Resilience and the Kindness of Others. Give Thanks for People who Believed in You

   | Published On: November 20, 2018 | Category: Activate Resilience, Featured

As we head toward Thanksgiving, a period in the United States associated with giving thanks and being grateful, I have a challenge for you. I want you to think back and identify a person, or, if you are lucky, persons, who helped you weather tough times or manage the emotional turbulence of a painful or difficult experience. This individual might be a school teacher, coach, relative or parent, or it might be someone you’ve never actually met but whose music or life story helped you take that first step toward believing in yourself.  You may have to reach way back to find this person but they will be there. When you identify them just spend a moment to say, “thanks for showing up when I most needed someone in my corner”, and be grateful that you were able to accept the gift of acceptance and belief they had to offer.

The truth is, since its inception as a legitimate form of research, the red thread running through study after study of resilience has been the role others play in helping us activate this innate skill. The fact is that you are more likely to be able to engage with adversity or seize that opportunity if you have a significant other in your corner who believes in you and your potential. Having a Very Close Other or VCO in a child’s life will help him or her cope with abuse, war and poverty. Similarly community based studies from 9/11 to Katrina show people bring their best when others are experiencing their worst.

This November take time to reflect on your VCO’s. Give thanks and be grateful; they helped you get to where you are. As a bonus, maybe it’s time to recognize how you can help activate the resilience of someone, and know what, maybe you already are.

For more tips on activating resilience and living your best life, add me on LinkedIn.



   | Published On: October 10, 2018 | Category: Activate Resilience

Let’s put founding a startup in context. You have a greater chance of summiting Everest (29%) than building a successful company (10%). Given these odds I often think being an entrepreneur or founder takes extremes of psychological, emotional and cognitive reserves – or what I call temporary insanity ?

This temporary insanity is caused by a number of both external and internal factors. There is considerable uncertainty, extremely low margins of error, high incidence of interpersonal conflict with co-founders, venture capitalists and team members, and a very, very high risk of failure. The power of these ‘settings’ are exacerbated by the founder CEOs temperament and drive. Most have a deep sense of passion and purpose, and a significant personal investment in their idea and its impact. Their singularly focus means they don’t always cultivate the social networks that might help them adapt and cope. They are often asked to perform in areas where they may not have skills (hiring, sale-motions, finance and leadership), and, in my experience, often question their role as CEO–the label can carry considerable baggage fueling self doubt and a lack of confidence.

So how do you cope with the madness? Take a look at this short video on how founders and startup CEO’s can manage the craziness of building a business by activating the ordinary magic of resilience.

Suicide Awareness: Let’s Make it Personal*

   | Published On: September 10, 2018 | Category: Personal

In support of World Suicide Prevention Day

By the time you’ve queued for your first cup of coffee, or finished reading this blog, a young person in the United States will have taken his or her life. In 2016, 44,965 Americans took their own life. That’s 123 suicides every day, or one every 12 minutes. The annual age adjusted suicide rate is 13.42 years. Unlike some other countries, the suicide rate in the US is increasing. Between 1999 and 2014 the suicide rate increased 24%. This really bothers me; and I want it to bother you too. I want you to take this tragedy personally. The question is how.

I think one of the problems we all face when trying to wrap our hearts around the implications of these data is best summarized by, of all people, Joseph Stalin. The Russian dictator famously said, “when one person dies of hunger it is a tragedy: when millions die that’s a statistic”. By this definition, the current suicide rate exists as a number within the realm of statistics. To change our perspective we need to make suicide personal. We need to take this overwhelming data and make it a tragedy, not a statistic. To do this I’m going to use Stanley Milligrams famous finding that any two people in the world are only separated by six degrees of separation. Using Milligrams small world theory I have found I’m 4 degrees from Barack Obama and 5 from the Dalai Lama. I’ve also discovered I’m 2 steps away from a young person who committed suicide, and 1 step away from a 43 year old man who took his life during the time I wrote this piece. It’s personal now. I have a face and a name. Not just a statistic.

