Episode 209 – Resilience and writing with Jenny Campbell

Jenny CampbellWhat does it mean to be resilient, and how can we become more resilient more often? That is Jenny Campbell’s life work, and her findings at The Research Engine are revelatory. For one thing, your level of resilience isn’t a fixed personality trait – it’s contextual and dynamic.

And in the process of writing her book The Resilience Dynamic, Jenny had to draw on everything she’d learned about resilience and apply it to her own journey, overcoming rejection, discouragement and complexity along the way.

She shares her lessons here, in an inspiring and honest assessment of what it takes to write a book, together with the tools she developed to help.


LINKS:

The Resilience Engine: http://www.resiliencengine.com/

Jenny on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jenny-campbell/

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge sign-up link: https://alisonjones.leadpages.co/proposal-challenge/

Alison Jones
I’m here today with Jenny Campbell, who is chief executive and lead researcher at The Resilience Engine. Now, resilience takes her into many domains from working with leaders in large organizations to working in schools, universities and charities. She’s passionate about sharing the thinking and practical resilience habits from the research so that everyone can feel well, more at ease, and reconnected to the joy in their life. She’s also the author, of course, of The Resilience Dynamic published by Practical Inspiration Publishing – welcome to the show, Jenny.

Jenny Campbell
Pleasure to be here. Awesome, really lovely.

Alison Jones
It’s really good to have you. And I would start – I would start with resilience. But I’m going to start with resilience because what I love about your model is it’s so dynamic, and it’s a much it’s a much more It feels like a much more real experience of living, you know, resilience, so just introduce us to the model and tell us why you got interested in this.

Jenny Campbell
So I think the model is a simpler one to answer than the second part of your question. So the model does actually punch through a tremendous amount of, of misnomers, myths about resilience. And it encompasses, as you know, the dynamic nature of resilience. So your resilience today will be of a certain level. And you know, whether you’ve slept well, whether you’ve got a really great day ahead of you, and actually all the contexts in which you’re operating, whether it’s your family or work. And of course, those contexts change, right?

So the demands upon you day to day go up and down. And therefore your resilience and your responsiveness in that is likely to go up and down as well. So if you’ve got a big thing that’s going on, whether it’s a health condition, or really, you know, complex work, a challenge that’s on, you know, that’s draining you, one day you might be in ‘coping’ and another day you might be much higher and and actually that’s normal. And in organizations, particularly, but I think culturally across the board, we have this idea of it being much more fixed, you know, you are resilient, or you’re not, I have to be resilient in the face of adversity or I’m not.

And it’s actually to just provide a model that, that describes the dynamic nature of it immediately, almost, it’s like watching a pin come out from somebody, you know, the tension goes, Oh, well, this is a real thing. You know, I can speak to this I can, I can see myself in this in this model, and and therefore you bypass all that kind of aspects of resistance, etc, that people have. And so, you know, the model describes everything from where you really aren’t resilience and break down all the way through to what we call breakthrough which is where somebody is adaptable no matter what’s going on, where they’re really at ease no matter what’s going on. So in the face of real adversity or challenge, they are still feeling quite grounded and okay in themselves. So it describes all of that, you know, that field if you like.

Alison Jones
But that is interesting, that point you make about, it’s not fixed. And we think of resilience, as I say, somebody that’s a resilient person, it sounds like it’s a personality trait, isn’t it? But I think personality theory is similar isn’t it, actually it’s much more flexible than we ever thought we are much less determined, and much, much more contextual beings, than then we like to think. And of course, what  falls out of that for you, obviously, is that there are different behaviors, different strategies that you can use at different points, which is a kind of whole dimension on from the traditional ‘how to manage stress’ thing…

Jenny Campbell
Oh yes, I mean, and actually, what’s really clear from the research and from our experience, is that organizations and individuals who concentrate on the stress piece only, just perpetuate the same behaviours, and so there’s very little change, actually, that comes about from that. Whereas actually, if you have the notion of adaptability it’s completely different. Yes, so it’s really all about growth. And there are some points of resilience where you don’t have capacity for that. So the enablers to that are much more simple than people think, it isn’t about just, you know, hardening up or getting tough or, you know, buckling down to things. It’s actually about the basis of your energy. And it’s about being able to really, really be present in the moment and not cut off from how you’re feeling or, or the information that’s around you how others are, but actually taking that on the chin, seeing that for the truth of it and actually acting on it, taking responsibility for it. So these are quite simple things, but yes, it’s all about that potential and that growth.

