Am I Lazy, Stupid, or Resilient?

At the Hotel Bar

Earlier this month I was engaged in a classic conflict with my wife, Martha. A conflict familiar to any spouse or roommate.

With a broken “mechanical” dishwasher, both of us were gradually adding our dirty dishes to a pile in the sink – implicitly determining who the human dishwasher was going to be.

Now, dear reader, we all know how this resolves itself. Whomever places a dish that causes the pile to collapse, does the dishes. For 2 days we engaged in a battle of wills, physics, and dare I say it resilience.

Amid this marital contest, I finally asked myself, Mr. West (it was a formal conversation), “Are you resilient or are you just too stupid to quit”.

Over the last few months, I’ve been impressed by peoples’ abilities to keep moving forward regardless of all the obstacles they face. They refuse to stop – kinda like the deerasaurus who constantly roam through my yard spreading their depredations regardless of fences, shouting, pretend threats, references to venison stew, rock/stick/construction debris throwing, etc.  They are resilient.

We often think of resilience as overcoming an obstacle. We get sick, recover, move on. We interview for a job, get rejected, move on. Our strategy fails, throw it in the trash bin, move on.

I often think our “fail fast” mentality in business or our commitment to “agile” {insert generic verb] underestimates the importance of what I call “strategic resilience”.

Strategic resilience is the leadership, operational, and programmatic structure of your association that allows you to continue in the face of challenges or unexpected opportunities.

Strategic resilience is not about overcoming the big disappointment or failure, it’s really about overcoming (and learning from) a never-ending string of obstacles or failures. When things go wrong, and wrong again, and again – and continue to go wrong.

Too many times, we try a program or activity and forget it once it’s done.

For example.

In 2015, Association Laboratory produced a white paper on membership engagement in healthcare associations, we then produced a successful private event to discuss the research, and eventually partnered with Association Forum to provide a session to more than seventy-five healthcare executives at their annual tradeshow.

The result? We didn’t repeat it and didn’t even attempt it again until 2022.

Why not? We didn’t have the strategic resilience to see it through.

Examining this situation and reflecting on the unstoppable force of my wife vs. my immovable laziness as her husband, I’ve learned a couple of lessons about resilience that might guide our strategy decisions.

Read on and don’t worry, you’ll learn who won the Great Dish Battle of 23. 

Lesson #1 – The market doesn’t care about your timeframe.

I get it. We want immediate success. We want to know as soon as possible if what we’ve decided to do will work. Unfortunately, the market doesn’t care about our timeframe. It’s not about money, it’s about how long it takes to educate and convince your market to do something different than they’ve always done.

Consider Zoom for example. It existed 5 years ago. We could have been “zooming” all this time. It took the pandemic to force our audience to educate themselves on its use and, today, it’s a common business tool.

When Association Laboratory published it’s first association sector environmental scan 13 years ago, it was well received but rarely read.

Today, we have 7 different studies on the Looking Forward Dashboard and this research informs everything from my legendary key note speeches to our client work.

Had we given up based on the initial reception, none of this would have come to pass and I’d have to base my speeches on ugh, “my opinion”.

Apply strategic patience (#consultingphrase) to your business strategy – don’t reject it or change your strategy just because it isn’t working as fast as you’d like. The market will tell you when it’s ready. You have to be resilient while they (and you) learn.

Lesson #2  – Small victories lead to big victories.

For most of us, we want the Big Win. The successful program or activity that clearly demonstrates how smart we are. In baseball it’s called the homerun – big swing equals points on the scoreboard and everyone cheers.

But a related metaphor in baseball is called “small ball”. In small ball, singles and doubles  (look it up soccer fans) are used to advance runners a base at a time. Small ball requires patience.  You have to let the game come to you. But in the end, the runs are the same. The game doesn’t care how you get to Homeplate, only that you get there.

Don’t build your strategy around the occasional homerun, build it around consistent, more easily achieved victories that eventually add up to putting points on the scoreboard. It takes leadership and operational resilience to play the game in this manner.