Why Now?

It’s beyond the purpose of this piece to go into all the many details about why modern day society creates the necessary conditions for the increase in suicide rates. However, there are some details that help put these data in context. Suicide is not the sole preserve of those living in poverty or who lack education or opportunity: it’s an equal opportunity problem whose origins seem to be related to our technological, economic and societal advances. In his book Homo Deus, historian and philosopher Yuval Harari positions suicide as a symptom of advanced societies.

 “Despite our unprecedented achievements in the last few decades, it is far from obvious that contemporary people are significantly more satisfied than their ancestors in bygone years. Indeed, it is an ominous sign that despite higher prosperity, comfort and security, the rate of suicide in the developed world is also much higher than in traditional societies. “In Peru, Guatemala, the Philippines and Albania – developing countries suffering from poverty and political instability – about one person in 100,000 commits suicide each year. In rich and peaceful countries such as Switzerland, France, Japan and New Zealand, twenty-five people per 100,000 take their own lives annually.”

Making it Personal

So what can you do to wrap your heart and mind around this tragedy and take committed action? First, I want you to determine how many degrees of separation are between you and a person who has committed suicide. This is a real person we have been unable to help. You might be surprised how small your world is: make it personal. Second, using these guidelines I want you to sensitize yourself to some of the warning signs of suicidal behavior. If you see or suspect  someone you know may be struggling or in pain, reach out and make a difference. Most importantly, if you see or suspect something it’s on you to say something.

  • Loss of a relationship
  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation
  • Stigma associated with asking for help
  • Cultural or religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma
  • Mental disorders such as mood and anxiety disorders
  • Alcohol and other substance use disorders
  • Hopelessness
  • Impulsive/aggressive tendencies
  • History of trauma and abuse
  • Major physical illness
  • Job or financial loss
Suicide isn’t Inevitable

The essential truth of suicide is that it’s a problem that won’t go away on its own. However, data from the United Kingdom demonstrates that we can make a difference. The suicide rate in the UK has gone down by 4.7% due to a multi-stage intervention including appointing a ‘Minister for Loneliness’, urging people to talk about and normalize discussing mental health issues, and improving access to psychological therapies.

Today, make a difference. Make suicide personal: talk about it to friends, talk about it at work, understand the risk factors and, if appropriate, reach out and provide support for someone in pain.  And remember, suicide isn’t an inevitable outcome for anyone, and that you can make a difference.


*I realize that for some suicide is very personal. For survivors, family and friends it’s beyond personal. This blog is to help others begin to empathize with your pain.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800-273-8255

Why advocating fearlessness is fruitless: The 4 benefits of insecurity

   | Published On: July 24, 2018 | Category: Activate Resilience, Authenticity

Many companies have ‘Be Fearless’ as one of their core values. The purpose is to motivate and reward employees who are able to push through the boundary of self limiting behavior such as feelings of insecurity or self-doubt. The prize at the end of this particular rainbow is higher performance. But is it. Really?

In her recent article, clinical psychologist Ellen Hendrickson argues against the promise of fearlessness. “Insecurity” she explains “Is not just useful but has aided us in our evolution”. It turns out that, “A healthy dose of self-doubt spurs us to monitor ourselves and our interactions. It prompts introspection and helps us identify ourselves and our interactions”. However, Hendrickson’s views run counter to the corporate manifesto of fearlessness. For example,  CEO Stefania Mallett proposes, “It’s much easier to achieve success in a company where employees bring their whole selves to work, and act fearlessly and out of their own conviction”.

While I have no argument with whole selves or conviction, the benefits of fearlessness seem more hype than reality. To provide context, let’s explore the 4 benefits of insecurity.

“Insecurity isn’t an oversight of evolution. It’s necessary: a healthy dose of self-doubt spurs us to monitor ourselves and our interactions. It prompts introspection and helps us identify how to get along better with our fellow humans. In short, we doubt ourselves in order to check ourselves”.