Alison Jones
And what’s interesting, let’s talk a little bit about the research behind it because you didn’t sit down and dream of a model about resilience. This is based on grounded theory research, isn’t it? So, just I know, we could probably take the rest of the show talking about this, but briefly tell us how you came up with this model and the evidence that supports it.

Jenny Campbell
Yes. So the resilience dynamic itself is one of two models from the research, so the research was kicked off in 2007 – a long time ago – on the basis of people saying to me, you know, you need to write about what you already are doing here. And I thought, I can’t write about me, I must get some information and some data and then I kicked off the research.

So the initial research was done on quite a traditional basis, like, let me do lots of literature reviews, let me actually understand, you know, what resilience is, and then I’ll go out and verify that, right? And so I came up with a hypothesis, it was all very strong, I felt really confident. I was doing the research at the time, I was leading it and, and the first interview came up and it all fell apart. And I thought, Oh, God, right. Okay, this isn’t what resilience is at all. So I’d really get into people’s stories, I got into their understanding of it.

So the initial 25 interviews were very much more of a discovery. And then I sat with a research supervisor trying to understand and make sense of the data from that and the resilience engine was born. But a predecessor of the resilience dynamic was born at that time called the resilience equation. And it never sat with me very well because it was a bit more fixed. And so in the validation process, which is kind of research thing, you come out with your research findings, and then you validate it, that took a couple of years. And then that threw up that it was absolutely the resilience equation just didn’t quite hack it.

So another set of sort of data came out with another range of that, and then the resilience dynamic got born, and it was much more real. And so that was probably about 2013, 2014 and, and it’s absolutely from this, the real stories of people and the real… both the research that exists out there in terms of literature and academic research and clinical research, but also then the reality of people’s stories, and the reality of leaders’ stories and how their organizations are within all that and when you marry these two things, Are you see patterns? And that’s actually we’re, you know, there is always dynamic coordinate natural thought the actual and sort of process itself meant setting for DS and DS and DS with flip charts and data on sheets of paper. And it felt, you know, it just felt a bit mad actually, where you’re trying to give birth to something, you know, that you’re not quite sure what it is, but you’re seeking and seeking and, and it doesn’t work and it doesn’t work. And so it’s actually a very creative process, but really honouring the data that you have, you know…

Alison Jones
Absolutely. And I can just imagine that emergent process and also that there’s the sort of sense of it falling into place when you have a model that fits the data. And you can draw, I mean, crudely, you can draw it and you can show people what you’re talking about; how important were the two aspects being able to articulate it but also being able to visualise it?

Jenny Campbell
Oh, that’s really interesting question. So the articulation, absolutely. I am an enormous believer in the power of communication and simple communication, and often with complex areas in which you’re trying to communicate about, if you haven’t nailed it, you end up being woolly, or you end up saying things in six pages that you could say in a paragraph. And that for me…

Alison Jones
Oh yes, and we’ve all read those books.

Jenny Campbell
Yes, exactly. And it’s the rating is a huge part of that. So you’ve got to be super clear. So articulating that… I’m a visual person, and actually, I sort of I’m a doodler, and I draw a lot with my clients. And, you know, we co-create and we’re sitting over bits of paper and that’s actually important to me. And there was an engine, for example, part of that process was with my family and friends. And I remember having small children going to see my parents in law, they are crawling about the place playing. And I’m trying to draw out to my husband what this is about, and he’s going, “But what about… and what…?” you know. So yes, again and again, we are trying to articulate through this something that is simple, but is holistic. What I love about the resilience dynamic is the model is incredibly simple. It’s really not… there’s not a whole bunch of academic language around it. People get it very quickly, but it’s also very deep. It’s got really, really strategic implications, whether you’re an individual or whether you’re a leader of an organization. So you know, I love that, I‘m quite proud of that, you know,  that it captures all of that all that same time.

Alison Jones
What was the point that you thought, ‘There’s a book in here,’ and how did that happen?

