the right person to fulfill that role. In any case, passive waiting produces nothing.

Between these positions are various mixes. The idea that fortune favors the bold or, as Pasteur phrased it, fortune favors the prepared mind takes an intermediate position. It recognizes that larger forces shape events, but encourages initiative in people to make something of opportunities that come along.

Any workgroup narrative makes assumptions about who or what makes things happen. It is unlikely that anyone has organized these assumptions into a causal model of reality for the group. Nevertheless, thoughtful reflection on the group’s primary narratives will give some hints about these basic assumptions.

A focus of an upcoming post in this series is the question of what or who causes workplace mistreatment. Bad behavior among colleagues is a striking and inappropriate dimension of worklife. How do people make sense of it? Also, this issue will be part of my session with David Yamada at Work & Well-Being 2012 in Chicago on 28 June. So, please come to Chicago and joint the conversation!

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