  1. Slow twitch risk. Fear makes us more cautious. We assess the likely outcomes of a decision and take the time to look before we leap. In many ways it’s the opposite of the Silicon Valley mantra of ‘move fast and break things’. While this doesn’t mean slowing down decision making or performance, it does mean fewer knee-jerk decisions based on inadequate information and the desire to just ‘kill’ something. Acknowledging and accepting fear can also be an antidote to the problem of taking action as a way to ameliorate feelings of inadequacy or anxiety. I’ve worked with many clients who practice ‘ready; fire; aim’ thinking as a way to avoid the anxiety, fear or self-doubt that often accompanies reflecting on tough choices or difficult  experiences.
  2. Team and organizational cohesion. Acknowledging fear, doubt or insecurity is an acknowledgment of vulnerability, and as Brene Brown describes, “courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen”. Sharing self-doubt means being vulnerable and being vulnerable means being visible. These behaviors create relationships that are more, not less resilient.
  3. Fearless Dominance. Quick question. If you had to summarize the essential characteristics of a person who typifies ‘fearlessness’ what qualities would they have? Supreme self-confidence? Arrogance? A total lack of fear? Interestingly, these personality attributes describe the 1% of the population who have a diagnosis of ‘Antisocial Personality Disorder’. Colloquially known as psychopathy. (As an aside describing someone who may end up with a head in his fridge as antisocial seems the ultimate understatement). This is not to say ‘fearless dominance’ isn’t a highly prized attribute in certain situations. For example, individuals with high ‘fearlessness’ have been found to be ‘stress-proof’, and their lack of concern about the consequences of their actions means they are substantially less inhibited about what others may think about their actions. These traits will serve a team or business well in a crisis. They are less likely to help facilitate a solution to a customers problem requiring compassion or empathy.
  4. The Pursuit of Better. Realistic self-doubt is the engine of development. In his book, ‘Confidence: The Surprising Truth about how Much You Need and how to Get it’, Organizational Psychologist, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic concludes, self doubt, “is a motivating force, because being dissatisfied with yourself is the best reason for wanting to improve”. It makes sense that if you are aware that you have limitations – perhaps you are anxious about that pitch or having a tough conversation – you understand and accept there are things you need to practice and improve.

Next time someone suggests that you adopt the value of fearlessness suggest you’d rather embrace your inner critic instead.


Your Pirate is Hidden Under the Beach Ball

   | Published On: June 4, 2018 | Category: Activate Resilience

Empirical and anecdotal evidence suggest many people are emotionally avoidant. What this means is that emotions such as anger, frustration, jealousy and bitter disappointment are avoided or suppressed. On the face of it, this strategy would seem to be a healthy one. Why on earth would we look anger straight in the eye and own it? Surely avoiding strong emotion – our own and those of others – is a sign of emotional health and psychological wellbeing. Unfortunately, like most things that keep us upright and engaged, for example a colonoscopy, broccoli or exercise, acknowledging difficult emotions is a prerequisite for a healthy life.

Avoiding emotion is like holding a large beach ball underwater. It consumes a lot of energy and focuses our attention on what’s happening beneath the waves, not what might be occurring around us: the scenery, our friends, a sunset or the azure sky. What’s interesting is if we release the ball, it doesn’t consume us and it can’t hurt us. It floats away, buoyed by the water. What’s important to realize is that emotions are energy and, like the beach ball, are constantly trying to reach the surface. When we suppress our emotions, one of two things will eventually happen. We turn these feelings on ourself and face a barrage of self criticism, or we turn them on others becoming a tyrant in traffic or prickly around co-workers or family. Initially these emotions will leak out in a trickle before becoming the equivalent of a fire hydrant of repressed emotion. Fortunately, there is another way.

