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Building Your Resilience

In this talk from MuseumNext Disrupt (2020), Carmel Cardona will introduce her framework of 5 pillars of resilience, and give you examples and exercises to help you develop a practical and actionable strategy to enable you to adapt and thrive. You will be encouraged to develop a clear understanding of your own individual strengths and stress triggers, and guided to adapt the framework for your own particular circumstances.

Building our resilience is about encouraging learning, growth, and flexibility. This webinar incorporates key elements of post-traumatic growth and positive psychology to equip participants with the knowledge and skills to help them overcome personal and professional challenges.

Carmel Cardona is the Founder/Director of Stitch Your Parachute


Hello, everyone. My name’s Carmel. Thanks so much to Jim for inviting me to speak with you today. I hope you’ve all been enjoying the presentations and discussions so far. It’s such a fantastic resource for the museum sector, an amazing programme.

So well done Jim for putting it together. And I’m really grateful to been given this opportunity to contribute to this community. So firstly, just let me introduce myself. I’m Carmel Cardona. I’ve worked in a range of leadership roles and all sorts of different organisations across all parts of the cultural sector.

So from literature to film, theatre, visual arts, festivals, you name it. And I’ve worked in London, in Sydney and Australia and in [inaudible 00:01:47] Bolivia. So a real broad range of organisations. And I’ve also worked for some charities and non arts, non cultural sector, small businesses as well.

And last year, I founded Stitch your parachute, which is an organisation that works with individuals and small businesses and cultural organisations to build their resilience and grit and adaptability.

So it’s kind of all about keeping you going when times get tough and helping you be more capable based on the premise that it’s wise to stitch your parachute while you’re safe on the ground rather than waiting till you free fall out the plane.

And as part of this work, I’ve worked as a consultant to several organisations. I’m currently helping the music company run a conference in November.

I just helped an art history organisation overhaul a membership scheme and I’m rebranding a kids yoga company. So real variety of clients, but really enjoying it. And little did I know when I set the business up just how important resilience will become in our lives with this global pandemic that we find ourselves in.

So yeah, it’s really, really great to be able to help and contribute as I’m doing with this work. And the training that we do with Stitch your parachute, so I do online training courses. It’s either full day workshops, half day workshops, or sometimes it’s a six week course.

I also do one on one coaching with people, kind of emerging leaders and people planning a career pivot or people returning to work after long-term illness or people working through treatment for a long term illness.

So all of this work is fairly interactive and there’s lots of peer learning in the training. But today, this is a recording and we’ve got about 45 minutes. So I’m really going to kind take you on a bit of a whistle stop trip through my approach to resilience.

And I’m going to focus on giving you some practical strategies to build your own resilience. I want to try and share with you some of the research behind it though, some of the kind of science behind it in terms of post-traumatic growth and positive psychology and mindset and things.

But really, this is kind of like a taster session of my model. But please do get in touch if you have any questions or if you want me to follow up on anything that I present today.

And I also have details on my website of a new course, six week course I’ve just launched, which is specifically aimed at people in the cultural sector who are at risk of redundancy or who’ve been made redundant. And it’s going to be free for those people.

So do pass that onto any colleagues, if you think that they would benefit from that. And just for a start that you can see these two little icons here, the pause button and the takeaway. So throughout today’s presentation, there’ll be moments when I suggest that you press the pause button and carry out an exercise.

So maybe grab a pen and paper or open a sticky note or something on your computer, but really this is for kind of you to reflect on yourself and is a bit of self reflection, but also some kind of taking stock of your own resilience.

And then the takeaway button is for some tasks that I want you to carry out over the coming days and weeks. So make a note of those as well. And then don’t forget that with self-reflection, it’s important to look after yourself, to find what feels right for you and know your own boundaries.

So let’s just start by clarifying what we actually mean by resilience. And I think for me, the trees here that I’ve put here are a great example of how I understand it. We’re going to encounter difficulties and barriers, challenges, potentially traumatic events in our lives, but we can adapt and learn and continue to grow, but we will be changed by them.

They’re going to change us. But we can use those experiences to help us grow stronger and therefore more capable of dealing with such events in the future.

So a really good way of summarising this is that resilience is the capacity to remain flexible in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours when faced with disruption, change or pressure so that we emerge from adversity stronger, wiser and more capable.