Jenny Campbell
So, I think I am a writer, I love writing. And I never had voice or space to do that. And I think there was a desire to be able to write about it. So the papers originally, they were the original publications in 2009, and then again, that was an initial toe in the water for explaining. And I think that’s a background. But I think part of the trigger for the book was actually seeing many other books about resilience that I think continue to perpetuate problems  in the domain, so you know, there’s things about mental toughness, and I was really frustrated that actually, our research showed something so vastly different to being tough. And so this frustration came out saying, Well, actually, can we not just provide something that is just really straightforward for people to just get it, to own it to step into, and, and, you know, break away from the myths. And so I guess that was around the time when I was extending the research into collaborative exercises around about 2012-13. And then there’s a whole history between that and until the last year of publishing the book, and having a confidence to actually be able to write to the desire that I had, which was to make this stuff accessible.

Alison Jones
Talk us through it. Let’s break that down a little bit. When did the impulse turn into action and what were the big milestones along the way?

Jenny Campbell
Well, there was one big event that happened around 2014 so I had to put together a book proposal, I’d put it around a number of different publishers, I did have interest from some of the more academic kind of publishers like Routledge, you know, who were really interested in and Pearsons had sort of, you know, 60… you know, a tome, they were thinking of something really, you know, an academic book that was sat on the shelf, and I really didn’t want that. So that was one thing.

And then I had this event happen, where I was with the chief exec of a particular publisher, who I really loved actually, I was really enthralled by their variety and, and their thoughtfulness. And I had one hour with this person, and I was ripped to shreds so that within 20 minutes, I was thinking, I’m not sure I can stand sitting in the room. It’s just so difficult to hear how rubbish I am.

So that was really interesting. And I did say, “Look, you know, you’re saying that I’m really bad, but actually, you’re in the room with me. So what is it about this that makes it makes it worthy of an hour of your time?” And I did get some golden nuggets from that if you like, but it did dent my confidence. And, you know, I think I tucked my tail down. And what came out of that was the difference between… and I think this is really interesting if you’re a business owner, and you’re knowledgeable about a business and how to run a business and, and how to service your clients well, and, and all of that, it doesn’t translate directly into writing well, and that was a big message for me.

And so I took that on, and, you know, initially my tail was down and then I became more confident in my shorter pieces. So, you know, I write for publications I write, you know, articles, etc. So the more I got confident in a style, or different styles for different people, the more I realized I could write well, and so I came back to it. But that event was a bit of a facer. So not easy. Not easy. And, and actually, you know, your methodology of really supporting a newbie author is, I think a critical piece of it, you know, for me, is actually being super clear on a structure and what you’re writing about, you know,

Alison Jones
And I think there’s probably a gender dynamic here as well as well: I mean one of the things you pick up on is that sort of gender confidence over people’s lives, that there’s a huge gap between confidence again women become more confident almost later in life. I just, I mean, I know that’s tangential to what we’re talking about, I just thought was really interesting that you know, that we are perhaps more likely to be dented by criticism, but actually also as we mature, possibly more capable of accepting that and building our own resilience, you know, we actually work quite differently, don’t we, in terms of crisis to men?

Jenny Campbell
I mean, women come out… In the in the resilience research women are brilliant at coping, we’re better than men. And so actually, where there is a crisis, women really come to the fore. We’re really strong, we are really capable of holding complexity and lots of stuff to do. And we have really big shoulders for that I got, you know, I tease women in conferences and things I say, you know, our top drawer has got the Superwoman pants, you know, take them out and put them on. And you know, and we do do that and it’s in our nature naturally, but it’s also in our nurture, we do have a tendency in our nature to be able to make sure that things are safe for other people. And so that’s one aspect of it.

But there’s, you know, there’s a whole other thing about actually the higher levels of resilience so, anywhere for you’re more adaptable and flexible, men are better at this than women. And those superwomen pants get in the way. So, throw them off, only use them when there’s a crisis on, because actually, there’s a lot about actually having your own voice and what you’re about rather than serving everybody else, and women don’t give themselves the right to that a lot.

So, whether that was showing up in my situation when I got that feedback in very, very difficult circumstances. And, you know, I think I was taking a risk. And I think it is risky to put your voice out there. And I think when you’re writing it’s almost like you can be in your own bubble writing. But actually, as soon as it’s out, there it is you, you’re very much more exposed than in a one to one conversation or in a group conversation where you can control some of the people’s reactions to you, you can respond in the moment to that, and you can’t with a book, so it is more exposing. And I also think that I went too fast, and that’s one of my traits is that I kind of go Oh, I’m going to do this jump in with both feet, and then I drowned a little bit in the middle of it, you know, so it’s just one of my traits is to sort of go more thoughtfully into things is my lesson from that.

