Resilient Hope Self-Awareness

What Kind of Hope?

Last year I reviewed Anthony Ray Hinton’s powerful book, The Sun Does Shine. It is the autobiography of a man who spent most of his life––28 years––on death row, wrongly accused of robbery and murder. Throughout that time, he was confined in a small cell until the trial was fundamentally questioned and he was released.

What I found remarkable above all else was that this man found the resources within himself not to give up. In fact, he seemed to grow in hope. It was not a linear growth; Hinton did have his setbacks, very low moments, such as when the person dearest to him, his beloved mother, died before he could get out, hug and care for her.

However, resilience does not do justice to what the man evidenced over those years. It was something more.

Relevance to now

Our temporary loss of freedoms at this time of pandemic seem trivial in comparison with Hinton’s story. Yet there are valuable lessons to learn from his story as well as those of others in more extreme situations.

In our shared humanity, it is imperative that we each need to learn how to live and grow in hope during this pandemic, amidst all our present circumstances, its threats, the personal losses and confinements.

A Fragile Hope

Most of us seem to live from our external circumstances, and the media has an attention-seeking agenda to make it appear that these circumstances are dire. One day we hear positive news of medical breakthroughs or falling rates of COVID-19 infections; the next day, there is some more bad news.

Living from our circumstances like this, focusing on the negatives, is a fragile way to live emotionally. We become like Homer Simpson, who one moment yells, Yippee!, and the next, emotionally turns on a sixpence with a Doh!. He then repeats the cycle. This is not living with any kind of emotional intelligence. I fear that the long-term effect this has is that the negative wins and we are led into deeper depression and despair. The Yippee! becomes rarer and rated and the Doh! becomes habitual.

Should We Aim for Resilient Hope?

I have recently been reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder. I had assumed that the opposite of fragility is resilient.

Resilience rather is something different. In engineering, machines are made to withstand stress within certain parameters… and beyond these limits, they suddenly break. In this sense, they are designed to be resilient.

Taleb argues that there is a certain class of phenomena that are neither and that the true opposite of fragile is not resilient, rather something he calls Antifragile. It is a phenomenon we see in the natural world of something growing through the right kind of stress. He uses a number of illustrations from the medical world, such as our bones, which actually gain strength from moderately acute stress.

Taleb’s Triad (My Visual Interpretation)

If we aim merely for resilient hope, it could break us emotionally.

And maybe this is what we have seen happening among many of us when it came, for example, to the New Year. Some of us caught ourselves hoping that a New Year would me a different, liberating year. 2020 had become synonymous with COVID-19 and lockdowns. We indulged ourselves with thoughts such as, Surely this New Year will be better?

And maybe this is what we have seen happening among many of us when it came, for example, to the New Year.

And, for many of us, it just isn’t. In fact, for many of us, it is worse. Doh! doesn’t do justice to the disappointment and emotional tailspin that we might experience. For some, this has become a spiral of depression and despair to something worse.

The Stockdale Paradox

See another earlier article I wrote on Stockdale here. Admiral James Stockdale was the highest-ranking American officer to fall into the hands of the enemy during the Vietnam War.

050706-N-0000X-001 Navy File Photo: Newport, R.I. (1979) – portrait of Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, while President of the U.S. Naval War College. U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class Rick Doyle (RELEASED)

After seven and a half years of imprisonment and torture, Stockdale was finally released and returned to his home country.

He endured because he kept a twin perspective on his life in the camp:

  • he faced the brutal reality of where he was and what he was going through; and
  • he kept his focus on a future beyond the camp.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, interviewed Admiral Stockdale about his coping strategy whilst in prison. At one point Collins asked the Admiral which prisoners didn’t make it:

Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, We’re going to be out by Christmas. And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, We’re going to be out by Easter. And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

Stockdale was vehement in his denial of blind optimism. Collins stresses the common denominator of all companies making the break to greatness as being able and willing to face the brutal reality.

I believe this holds true for us as individuals, families and communities as well.

This seems to be important in developing a strong hope. It is not a hope that flies in the face of the evidence. But is does hope, and remains dogged. I’m wondering if antifragile hope builds on doggedness, but that what Stockdale has explained is not the complete picture?

Resilience is Brittle

I believe Taleb offers us something beyond the binary thinking of fragility and resilience.

I did have an email series called Resilient Hope, in fact, but Taleb has given me pause to review this work again.

Is there a kind of hope that gains under stress?

I believe there is. Hinton and Stockdale model this for us, as do others.