I think this is a really good definition. But just to kind of drill a little deeper into that, I know that kind of bouncing back is a really popular phrase. And I think it’s important that we understand that resilience isn’t just about going back to how you were before.

It’s about learning, growing, it’s becoming more capable of dealing with disruption in the future. And it is about changing. And it’s also really important to understand that people aren’t born resilient, it’s something that you cultivate. And life’s events and how you respond to them help you cultivate them.

But often the most resilient people are actually the people who have undergone serious hardship or trauma in their lives. And one of the reasons why I love doing this work is I really want to help people develop resilience without necessarily having to undergo drama beforehand.

So yeah, it’s really important to kind of learn and grow from all of your experiences and take that into the next moment. And I think with COVID, we’ve all kind of been thrust into a position where we’re really confronting our own resilience reserves. And for some people, for the first time actually realising how resilient or not they actually are.

So it’s important to take learnings from this forward. And I really love this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt about resilience, “People are like teabags. They don’t know how strong they are until they’re put in hot water.” And it’s really the experience of challenge and difficulty like I said, that helps you build resilience.

But another really key thing, I think that’s important is the difference between resilience and resiliency. So resilience is the level at which you can adapt and cope with tough situations, but resiliency is how capable you are right now in your current situation to do so.

So you might have very well developed resilience, but a certain context. So for example, being managed by a certain manager or working in a certain work culture, or maybe even being in the midst of a global pandemic. That might lead you to have reduced resiliency, even if you’re quite resilient.

And in my courses and coaching, I often talk with people about their career resilience. I’m not going to go into it in too much detail here, but similar to the trees that we saw earlier, on career resilience is really about a mixture of stability and flexibility.

We can’t rely on stability a hundred percent. Our careers are no longer predictable pathways. But actually, we need to ensure that we’re stable enough to weather the change while being flexible and responsive to opportunity and chance.

It’s a little bit like when an engineer is designing a building to withstand earthquakes. It’s got to be solid and strong enough to be able to stand up, but it’s got to be flexible to be able to move with the earthquake in order that it stays stable basically.

And I think a third element of career resilience is what Carole Pemberton calls stretchability. And this is really how willing we are to reach beyond our comfort zone. And understanding your own level of stretchability is really, really key to resilience.

And why is resilience important? Well, it’s actually more about what happens to us when our resilience fails us. So these are some of the traps that we can fall into when we haven’t spent time stitching our parachutes. A significant challenge can floor us.

It can actually create some really negative and quite self-destructive behaviours. So cultivating resilience takes many, many forms. And I think it’s probably quite a good idea for us to take stock of our own resilience.

When I run my courses, I have quite an extensive quiz that really, really digs deep into how resilient people are. But today let’s just do something really, really brief, that’s a little bit of a check in with ourselves about how resilient we’re feeling.

And again, this is something that you can pause and do this exercise before you move on. But how do you respond when you’re dipped in hot water like a tea bag? So think of an example in your past, it can be either personal or professional when you faced a challenge in your life. And think about how you responded, your physical, behavioural, emotional responses.

And you can start to see these little outward signs of resilience. What are the ways that you respond under pressure? What are your stresses? And checking in with yourself is really key so you can see the warning signs of low resilience. So once you’ve done this exercise, let’s turn to what we can do to shore up our bank of resilience.

So as I mentioned, I’ve done extensive training and research in resilience. And I’ve developed a model which consists of these five key pillars, key facets of resilience, which I think you need to stitch together to make up your parachute. So I’m going to go into each pillar in a bit more detail.

I’m going to explain some of the research behind the theory, and I’m going to outline some practical exercises you can do. And as we go through these pillars, just start to think what’s in your own personal resilience toolkit? What resonates with you?

What do you feel you already do really well? And what might be new to you? And so for each element, I’m going to talk you through some of the theory, like I said. And there’ll be an exercise and a takeaway. But we only have an hour, so I’m going to spend some more time on some than the others.

But hopefully, there’ll be enough for you to be able to take some really key things away. Now, our first pillar today is know thyself. So this is from the inscription at the temple at Delphi, Socrates, et cetera. And it was actually originally thought to mean, know your place.

You’re not a God, you’re a mere mortal. But actually, later it was taken by interpreters of Plato and later philosophers to mean that actually an understanding of yourself is really critical in order to be able to understand the wider world.