Alison Jones
So looking back now, all you’ve learnt in that journey, and here you are now with the book published – what would be the one tip you give somebody who’s maybe where you were five years ago? What would you tell them?

Jenny Campbell
I think I’ve got two tips. One is write, write, write things, write a blog, write an article, write a journal, get writing, you know, don’t have a notion in your head about it, be practical about it and hone the skill of just writing for people and getting the reaction. You can be doing that in quite an easy way without necessarily fully going for a book. And then the other thing as a business person, you know, I mean, I thought I was pretty savvy and pretty good. And I think to be humble, to the process of writing, and what you know, and what you don’t know. So to open out and realize that there’s an awful lot to learn in that. So yes, you can be a very successful business owner or business leader, but it doesn’t directly translate into writing well, and actually just being humble to that and saying, Well, what is it that I need to learn is really helpful.

Alison Jones
Yes, it’s a sort of funny mix really, isn’t it between humility and confidence writing a book I always think.

Jenny Campbell
That’s a lovely way to put it, you know, I think you have to realize that you have something to say. And that you want to see it to several people and different kinds of people. So, you know, at my core, is having almost… I feel like I’m a vehicle for this resilience research. I feel like all the people who have input into and who have, you know, given me and my research collaborators time, it’s their stories distilled into something and I feel that we’ve just a vehicle and a lens for that. So I’m incredibly humble to that. But it’s so powerful that I don’t want to hold it to myself, I don’t want to hold it just to the people who have had that privilege. I really want it in everybody’s hands. So that burning passion makes me do something which is risky. So you’ve got to know that you have something to say and want to say it. But then actually the process of writing, again, that’s a whole other thing. It’s a whole other thing to become an author. It really is. It’s a new, it’s genuinely a new set of skills for me.

Alison Jones
And what you were saying before about actually, your first tip isn’t it, is just do it you know, you do it by doing it. That’s the only way you’re going to articulate your thoughts better and more clearly, it’s the only way you’re going to build your confidence. It’s the only way you’re actually going to get… you know, start small but start.

Jenny Campbell
Yes, definitely start I think and do it but I would say, having a set of people who can absolutely help you structure your thoughts is really critical. That was the difference for me between 2014 and 2018. So four years ago when I had a table of contents, I had understood because… I’ve got several books in my head. And that was part of the complexity of it, is what I put in this book versus what other books might I write about other… because the research is so vast. So, you know, what do you put in and what do you leave out? Who is it, for? What’s the purpose of it? How do you want the reader to feel? And that structure for me was the key. Thereafter, it was a complete joy. I loved writing. I completely loved it.

Alison Jones
And so many people say that, actually, that the structure is so fundamental, that the table of contents is their best friend, as they write the book, because you’ve got the clarity.

Jenny Campbell
Yes, and the table of contents in service of who is the reader and for what purpose you’re writing the book. So, you know, all of that was quite… That was a really good process, but it was really hard for me. But once I’d done that, I was like, hop out the other side. Go write the book. It was really brilliant.

Alison Jones
And Jenny, I always ask people to recommend the business book as well. I mean, clearly, everybody should read The Resilience Dynamic, but apart from that is there a book that has really struck you. Ideally, it doesn’t have to be a business book, that you think everybody listening to the podcast should go and read.

Jenny Campbell
And I mean, there are many and I read so much, especially from a resilience angle. But the one author that stands out for me who has been very transformative in the way that I have led within organizations are now how I operate really, and he wrote the foreword for The Resilience Dynamic book is George Kohlrieser. He wrote two books: Hostage at the Table, which was the one that I read that was really amazingly insightful and changed the way I was thinking and working and leading, and his more recent book, Care to Dare, and both of them are brilliant.

Alison Jones
Brilliant. That’s amazing. Thank you. What a great recommendation. And Jenny, if people want to find out more about you, if they want to find out more about the Resilience Engine, or the Resilience Dynamic model, where should they go?

Jenny Campbell
The Resilience Engine website is full of stuff, including monthly publications that we offer, tips, ideas, tools, case studies around resilience and how you can foster your own resilience. And also, we have great discussions on LinkedIn, so everybody is really welcome to connect with me directly. And with the business itself, the Resilience Engine business. So, hope that’s all helpful.

Alison Jones
Thank you so much for your time today, Jenny. It’s just fantastic to talk to you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.