We find echoes of it in myths and legends, those stories we are drawn towards. For example, in Die Hard, John McClain grew in stature during the story. Whilst the police chief and the FBI were at best resilient, and McLain’s vest was fragile, our hero was revealed as antifragile. In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf seems reduced to nothing in grappling with the Balrog, but emerged later even more powerful than ever. And, of course, there are the confrontations of Christ with the religious legalists, his deceptive capture, rigged trial, execution and resurrection. The hero who appears defeated in battle, rises from the ground, having learned from the stress how to endure in the fight in a different way, and goes on to become even more powerful.

And why do these stories inspire? Do they connect with some profound truth about ourselves and a better way to live through adversity?

In my earlier post, Building Something Bigger than Us, I referenced those world-changers who looked beyond even their own lifetimes towards something they started that leaves future generations with a powerful legacy.

My point is this:

Antifragile hope is functional now.

Rather than thinking like survivalists in some sort of zombie apocalypse fantasy, we can think beyond mere survival and build. Generative, antifragile hope leads us to dream bigger, connect with a purpose higher than ourselves, a transcendent purpose. Survivalism is the chronic stressful worldview of every man and woman for themselves; it is a fragile hope. Antifragile hope does not abandon our history or our future but builds. Taleb calls such people the antifragilistas. Their eyes are fixed above or beyond their immediate circumstances

Antifragile hope is functional NOW.

Frankl and his conclusions

He who knows the why for his existence can bear almost any how.

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Searcn for Meaning.

Leaders deal in the currency of meaning. They ask and attempt to offer answers to the Why question. To deny people a clear reason for the change they are going through is an abdication of leadership. How much more true is this when it comes to the matter of self-leadership?

Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, vividly demonstrates from his own experiences in a concentration camp during World War Two, how emotionally healthy it can be to connect with a greater purpose. People can deal with almost anything if they have a sufficiently good reason for doing so.

Thinking and acting beyond our lives is humanity at its best.

Frankl survived the horrors of the camp, in part because his hope was fixed on a hope beyond the camp, beyond his immediate circumstances. It was transcendant.

Focus on Legacy

Thinking and acting beyond our lives is humanity at its best.

During the dark days of early 1944, the British Parliament debated building a future UK, homes for heroes and its health service. This infuriated Hitler, who had hoped (resilient?) that the British would be too absorbed in their current battle to dream beyond. He was wrong.

Apart from incarceration and enduring the extremes of oppression by other human beings, what do Hinton, Stockdale and Frankl have in common? And what do they show us in our own restrictions right now?

I’d love your thoughts on this.

Leaning to Action Positive Outliers Resilient Hope

Starting Something Bigger than Us

Walter & His Dreams

Young Walter was born into this world as part of the elite. He was drilled in his family lineage and was taught how to steward the family fortune. He would go into another career, though, but his world view and life skills would travel with him.

Walter found favour with the king, and after paying the king a small fortune, he became Lord Chancellor. He was Chancellor for nine years before making another career change. He became a bishop.

Not unusual in those times, bishops were often political appointments from the aristocracy. He was appointed Bishop of Worcester for a couple of years, before taking the second-most-senior ecclesiastical title at that time, Archbishop of York. Walter had an even larger dream, though, larger than his own career. In 1220, work began. He began to build, in the Gothic style of the day, a cathedral. It would be such an edifice that he wouldn’t see it completed.

Sure enough, thirty years later, Walter died…

… and four centuries later York Minster was completed!

Forgive me, if you are a historian and indulge me in my historical fiction of Walter de Gray’s early years. But let me ask you this question …

What kind of person would embark on this kind of enterprise?

And what kind of people would continue with the dream until it was realised, so many generations later?

I’m fascinated by the minds behinds historic monuments, edifices that sometimes take generations to complete.

There is even an example happening right now. The beautiful Sagrada Familia in Barcelona will not be complete until 2026 or later, and its original architect, Gaudi, died in 1926 when it was only a quarter completed!

Why would Gaudi and his contemporaries commit to such a project?

By C messier – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

And there are other examples. The Great Wall of China, the pyramids, Petra, and most of the ancient wonders of the world.

The poor, the middle class & the wealthy

I have been studying the work of Dr Ruby K Payne, a remarkable Texan educationalist, who began to unravel the mystery of why poor kids do so badly in school systems designed from in a Middle-Class mindset. In her, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, she sets out the differences in three mindsets:

  • Poverty Mindset
  • Middle Class Mindset
  • The Wealthy Mindset

The attitude to money and financial horizons of each mindset is a particularly interesting one to me. This is part of a table Ruby Payne shares in her book, abridged by me:

PoorMiddle ClassWealthy
Spending & PaydaySaving & End of LifeInvesting and Generational Legacy

The Poor

The Poverty Mindset sees money as something to be spent for almost immediate gratification or pain-relief, so the horizon tends to be when the next payday comes. The horizon of focus is now.