So self-awareness, self-reflection seeking feedback, they’re all hugely important for building your own resilience. Because they help you build a robust bank of data about your strengths and your blind spots. But they also help you see yourself as a whole person. And in a work context, this is about kind of creating good structures for reflecting and getting feedback and questioning yourself, but in a kind of blamed free culture.

I think we’ll come onto that in a minute, but I think it’s really important to kind of create a safe environment in which to do this. Now you might think you know yourself really well, you might think you’re very self aware.

You might have even done an insights profile or a Myers-Briggs type indicated test or one of those, one of the bird ones, I can’t remember what they’re called. But actually, while these one-off exercises are quite useful, they’re also one-offs. And what’s really important about developing reflective skills is that it’s an active, ongoing process.

An ongoing reflective practise is far more powerful and has a greater impact on your working relationships than a one-off. So having an understanding of yourself will really help you perform at your very best. But to be truly present, you really have to kind of open yourself up as much as possible.

So there are some excellent books out there about reflective practise. And most of them recommend the practise of writing or journaling. There are also some useful frameworks such as, I mean, some of you might have seen this, Gibbs reflective cycle, which are frameworks for reflecting on a very specific situation.

But the kind of the process of writing or journaling, it actually, it’s really interesting if you look at social psychology literature and research. Because they’ve proven that writing and narrative about events, it strengthens your immune system, it reduces stress on the body, it speeds up the healing process. It actually has physical responses in you.

So, and I think that’s because it kind of allows you to slightly distance yourself from what’s going on and reframe your thoughts and feelings about a situation and reframe our own responses to it, which really can help you gain resilience from that experience.

We’ll come onto that little bit more in pillar four. But in terms of journaling, it’s kind of, it’s all about not just seeing more, but seeing things differently and learning from your own experience. And this will improve the quality of your work as time goes on.

So please excuse the rather [inaudible 00:14:20] clip art. But this is all very well, writing and journaling is all very well for us to understand more about ourself and reflect on ourself, but it doesn’t really help us with the blind spots, which is where other people see things about us.

And so in order for us to deepen our understanding of ourselves, we really need to create an environment, especially in a work context in which people feel very comfortable in being able to feedback to us and that we can feedback to them.

And this is really about how you feedback to other people, how you’re honest, but in a tactful way with other people. And you can create an environment in which criticism is seen as being kind of reasoned and logical and respectful and it’s all kind of in the service of expanding thought and discovering the truth.

You’re not kind of picking at people, but you’re talking about specific observable behaviour. And I think one of the things that’s really important here is that it’s crucial to really listen carefully and not only think about your own intent, but think about the impact that it has on people.

There’s a really great Australian writer called Ruby Hamad, who’s written a book recently that talks quite a lot about very specific situations in which, in a work context, when a white woman is called out by a woman of colour about some actions that are perceived to be racist or perceived to be discriminatory, their response is almost universally to be defensive and often to cry.

And one of the things that she talks about is how that’s shutting down the opportunity for learning in that moment. And actually, you could treat it as an opening, as a learning experience. Be open to the feedback that you’re receiving and take it on board and kind of work to ensure that you learn and grow from the experience.

So it’s kind of all about having curiosity about your responses. And self congratulation isn’t going to do anyone any good. So just kind of engage with it, deal with it and kind of move on.

And I think one of the interesting things here is it’s about sense checking and potentially revising some of the narratives that we tell about ourselves. A personal example that I can use illustrate this is a couple years ago, I had someone in my team who came to me and disclosed in a one-to-one that she had been diagnosed with a condition and she needed some help to kind of get through that condition.

And obviously, I really helped her. And over the course of the next year, she went through treatment and she had various different tests and she ended up recovering, making a full recovery. And actually, a few months ago we met up for coffee and she said, she distinctly remembers me saying in that moment, “I’m really great at practical support.

So whatever you need in a practical sense, I can help you. We’ll get you through this and we’ll get there, but I’m really bad at emotional support. So you’re going to have to go elsewhere for that.” And she sort of very gently said to me, “It’s actually not true. You were very, very helpful.

And you gave me a lot of emotional support and I found it really useful during that year.” And I realised it was just a story that I was telling about myself. And it was a story that I probably used to be true, but wasn’t anymore. And I hadn’t really given myself the opportunity to grow and learn and change.

