Home Mental Health & Well-Being Rigidity Versus Resilience: Unlocking the Power of People in a COVID-impacted World

Rigidity Versus Resilience: Unlocking the Power of People in a COVID-impacted World

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At Bullhorn’s recent virtual conference, EngageX, attendees had the pleasure and privilege of hearing from Dr Marcia Goddard, a social neuroscientist who is determined to bring psychology and business closer together. 

Attendees heard her combine her significant scientific expertise with real-world examples of resilience in uncertain situations, which is of course rather timely. Here’s a snippet of what she spoke about, which I hope you can put to good use. 

How the brain deals with uncertainty

Dr Goddard explained that, in the past, you could have a job and not expect it to change hugely over the course of your career. But now, nothing is stopping our work changing even within the next two years.

Things like digital transformation, GDPR and skill shortages have created a working environment that is dominated by constant and continuous change. This leads to feelings of unpredictability and therefore, stress.

Dr Goddard discussed a model she’s been working on that describes the way the brain processes uncertainty, and what the brain needs to frame that uncertainty positively. Dr Goddard explained: ‘Our brains thrive on the ability to predict what is going to happen next and if it cannot predict that anymore, it triggers a physiological stress response. This stress response can be framed as a threat or as a challenge. If it’s framed as a threat, it leads to behavioural rigidity which is detrimental to performance. If it’s seen as a challenge, it leads to resilience, which will boost performance under pressure.’

 Dr Goddard hypothesises that an entrepreneurial mindset is the primary determinant to frame change as a challenge, rather than a threat. An entrepreneurial mindset consists of the following skills:

  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking
  • Flexibility
  • Collaboration
  • Perspective-taking
  • Ownership
  • Innovation

The economic fallout of the pandemic is hard to predict and is, therefore, a huge trigger for stress. But Dr Goddard says that the skills in this entrepreneurial mindset model will help organisations to weather the storm. Providing training in these skills to employees is imperative for dealing with the unpredictability of the pandemic.

A real-world example of dealing with stress and uncertainty: Formula One

Formula One motor racing is a sport dominated by constant change and incredibly high pressure to perform. Those who can’t keep up lose their place on the grid. To make things harder, the FIA, the governing body of motor sports, introduces new regulations every season that forces the teams to develop an almost entirely new car. They have to compete within the confines of the rules, and yet find a way to create a car that gives them an edge over their competitors. This is the perfect metaphor for organisations in the pandemic. It’s forcing businesses to pivot into new markets, find new ways of working and, in some cases, start over completely.

Dr Goddard used the example of the Red Bull Racing Honda team, one of the most successful teams in Formula 1 as an example of the value of creativity, flexibility and perspective-taking in a high pressure, fast-changing situation.

At the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix, racing driver Max Verstappen had a horrible start and overtaken early on in the race. But, with constant communication between Max and his team, Max was made aware of who was in front of and behind him and what he needed to do to get to the finish line first – which he did.

Dr Goddard says that the key to growth is not judging yourself or others. ‘Not judging when someone makes a mistake is an example of one of the behaviours underlying both perspective-taking and collaboration. Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, they [the Red Bull Racing team] went straight into problem-solving mode, which is an example of critical thinking and creativity.

‘They adjusted their strategy to fight their way back up the grid, which is an example of flexibility and ownership. They handled the engine problems that Max was experiencing by allowing him to use the overtake button, which is an example of innovation using experimentation. And they kept that engine going all the way through to the checkered flag, with an impressive demonstration of collaboration between Max, his engineer, his entire team – both at the track in Austria and the factory in the UK – as well as the entire Honda team. We’re talking international, cross-cultural collaboration in the heat of the moment when split-second decisions have to be made.’

The lesson? The entrepreneurial mindset is crucial during unpredictable circumstances. The more adaptable you are, the better your chance of surviving and succeeding.


Image credit: Freepik

Vinda Souza, VP of Global Communications, Bullhorn

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