Moreover, living in a community of need, having money sometimes means it must be given to those in the community who have greater immediate needs. The needs of friends and family, who are vital relationships among the poor, regularly work against putting money away for later.

The Middle Class

The Middle-Class Mindset in a different way is much more selfish, although it has the appearance of prudence. Money is saved, is put by for retirement into a pension pot or a 401K. The focus is on providing for ourselves until we die. Many of the decisions made from this mindset are also made from an awareness of scarcity.

The Wealthy

The Wealthy Mindset, or as I prefer to call it, the Noble Mind, invests for others. (Note: I have avoided the term Wealth Mindset because of its unhelpful associations with being or becoming financially rich. Whereas, the Noble Mind alludes to an ancient way of thinking from inheritance and the responsibility to leave a legacy.)

The Noble Mind thinks generationally, both from an inheritance from past generations and for future generations. It has a sense of noblesse oblige from its inheritance and sees itself having a purpose greater than itself.

So, it is a Noble Mind that decides to build a cathedral. It is a Noble Mind that continues to build even after the original entrepreneur or architect is no longer with us. Walter de Gray had a Noble Mind. Gaudi may have had a Noble Mind. Those who continued after them had, to some degree, a Noble Mind.

How do these mindsets play out in the present pandemic?

The pandemic and countermeasures such as lockdown, as well as the emotional reactions we all have to this threat, tempt us to become emotional survivalists: people who think only of ourselves and the horizon of when this will be all over.

Fear tends to drive us towards a Poverty Mindset.

This is situational, short-term, selfish thinking. It is either a poverty or a middle-class mindset. Fear tends to drive us towards a Poverty Mindset. Many of the us-and-them narratives feed a Middle Class world view, and these stories we plug into keep us in scarcity thinking.

The Opportunity

And yet.. in the neighbourhood where I live, I have seen the rise of a kind of care and generosity that I hadn’t experienced before. Neighbours have offered to go shopping for us, plus a multitude of other kindnesses.

I find it exciting that, for some of us, this time is an opportunity to do this; to remember where we have come from, to recognise what we have, and rethink our futures, our horizons and our dreams for this world.

Climate Change

When it comes to the big issues of global sustainability, for example, we do not need initiatives driven by scarcity thinking:
“Time is running out!” “It may already be too late!”
Rather we need a realistic hope, a Stockdale hope. We need to train our young people to innovate with a Noble Mind, drawing upon what we leave them, rather than focusing on what we lack or have consumed.


In Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game, he argues that organisations rallying to a Just Cause, to a purpose that is greater than any of us, are likely to prevail far longer than competitive, me too responses so common in business and politics.

When it comes to building businesses, we need leaders who are aware of their need to create missions bigger than themselves, their products, or their services; longer, even, than their lifetimes that make a real difference for future generations.


When it comes to crafting government policy, we need leaders who will lift our eyes to a better future, not driven by the mass media optics of the moment or the short-termism of considering the next electoral cycle. And as we think with a Noble Mind, we might recognise and find such leaders and perhaps vote for them.

What is your just cause? What’s your dream? Is it bigger than you and your lifetime? If it is, bless you.

Positive Outliers

Your Irreplaceable Mind

What if there was something you could do to make yourself irreplaceable? What if there were skills you could learn that made you immune from irrelevance and redundancy?

In the context of recent history and the current chaos, these are more than philosophical questions. Many of us end 2020 with a genuine fear for our future work.

What Engages Students?

I was talking with a friend recently who is a key influencer in global education. He asked me what my views were on how to engage with students across the globe.

Speaking from purely anecdotal experience, I suggested that it was a different proposition to students in different parts of the world.

We have begun to see a shift from going to the office, so that office work as a term is likely itself to become … redundant.

As a broad generalisation, in developing countries, students are eager for a better life, and they see education and the qualifications and status it brings as a means to bettering themselves and perhaps their communities. Whereas in the West, one of the non-conscious narratives behind the thinking of a lot of young people is that they will soon be replaced by AI. And so there needs to be a compelling benefit to students about the purpose of their chosen career path and how they equip themselves for it.

Desk Work

I believe this is also reinforced by the way we have treated desk work in recent history. I call it desk work because the various lockdowns across the West have begun to see a shift from going to the office. White-collar work might never look the same again. So the term office work is likely itself to fall from literal usage.