So it was a really interesting way of realising that you should just sense check and potentially update some of the stories that you tell about yourself. So think about how, in a work context you can encourage and create an environment in which people give and receive honest feedback and help them to sort of rewrite their old stories and break their old habits.

Don’t just judge people on the way that you used to perceive them, allow them to change and they’ll allow you to change. And that’s a really key part of resilience. And so focusing on what you’re good at actually produces better results than paying attention to what you don’t do well. And so research into positive psychology.

I cited Linley here, but there are plenty, plenty of studies in positive psychology. Actually demonstrates that focusing on strengths leads people to better achieve their goals, which is in turn associated with psychological need fulfilment, enhance wellbeing, et cetera, et cetera. A kind of sort of fairly obvious example is that let’s say someone in your team is about to give a presentation to the board.

And just before they start, you sort of pop your head around the door and say, “Hey, there’s a lot riding on this. Don’t mess it up.” And then they go in and it’s just, they’re just consumed with the thoughts about messing it up and the pressure.

Whereas if you say, “You’ve got this. You’ve rehearsed this loads, I know that you’re going to do really well,” they’re going to perform better. And I’m not saying that you have to lie to people and, or lie to yourself about your own strengths.

Yes, there’s a degree of honesty there. But it’s actually about how much we focus on our strengths and how that actually can carry you quite a lot of the way, think about the way that we run performance appraisals in our sector.

They’re generally about finding, identifying people’s weaknesses and talking about how you can improve them over the next six to 12 months. Whereas actually, if you focus on people’s strengths and the stretch that you want to give them, then they’re much likely to perform better.

And they’re not going to focus on their deficits, but they’re going to focus on their strengths. Organisations are terrible at this. So often people won’t promote people within a team.

They’ll spend a lot of time and money recruiting someone externally, and then you often end up losing the person in your team anyway. And actually, giving someone that stretch, believing in them and focusing on their strengths can really give them what they need to actually bridge the gap and bridge the weaknesses.

So think about the way that we tend to focus on deficits in a work situation, and actually how you, if creating a situation where you believe in your colleagues, you support them, you create a supportive environment, you can create that safe space in which people can be very honest about the gaps in their knowledge, but also play to their strengths, which is better for the organisation.

And I’ve got a little exercise for you here to really understand the importance of a strengths based approach. And so think about, well, you can read it yourself. So you can just press the pause button if you like, and really go through these two exercises. And I think that you’ll really see the importance of strengths and focusing on strengths in your work.

Okay. So don’t worry too much about all of the strengths I’ve put here. But if you go onto this website,, you can actually do a kind of quiz that will identify your top five strengths. And it’s really useful. It’s very good for you. And then it’s kind of something you can play to.

And once you know your strengths, really play to them, find ways of being able to flex them and use them every day and realise how good that makes you feel. And another takeaway here, I think is why don’t you identify key strengths in your colleagues or in your collaborators and make a point of noticing it and pointing out to them and commending them for it.

And I think you’ll really see the difference in how they respond to you and how your relationship works at work. So I just want to acknowledge that we are in a, quite a bizarre time at the moment. And COVID has really left many of us quite uncertain about the future of our sector. And we might not be feeling particularly strong right now.

I’m asking you to identify your strengths and you might not be feeling particularly strong. And I totally understand that. A good way of identifying your strengths is to actually look back at the past and look at the ways that you’ve demonstrated strengths in past situations.

So focus on that as a way of kind of understanding your resilience toolkit, understanding your strengths toolkit, and what that tells you about your resilience. And then you can kind of use those strengths in the current situation once you’ve identified them, rather than feeling a little bit like you’re floundering because everything’s so hard at the moment.

Okay. So pillar number two is cultivate your purpose. This quote from Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how,” is quoted in an incredible book called Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, who was a psychologist who was interned in [inaudible 00:22:34].

And he really identified the interestingly, the people who he found were… Did best and survived in that situation, they weren’t necessarily the strongest people, but they were the people who had a sense of purpose. They felt like they had something to live for, however small that something was.

And so I think this is really important about developing a sense of purpose, which not necessarily a kind of blinkered single minded purpose, but developing a larger meaning in your life to work towards, which then kind of drives you and infuses everything and underpins everything else that you do, which gives you resilience in the face of difficulty.

And this is kind of, it’s very important to articulate your meaning, your purpose, because it will, like I say, it will allow you to be flexible and then adapt it in response to obstacles or changed priorities. But it really kind of gives you a sense of what’s important in life.