To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, beneath the beach ball is our treasure – our inner pirate. The self who has emotional range and literacy. Who has swagger and is able to engage with difficult or strong emotion. Your inner pirate can read emotions like a map and realize they are telling us something about our own internal world and that of others around us.

Pushing Paper & The Man in the Hole

In case you don’t have a beach or a pool available, here’s a way you can replicate the beach ball as emotion exercise. Take a sheet of paper and write down any emotion or emotions you avoid or find really difficult to tolerate. Maybe it’s sadness or anger, jealousy or rage. Once you’ve written down your ‘tough’ emotions, hold the sheet of paper using both hands out in front of you and ‘push’ the paper as far away from you as you can. Stretch those arms as far as they can go. Now just hold it there. That’s emotional avoidance. It’s tiring and obscures all the other important or interesting things you might want to focus on, enjoy or be aware of. The irony of being emotionally avoidant is that we are joined at the hip with the very emotion we are trying to avoid. Therapist Steven Hayes tells a story that perfectly illustrates the paradox of emotional avoidance. A man falls into a hole with only a shovel to help dig him out. The moral of the story is that to escape, the man has to stop digging and drop the shovel. Only then can he clamber out. Similarly, the answers to pushing paper or restraining the beach ball? Put the paper on your lap and let it rest there. Let the beach ball surface and float away. Both of these choices mean our relationship with tough emotions changes. We are hard wired to fight our corner of flee the scene but by ‘pushing paper’ or releasing the beach ball, we have a new way of relating to emotions that hold us back, bring us down or make us feel ‘less than’. The emotions are still there, resting on our lap or floating on the ocean but we are not letting them control our agenda. Seeing our emotions in this way, as separate from us, means we can acknowledge what they may be trying to tell us. To have more self compassion or engage with life differently.

Today, let go of that beach ball, embrace your inner pirate and let your version of the Jolly Roger fly.

Are You Apology Challenged? 3 Ways to Say Sorry and Mean It

   | Published On: March 14, 2018 | Category: Authenticity

How easy is it for you to give a sincere apology? A genuine, heartfelt, vulnerable “I’m sorry”. We seem to live in a world that doesn’t tolerate mistakes, which makes it hard to acknowledge we may have screwed up. When the result of our actions has been to hurt someone else, in order to remain blissfully unaware and apology avoidant we use all kinds of sleights of mind. For example, we blame the other person – “You are the one who’s angry”.  We deny the event occurred in the way they describe – “That’s not how it happened”. Or shift responsibility to the injured party – “You know I didn’t mean it”.  Apologies have been in the news recently as a number of high profile figures have stepped up to publicly apologize for their behavior. The thing is these mea culpa’s seem rote and hollow and it made me think about my own struggles with saying sorry. If I’ve been ‘caught out’ my go-to behavior is to ‘act out’. Instead of apologizing, I throw all my toys out of the pram and regress to the mindset of a young infant. It’s not pretty. And definitely not effective. However, there is a method in my madness. I’ve noticed if I go on the offensive I don’t become the injured party.  A.K.A. my self-esteem is protected, and I avoid any feelings of shame.

The problem with my behavior is it prevents me getting in touch with my own vulnerability and compassion, and more importantly, it denies the person I have hurt validation and a chance to feel seen and heard.

The failure to apologize for even a small thing can put a crack in the very foundation of a relationship when the other person doesn’t get the validation she needs and deserves.

How to Apologize

Over the years I’ve found a few simple rules can keep me on the straight and narrow when it comes to saying sorry.