The time and motion approach of Taylorism from the assembly line was applied to the office. This persistent drive for efficiency has brought increasing automation of tasks previously performed by humans. People in manufacturing and offices were treated in the same way, as resources, and fungible ones at that: Oh, that assistant has left? Replace them with another one. Call Human Resources.

Once, what began as meaningful desk work has been significantly eroded by automation. If a specific role has not been made completely redundant, it is more about being driven by automated systems.

We are invited to become serfs to the machine. This is not a very compelling pitch to young people. They see it in the drivenness of the white-collar older generation and are not sure they want that for themselves. What, though, is their alternative?

For many, the fear is that, if our white-collar career is not about to be overtaken by AI, then at best we will become serfs to the machine.

However, there is hope.

I see three levels of desk work:

Three Levels of Desk Work

The Clerk

Following the industrial revolution, most developed economies saw the growth of armies of clerks. They swelled the ranks of the middle class in Western economies. These clerks were often women, who would be simple information processors, routinely processing paper.

As a graduate in the mid-1970s, I remember how I still had access, even then, to typing pools. Any organisation of any significant size had them.

This is the type of career that is most immediately vulnerable to redundancy through AI. We do not need this kind of routine work done by humans anymore. For example, at that time, I would dictate my correspondence by cassette recorder to be sent to the typists. Now an app will do that for me on my phone, without me even needing to transcribe my own voice.

The Knowledge Worker

We use the term knowledge worker for any work that requires higher-order analytical thought. We thought that accumulating knowledge and applying knowledge skills will exempt our work from long-term automation. It may not. Google, Wikipedia, and a host of other services prove this to be the case.

For example, armies of academics, writers, editors, proofreaders, and technical editors were employed in producing Encyclopaedia Brittanica. (If you wonder what that was, then I invite you to look it up… because you can!) Where are the knowledge workers of Encyclopedia Brittanica now? They either had to reskill to higher-order work, which became more challenging, but probably more meaningful. Or else they became office serfs somewhere else. Or they too were made redundant.

The Creative

There is a higher level of desk work, which requires key skills of reflective writing and sketchnoting, divergent thinking, integration, synthesis, systems thinking and the courage to innovate. People who distinguish themselves in work through these skills are the creatives.

The creatives use their skills to a level of mastery to strategise, to cross specialist niches, to innovate, and to bring the world something new. They see patterns. They synthesise and connect apparently-unlike ideas, media, metaphors and people, which yield all kinds of breakthroughs. The creative helps us see the world differently, introduces the impossible to the possible. So this kind of worker becomes irreplaceable.

No AI will ever match the creative’s mind. No algorithm can replicate the human process of discovery and illumination.

Despite Sci-Fi myths such as Blade Runner, Terminator or The Matrix, no AI can match the creative’s mind. I believe no computer ever will. No algorithm can replicate the human process of discovery and illumination. The creatives are the irreplaceable ones.

Creatives are more like Captain Kirk, of the Starship Enterprise, who “boldly go where no one has gone before,” (even to the point of not caring about splitting infinitives.)

We might first think that creative work is only for the artistic types: the painters, the choreographers, the composers, authors of fiction. However, there is something innate in the mind of the artist that is open to us all, providing us, even in the context of our current, a route to innovation. We can become artists in our own field.

If you have read this far and tracked what I have been saying, that includes you, dear reader.

In the main, the traditional education industry has not valued these thinking skills. Education has tended to value knowledge-centric examinations. Now we should look again.

Education has tended to value knowledge-centric examinations. It should look again.

Creatives understand that their work is not linear. It is often a diligent walk of faith, but they are alert to those moments of illumination that are denied even the knowledge workers in their target-driven, high-stress working lifestyles. True entrepreneurs are creatives. Leaders should be creatives, with some element of visionary thinking. Designers, engineers and architects all become masters as they learn that creative process. Teachers and physicians also excel when they rise above routine and drivenness and learn to work on their work, rather than in their work.

We told we should think out of the box. When we do, we discover that there is no algorithm to replace us out of that box. We become irreplaceable.

These are the people I choose to encourage and inform through coaching and mentoring. I create with them to become the bright spots they can be, the examples of what we can all become. They are the positive outliers, the hope-bringers for the next generation.

A Shift to a New Kind of Desk Work Economy?

We have seen in economies like that of the UK a huge shift from manual work towards the service industries. This rise of the middle class seems a concern to some economists. However, if we create value then a smaller industrial workforce is not an issue.

