There seem to be quite a few TED talks available on the subject of resilience. This in itself is an interesting indication of what working life must be like for many people these days: if so many speakers dedicate time and effort discussing the ability to cope with extreme pressure and bounce back, it must surely be something people are interested (possibly desperate) to hear about.
In one of these talks, Kathryn Meisner starts by mentioning the Water Bear (also known as a Moss Piglet or Tardigrade). These little water-dwelling creatures are notable for their resilience: they can go without food or water for 30 years, rehydrate and get on with life as if nothing happened; they can survive temperatures from −272 °C to 150 °C, doses of ionising radiation hundreds of times higher than would be lethal to humans, pressures far greater than found in the deepest oceans and the vacuum of outer space.
Moss Piglets are born resilient. They’re naturally found in a wide range of moist terrains from lakes, ponds and meadows to more challenging places such as the top of the Himalayas or under layers of solid ice. But testing them to destruction by exposing them to environments they would never normally encounter may satisfy our curiosity but what does it actually teach us? It feels a bit like children pulling the legs off insects just because they can.
Some people are also born resilient and can deal with far greater pressure than others. Judging by the number of times it turns up in job descriptions, resilience seems to be a skill that leaders need more than ever. The ability to cope with challenge and adversity is clearly important. But what might this also be saying about organisations? Perhaps the hidden message is ‘you’re now entering a hostile environment: we will throw all sorts of crap at you and we expect to you keep on going regardless.’
Organisations need to be wary of testing just how far they can push people, destroying many along the way in search of their very own Moss Piglet. While individuals can develop resilience and learn to cope better, organisations should also consider changing the environment to one that is more natural, where the majority can thrive.
Here are a few articles that look at ways of developing resilience:
- You’re More Resilient Than You Give Yourself Credit For – Andy Molinsky, Harvard Business Review
- This Simple Leadership Behaviour Also Increases Resilience – Madelyn Blair, Psychology Today
- 7 Ways Mentally Strong People Handle Stress Effectively – Amy Morin, Inc.
Since writing this article, it appears that thousands of moss piglets may be alive and well living on the moon, after an Israeli spacecraft crash-landed there in April 2019. For more about this, click here.