  1. Own it. To give a sincere apology you have to take responsibility for your actions. This is harder than it sounds, and it sounds pretty hard for most people. To own an apology we have to make sure we don’t slip into defensive mode, ‘well you did provoke me’, or emotional reasoning, ‘I felt angry’ or intellectualization, ‘the reasoning behind your position was wrong, but I shouldn’t have said what I did’. To own an apology, you have to first own up to yourself. For example, if you said or did something that diminished or criticized someone, own that action and acknowledge the hurt. You then have to side step the inevitable raft of emotions and intellectualizations your unconscious uses to defend you from having to apologize. Only then can you articulate your apology. Less is most definitely more. “I’m sorry” will often suffice and is much better than a rambling soliloquy.
  2. Mean it. Starting an apology with, “You know I’m sorry right?” makes the other person responsible and keeps you in control. Part of saying sorry is to stop clinging to some sense of superiority and need for control. Meaning it requires opening yourself to really hear what the other person has to say and feeling their pain. It’s sometimes terribly hard, but without empathy and compassion – feeling with and feeling for -your apology will sound hollow and insincere. Meaning it also requires listening and timing. Many of us, in an effort to minimize our own psychic pain, rush to apologize.  Usually we do this hoping we can get away without hearing how the other person really feels. This adds insult to injury as it demonstrates that we are not really sorry, and in our rush to admit fault we cause further injury by invalidating the injured party’s experience.
  3. It’s not about you. As a result of the #MeToo movement we have seen a number of crass sound bites from a number of celebrities who have publicly apologized for their behavior. The problem with these carefully constructed sound bites are that they feel and sound scripted and are about rehabilitating our impression of the perpetrator, not our compassion for the victim. If you are apologizing your role is to keep the focus on the person who feels hurt, not insert yourself into the spotlight.

The essential truth of an apology is that not only does it validate and honor the person you are speaking to, it also improves our own wellbeing and sense of integrity. So, next time you are in the wrong, late for an important meeting or have just screwed up, say sorry. The psychological benefits for the other person and for you will be significant.


Want to try my beta course on how to identify your defenses? Just click the link and you can access the course for the next two weeks. Defenses are at the heart of a good apology.  ?

Teach Your Monsters How To Sing

   | Published On: January 28, 2018 | Category: Activate Resilience, Featured

How much time do you spend ruminating on the past?

While many of us spin our wheels on things like the co-worker that threw us attitude and the line-jumper we wanted to chew out but instead made room for, living in the rearview mirror doesn’t do us any favors. Instead, it has a habit of fueling frustration, self-criticism and even shame.

Luckily, there is another way.

The psychoanalyst Hans Loewald described psychotherapy as a process that allows the “ghosts” of the past to be transformed into “ancestors” who positively impact our thinking and behavior. I’ve seen how this can work firsthand.

As my practice grew, I sometimes felt the effects of the pressure to “perform.” Occasionally I became a little impatient, even harsh, with some of my more challenging clients. And not only that, I was also visited by a recurring, bad dream in which a great white shark swam towards me as I was swimming in the deep waters of the ocean.

When I spoke to John, my own psychotherapist about the dream, he advised that I try to find meaning in it and learn from it. As I struggled to understand how a great white could teach me anything but to avoid murky waters, John shared the following story with me.

One of his clients had been suffering from depression, but on one particular occasion came into his office in a much more positive frame of mind. He explained his sudden optimism by describing a dream.

“I was swimming underwater surrounded by every type of exotic fish imaginable. Sunlight dappled the ocean bed and the water felt warm on my skin. I felt at peace in this idyllic setting. All of a sudden the fish darted away and the sun was replaced by shadow, and my feelings of peace were replaced by those of dread. Looking behind I saw a sea monster swimming toward me. Despite swimming as fast and as far as possible the monster gained ground. Finally, I was trapped in an underwater canyon. The monster swam slowly toward me.”

“What happened?” I interrupted, thinking of my own nightmare.

John replied, “He turned around and taught the monster how to sing.”

I loved the story. What John was trying to tell me was that I needed to reframe the threat of the shark. Rather than the aggression and power of the great white haunting me, I needed to see it instead as an ancestor I could learn from and accept as part of myself.

And eventually that’s what I did.

One night I dreamed that I was entering a dark basement, with a window inset into the opposite wall. Through the window I could see the ocean. I approached it just as the shark swam up. This time, though, instead of cowering, I put my hand on the window and looked it straight in the eye. I never had the dream again.

