Finding The Square Root Of A Banana


How vulnerable are you in these challenging times?

We are facing business and social challenges across the globe which will test the very survival of businesses, large and small. Predictions are that there will be job losses in every country as businesses retrench and downsize to cope with the economic fallout.

In some way we will ALL be affected by the global meltdown,   whether that is because, worst case scenario, we are business owners and our business fails, or because we become one of those people whose job vanishes in the restructurings.   

Times such as these will test who we are, what we stand for and how we will cope with adversity.   

My grandfather was a stonemason, trained in the days when building with stone was a craft which took many years to learn, yet enabled him and his peers to build houses and churches which would stand for centuries.  He learned his skills on the job and was taught by master craftsmen. 

In the later stages of his career, houses became mass-produced and stone went out of favour as being too expensive and too slow, and my grandfather and his wonderful skills became virtually obsolete. He found himself working out what was left of his career as a labourer on a building site under the supervision of engineers half his age, building what he considered, to be sub-standard houses.  These were a new breed of ‘builder' - young men with degrees who had learned their skills at university. A serious clash of codes.

My grandfather never swore and rarely lost his temper; however, one day in utter frustration at the way he was being treated, he was heard to mutter, ‘These folks with fancy degrees, they could find the square root of a banana and wouldn't bloody know how to peel it!'

And he was absolutely right and he was absolutely wrong. Imagine if they could have worked together and pooled their talents. Just think what they could have achieved.

Sadly, what happened to my grandfather can happen to any of us at any stage of our lives or careers and is about to happen to a lot of people around the world.

In normal times if we are not taking personal responsibility to keep ourselves upskilled, and alert to the business climate, then we are vulnerable. Similarly, if  companies in normal times are not looking and thinking ahead, they too can become victims of circumstances they hadn't noticed because they were too busy being busy. 

From a ‘job' perspective, some companies are really smart and actually ‘headlight' the jobs which are starting to become not-so-important which allows the people in those jobs to start thinking ahead. 

However, these are extra-ordinary times and to a degree the circumstances are being forced on us, we are IN those headlights. 

It's called life!

Q: How will you cope if you lose your business or job in these turbulent times?

Q: Do you have the sense of self that will help you through whatever happens over the next 12 months? 

The first thing I want to say to anyone reading this article is that we are not our titles; we are not our jobs; we are not even our businesses. If we have hung our sense of self on our title or business, and for whatever reason we lose that status, then we are vulnerable. 

Q: How do you cope with adversity?

Q: If you do get knocked over will you get back up again? 

The Japanese have a wonderful saying - fall over 6 times, get up 7. And that is what we all must do right now. 

One of the worst jobs I ever had to do in HR was to make the jobs a whole lot of computer engineers redundant. It was a strategic decision but I got to be the lucky person who had to tell the engineers that as of today they were surplus to requirements. 

I spent several sleepless nights wondering how on earth I could even do this. I knew that most of these people had families and mortgages. And so I prefaced every discussion with the words, ‘You can either make this the worst thing that has ever happened to you or you can make it the best.' And we went from there. 

The company had set in place outplacement help for everyone affected, so they were given help and support in getting their CVs dusted off; they were even given interview skills training. The company felt they had done the best they could for their engineers, but even then, some of these people became angry and bitter and vengeful, and worse, got stuck in that black place for a long time. Yet others took the same situation, got out into the marketplace, had a look around to see what was available in their field, others used the opportunity to look at completely different career paths. Some left the IT industry; others retrained in a different aspect of the industry, one or two started up their own businesses. 

How come some coped and others didn't? 

It's that attitude thing. The no-matter-what-happens-to-me-I-can-cope thinking. 

Because you can. No matter what happens to any of us, we can cope, we must cope. And often that thing that we thought was the very worst thing that could ever happen to us, in hindsight turns out to be the very best thing that ever happened to us. 

‘What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny compared to what lies within us.' - Oliver Wendell Holmes



Ann Andrews CSP specialises in working with high performing teams and showing managers how to deal with poor performance.

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