In the same way, if we can equip the next generation so that they can choose to become a creative, offering unique value, then the demographic profile of the future desk work population could look something rather more like this:

A future of desk work demographic profile

As we learn to be comfortable with being creatives with our irreplaceable minds, owning our creative process, then there is hope, not just for students, but for the world.

The Seven Keys to Exceptional Work

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Leaning to Action Positive Outliers Resilient Hope

The Dream Manager

What are your dreams? 

Have you written them down? If not, why not? 

Perhaps, because we are taught not to value dreaming. We are told that dreaming is wasting time. Dreams are fantasy and will never happen. Dreams only set us up for disappointment.

We are all wired to dream. All children dream when they are young – unless or until the world knocks it out of them. Our dreams need to be taken seriously. Once we do, these dreams can become what truly motivates us.

More than that, realising our dreams begin to colour our lives in ways that are invigorating and energising.

Recently, I enjoyed reading Matthew Kelly’s The Dream Manager. Most of the book is written as a business fable about a caretaking business that is haemorrhaging money through sick leave and high staff turnover among its workforce. The workers in this firm are typically from a fairly poor background. The story illustrates well how connecting the employees to their dreams, helping them work towards them and holding them accountable through an internal company dream coaching function helps galvanise them into hope.

There it is again, that word hope. Dreams are mentally healthy and interrupt our natural negativity bias in favour of moving towards a more positive future. Working towards one’s dreams shifts us from a victim mindset towards realising that we have a choice and are more powerful than we realise.

Here is one of my favourite quotes from Bono, lead singer of U2, talking a few years ago in an interview about his One Campaign against poverty in Africa:

The future is more malleable than we think, and we must wrestle it from the fools.


Most of us are foolish with our future, saying things like, I have too… or I must…, or this won’t work, it never does. This is the language of the crowd-followers, of foolish victims. Sometimes we are disappointed, so we would rather not dream than be disappointed.

Instead, we wake up and realise that we have choices.

Most of us know the story of the prodigal son as told by Jesus. There’s a moment in the story when the fool wises up:

But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise, and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father.

Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 15

He came to himself. 

When did you last come to yourself? When did you last wise up and stopped being a victim and started dreaming again, and taking steps towards achieving that dream?

As we treat our dreams seriously and take steps towards making them happen, we are changed.

What are your dreams? Allow me to be your dream manager for a moment. Leave a comment below.

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Discover & Practice the Seven Key Areas that All High Performers Share

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It is Never Merely About the Facts

Once a while, I discover a real gem on YouTube. It engages me first at one level, and then takes me to a whole new level, with its generosity, wisdom and insight.

I’ve seen Hans Rosling on TED before and I now realise that he’s made me a fan of demographics. (Who’d have thought?!) But this video, co-presented with his son, Ola, takes us all on a journey of sense-making that is really quite surprising.

With humour and visual clarity, the Roslings achieve a number of things in the space of a few minutes that most of us are never able to do in a lifetime:

  1. Equip us with simple tools to help us better understand the world and the time of history we are really living in
  2. Challenge deeply held but tired and dated mindsets
  3. Generate hope for ourselves, for our children and for future generations. 

You can watch the video here:

The family – Hans, Ola and Ola’s wife, Anna Rosling Rönnlund – have gone on to publish a bestseller from this talk called Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think. The book was first published in 2018.

Sadly, Hans died the year before of pancreatic cancer. But Hans Rosling has left us with a legacy of hope, as I hope to do in some way.

Mindsets are important. They have more power than individual facts and have been the cause in science, business, politics and religion for keeping us where we are rather than helping us journey towards a better future. 

As a coach and trainer, this presents me with an intriguing problem: it is never merely about the facts.

The Seven Keys to Exceptional Work

The Seven Keys eBook

Discover & Practice the Seven Key Areas that All High Performers Share

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Leaning to Action Resilient Hope

Has your change got a hope?

Have you ever found yourself influencing people to change and found that there was more than a lack of motivation, there was a lack of belief in the proposed change?

Next week I’m speaking at the BCS Business Change SIG in London to this title. I’ve discovered a real power in hope when it is applied to business change.

However, this kind of hope does not mean this:

  1. Wishful thinking in a pessimistic frame of mind. We often use the word hope in this way. “I hope so, but I fear otherwise.” This has little expectancy about it. This has nothing back it.
  2. Blind Optimism. I will be referencing the Stockdale Paradox in my presentation, that Jim Collins explores in his book, Good to Great. Sometimes unrealistic optimism ca be actively destructive.

No, what I will explore is something rarely mentioned in change management literature that I call resilient hope.

Have you ever seen hope rise in a change you have been part of? How did that happen? Let me know.