Still, I have it in me to lose patience, be hypercritical, and threaten the very people I am trying to help. It’s a side of myself I guard against but accept all the same, and there are times with some executives where the shark can come in very handy.

Over the years I have discovered that it is far better to teach our monsters (or ghosts, or sharks) to sing than to slay them, as they are part of us. They are our imperfections, and rather than ignore them we must recognize that they can provide important information about our past, present and who we want to be in our future.

Avoid the Mental Health Trap: 5 Ways To Make “Crazy” Work For You

   | Published On: January 16, 2018 | Category: Authenticity

Once upon a time when I was working as an intern, I stumbled upon a placard that read: “you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but if you are, it helps.

I was recently reminded of it while reading a fascinating article on the professions that attract the most psychopaths. The article also called to mind an argument put forward by psychiatrist Sir Michael Rutter, who believes that some mental illnesses potentiate, not threaten, success in certain occupations.

Individuals with autism can be superb surgeons, for example. Similarly, hyper-empathizers can make very effective therapists and obsessive compulsive people can make badass accountants.

 “You are more likely to experience a bout of mental illness than you are to acquire diabetes, heart disease or any kind of cancer whatsoever”.

Given that a recent study suggests that approximately 80% of the US population will experience a diagnosable mental health disorder by the time they are 50, it’s time to rethink the idea that disorders are inherent disadvantages.

So where do we begin? Here are five ways to start making “crazy” work for you.

  1. Realize you’re not alone. So many people live with a mental health “secret.” Take Daniel Pourasghar, co-founder of Campfire, for instance. After years of secrecy, Pourasghar revealed his struggle with bi-polar disorder to a group of friends on a trip to Patagonia. He wasn’t just met with acceptance and support, but a heartfelt admission from another friend about their own struggle with depression. The lesson here? You’re less alone than you think.
  2. Look for the silver lining. Turns out, mental health conditions don’t have to prevent you living your best life – in fact, in some cases they might actually facilitate it. Depression, anxiety, autism and obsessive compulsive disorder are all examples of problems that can blight a life. But they can also make individuals stronger, more empathetic, more compassionate and more resilient. Studies that find depressed people are significantly less likely to have a distorted view of a situation, and that individuals with bi-polar are more likely to achieve ambitious goals, remind us that mental illness has more silver lining than we might think.
  3. Ask for help. From therapists and counselors to apps like Talkspace,, Campfire, Elavatr and Shine, help is more accessible (and socially acceptable) than ever before. In fact, it’s often just a click away.
  4. Share your experience. Millennials are crushing it when it comes to talking about mental illness. “Despite being harder on themselves” writes journalist Linda Heck, millennials are “more accepting of others with mental illness than previous generations.” When you’re ready to do so, sharing your experience candidly can inspire curiosity, questions and closeness among family and friends.
  5. Realize you’re part of a rare pool of talent. Nassir Ghaemi, professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine, believes that in times of crisis, leaders with a “lifetime of sanity” can be a serious liability, while the experience and lessons of mental illness have proven invaluable. Companies like Microsoft, SAP and Morgan Chase seem to agree. They are increasingly recruiting “neurodiverse” workers in an effort to promote “diversity in thinking.”


** On a personal note I’ve had Major Depressive Disorder since my early 20’s – there have been tough times but I’ve definitely made ‘crazy’ work for me in building my practice and my life.

Live Like You Mean It!

   | Published On: January 2, 2018 | Category: Authenticity

It’s like the outfit that just doesn’t feel right or the shoes that fit a little too tight. Despite what your friends say about how you look, deep down you know the clothes and shoes are not for you. So why do we buy them or worse still wear them. Life can be like this. We compromise what we want, live someone else’s expectations and squeeze our self esteem into some ill fitting role. All these examples are so much more than peer pressure or a lack of confidence to push back and assert yourself. They reflect a chronic failure of authenticity and this can open you up to all kinds of physical, emotional and psychological trouble. So how do you do the equivalent of a whole body scan to discover your ‘authenticity quotient’? Here are 4 questions you need to answer to see if you’re living your life or someone else’s.