Lesson #3 – Don’t confuse the activities of strategy with strategy.

Returning to my earlier healthcare lesson. The reason we didn’t repeat it was because we viewed it as a series of standalone activities. Each component was separate. White paper produced, meeting held, partnership meeting produced – now we’re done. We’d accomplished the activities we’d planned, good for us.

But lessons were learned.

In 2023, instead of a series of activities, our strategy was defined as “establishing ourselves as a peer and convening and sustaining a community within one of our most important markets”. The activities included advance research, our Healthcare Summit on February 7, titled Reimagining the Future of the Healthcare Association Business Model. We’re now producing a follow up white paper resulting from the discussions and speaking at the Association Forum’s Healthcare Collaborative.

All this activity is great but it is only activity. This time we view the activities as components of the strategy.

Now think of your association. How often do you let your meetings, your education activities, and your advocacy activities stand alone? Are they all part of a shared strategy to engage relevant communities with relevant information?

Too many associations see the activity not the strategy and when the activity doesn’t work – reject the strategy. Know the difference.

Lesson #4 – Have a short memory.

My first ever R-rated movie was The Cannonball Run. This was a comedy about a illegal cross country car race. All (ok many) big stars of the era were involved. No Oscars were won but I’m sure much money was received.

In a 1976 offshoot called The Gumball Rally, an Italian driver played by the famous actor Raul Julia reaches up and tears off the rearview mirror from his sportscar, stating, “What’s behind us doesn’t matter”.

We should take this to heart. Too often a more senior person says, “yeah we tried that in [insert year from age of antiquity] and it didn’t work.

Well guess what. The world is different. Your market is different. Your team is different. You are different. Maybe what failed in 1968 might work today.

Successful resilience means not being overburdened, blinded, or dissuaded by the past.

Lesson #5 – Don’t obscure success with failure.

Imagine evaluating a program or service. What comes to mind? Yep, what didn’t work. We harp on it. We tear it apart. Vow to learn the lessons from our mistakes.

Too often though, we don’t apply the same focus to examining (and celebrating) our successes. What worked?

For example, at an event, you might have had fewer attendees than you wanted but they were of higher quality than expected. Perhaps you expanded your audience using  virtual conference technology even though you made less money than your traditional face-to-face conference.

Understanding why you succeed is just as important a understanding why you fail. Being resilient also means using successes to sustain you while you learn. As long as you are learning, you aren’t failing.

Bonus Lesson #6.

So, who won the Great Dishes Battle of 23, my wife of course. She works ridiculously hard to keep me in the lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed. As an awesome, frankly, near perfect husband I was happy to do it. This sort of thing allows me to blog, for example, sharing my uncanny insights with my many readers.

It also leads us to our final lesson.

Don’t be blind to failure. I have a wide variety of books on business and strategy. I have in fact skimmed several of these books. They talk about opportunity cost or simply put, the benefits you don’t receive from some other activity because you’ve committed resources to this activity.

For the more simple minded among us, according to ChatGPT, here are a few colloquial expressions that convey the same concept of opportunity cost:

  • “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” – This means that you must make a choice between two desirable options, and you can’t have both.
  • “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” – This means that everything has a cost, even if it’s not immediately obvious.
  • “Time is money.” – This means that the time you spend on one thing is time you can’t spend on something else, and therefore has an opportunity cost.
  • “You have to give up something to get something.” – This means that to gain something, you have to sacrifice something else.

Thank you, AI Overlord. #AI #willingservant #allintelligenceisartificial

Too often we

  1. Confuse what we want with reality and
  2. Invest too much energy in winning the tactical battle instead of the strategic war.

Everyone is resilient. As the saying goes, you’ve survived every day of your life so far.

Consider the lessons I’ve introduced. Perhaps you can improve you leadership and organizational resilience so you’ll have more time to consider what you’ll get from your spouse, partner, or roommate for doing the dishes.

Just some thoughts from My Seat at the Bar.