Earthquake 6.9 and the Coronavirus Pandemic: Why They Make the Same Profound Point

I survived the 1989 San Francisco earthquake (a 6.9), but it taught me something that is critical at this precise point in time. Don't miss this...

I burst out of my office and sprinted across downtown San Francisco, hoping that my wife was still alive under tons of rubble. We lived on the 16th floor of a 25 story apartment building that, I assumed, had toppled down on top of all residents. When I arrived, however, the apartment building was still standing erect!

How could that have happened? I asked my wife after finding her wandering, dazed, on the street near our building.

"I overheard people talking about that," she said. "I guess the engineers were required to create 'rollers' under the basement when it was constructed so that if the ground moved, the building would automatically adjust instead of toppling over."

"Rollers??!!" I gasped. "You mean there are things underneath this building that move back and forth? That act like buffers?"

She nodded. "I guess so."

The key point here is that, in the face of unpredictable turbulence in your industry, the single most important thing is resilience. The ability to go with the flow.

If it's a pandemic, a revolutionary technology like artificial intelligence or some other type of 'earthquake,' you must have personal points of resilience and professional points of resilience.

In other words, you must be able to bounce back inside and outside. Your psyche must be able to absorb and adjust and your business organization must also be able to survive, reinvent and move to the next level. It often helps to have a PLAN B.

We often take a militaristic, “tough” approach to resilience and grit. We imagine a Marine slogging through the mud, a boxer going one more round, or a football player picking himself up off the turf for one more play. We believe that the longer we tough it out, the tougher we are, and therefore the more successful we will be. However, this entire conception is inaccurate and ineffective.

Some of us who are philosophical could think of the three buffers beneath our building (our very life) as: forgiveness, grace and imagination. We sometimes blame ourselves for sudden crisis. We need to forgive ourselves, to receive some outside blessing and to imagine a new, even better future - perhaps a new business model or a serving a different market segment.

Neuro-scientists, on the other hand, tell us that resilience involves trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again.

“Internal recovery refers to the shorter periods of relaxation that take place within the frames of the workday or the work setting in the form of short scheduled or unscheduled breaks, by shifting attention or changing to other work tasks when the mental or physical resources required for the initial task are temporarily depleted or exhausted.

External recovery refers to actions that take place outside of work—e.g. in the free time between the workdays, and during weekends, holidays or vacations.”

These are ideas that serve us well as we struggle through the coronavirus pandemic, wondering what to do next and how to react to unfamiliar stimuli.

So the key idea is: Resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure.

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