  1. Do you often pretend to understand something when really you don’t
  2. Do you often do things you don’t want to so you don’t disappoint people
  3. Is there a big gap between the person you are right now and who you want to be
  4. Do you feel you’re wandering aimlessly through life

If you answered ‘yes’ to most of these questions you’re definitely not living like you mean it. You’re living a life designed to satisfy others, not one created to satisfy you. So how do you take control, ground yourself and live like you mean it? You become authentic and you become resilient. Here’s how you do it

  • Ask Yourself. The first step is to ask yourself, “Who’s life am I living?”. Are you living out your parents expectations or a fantasy you had when you were younger. Just because you wanted to be an astronaut when you were 4 years old doesn’t mean you have to still have that as your dream occupation.
  • Identify your Values. Values inspire us to take committed action and they also infuse our life with meaning and purpose. It’s important to distinguish our values from the goals we have in work or life. Goals are what I want to get or have. Values are how do I want to achieve my goals. When you think about living like you mean it what are your values? How do you want to behave? A good way to connect with what you really care about is to take the equivalent of a drivers ed. class. You’ve spent some time in the passenger seat of life now its time to get behind the wheel. What kind of driver will you be – cautious and careful or carefree and confident? How do you want your passengers to feel when they are in the car with you? These are your values.
  • Act with Intention. To live like you mean it requires committed action. Which means you have to take that first tentative step – now. What could you do differently, or more or less of to start living an authentic life. Don’t try and boil the ocean. Commit to one small behavior and live it.


Does Playground Behavior Predict Future Success at Work?

   | Published On: December 11, 2017 | Category: Workplace Success

Can playground behavior predict innovation, curiosity and resilience? I had dinner recently with a group of folks who are actively involved in the startup scene either as investors or founders. Christian, our host , requested that we didn’t introduce ourselves but asked instead that someone around the table who knew something about us effected introductions. A couple of people knew me and I was introduced as someone who had spent a good portion of my life working in child and family psychiatry. I often mention this fact when I’m working with new clients both as a way to break the ice and as a tongue in cheek reference to some adult-children behavior ?.

This particular evening my experience working with children became a topic of conversation. “How”, Christian asked, “is working in a startup like leading a family or parenting children?” We took turns talking about our respective ideas and experience. When it was my turn, I spoke about the importance of attachment. Attachment, I described, comes in a number of different flavors but for the sake of brevity there are two important types, secure and insecure attachment. Secure attachment describes someone who can be independent, curious about their environment and have mature, trusting and intimate relationships with others. Insecure attachment is marked by avoidant, dismissive or anxious relationships with others.  If you want to see how we end up as either type, I suggest that you go visit your local playground. You will notice a big difference in how children play and explore their environment.

Some parents allow their kids to wander off and explore their surroundings, they can be curious and independent, yet they are never really out of sight or mind. These children grow up to have secure attachment relationships. Other parents fuss over the safety of their children. They admonish them for exploring, for not staying close by, and hover over them making sure they don’t fall or hurt themselves. The implicit message in these behaviors is ‘you’re not safe without me’. These children often struggle with attachment relationships as adults as they haven’t been able to internalize a sense of independence. More often than not these kids develop insecure or anxious attachments as adults.

Research into childhood patterns of adult attachment indicate it’s not a perfect correlation but it is a significant factor in a person’s ability to explore, to be alone, and to be able to work together. So next time you are interviewing a possible founder or new hire, one question you might want to ask is to describe their playground behavior. It might be a significant predictor of curiosity, independence, resilience and long-term success.

See @DrAnna for other posts about being an entrepreneur, startups and resilience.

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