I’m going to give you a little bit of some clarity on what I mean by this, by kind of an illustration of a really good way of approaching, identifying your purpose is to actually start with your values.

So if you can determine your values and then see how they align with your career, you can actually, you’re more likely to succeed, to achieve fulfilment in your work, and you’ll be resilient to setbacks. And this is again, kind of all backed up by research.

And last year I developed a role modelling programme which organisations can implement, which aims to create more inclusive environments. And it starts with this exercise of identifying your role model. So I’ve just put some of mine here on the slide.

It’s my granny, Pippi Longstocking, disability rights activist, [inaudible 00:24:20], Audre Lorde, incredible writer and Sumi Madhok, who was one of my professors when I did my masters at LSE. And what I’ve done is kind of thought about these incredible people and the values that they instilled in me, the values that I still carry today in my life that I know came from these people.

And so you can do this too. If you think about, say four or five people over the course of your personal and professional life that you would consider role models. So take some time to think about who they are. I’ll pause on the next slide for you to think about them. And what values would you say that they instilled in you?

And once you’ve got a sense of those values, think about how they infuse the different areas of your life. So I’ve named these quadrants career, health, relationships, leisure. But I mean, you can name them anything that’s important to you. And when you’re considering that element of your life, think about how deeply your values are embedded in that element.

And researchers have actually found that even the smallest of tasks can be imbued with greater meaning when they’re connected to your personal goals and values. So if we can align our daily tasks, even the kind of [inaudible 00:25:29] with our personal vision, we’re more likely to see work a calling.

And if we see our work as a calling, then it highlights the meaning in the work that we do, which means that we throw more of ourself into it, which means that we’ll achieve more, which ultimately will lead us to be more resilient. So Jane McGonigal, who’s, she’s a gaming designer, she talks a lot about how we should look at using challenging events as a kind of springboard to something better.

So thinking about how it brings about a pivot or a new purpose or a new direction. And I’m not trying to be kind of polyamorish about the pandemic and the situation that we’re in. I know it’s very hard sometimes for us to seek positives from this. But I do think it’s really important to kind of look at how we can transform this.

I mean, if you look at some of the ways that museums and galleries across the world have used this and have pivoted massively really quickly and incredibly digitally to be able to kind of rework the way that they engage with their audiences. They’ve kind of turned this into something that is going to change them irrevocably for the future forever.

And that kind of would never have happened otherwise. So it’s about kind of taking what can be positive and what can send you in a new direction and running with that. Okay. So pillar number three is nurture relationships. This is one of my favourite pillars. And this is really about kind of building your network and connecting with people.

And there’s strong evidence that shows that feeling close to and valued by other people is a fundamental human need, and it really contributes to us functioning well in the world. It’s really clear that social relationships are critical for promoting wellbeing and for acting as a buffer against mental ill health for people of all ages.

We know that this builds resilience when we have a community of people we can count on. So whether it’s our partner, our family, our friends, our colleagues, whoever. It actually multiplies our intellectual and physical resources, which helps us bounce back from setbacks faster, it helps us accomplish more, helps us feel a greater sense of purpose.

So our resiliency is stronger. And individuals who invest in their social support systems, they’re just actually better equipped to thrive in difficult circumstances. And it’s not just about leaning on other people, it’s about that you individually feel more resourceful once you know you’ve got those people to lean on, even if you don’t lean on them.

This is proven in studies were individuals who were working on their own, even just the knowledge that they have that team to back them makes them more creative and more innovative when they’re working on their own, even if they don’t call on their team. And it’s really important not to cut people off at the very moment that you need them the most.

And study after study has shown that if you participate in social and community life, it brings about greater wellbeing. If you commit a random act of kindness once a week, over a six week period, you have a demonstrable increase in wellbeing and a demonstrable increase in happiness.

And asking for help from others, it similarly strengthens relationships, creates trusts and openness. I think we all, I don’t know about you, but I feel very comfortable helping other people. And I’ve always been a strong pillar of support for other people, but I’m traditionally not very good at asking for help myself.

And I’m just, I’ll give you another personal example of how I learned to lean on this pillar. In 2017, I was diagnosed with cancer. I had to all of a sudden lean on people in a way that I hadn’t before. I was kind of forced to do it, from getting friends to come to chemo with me to, I made a rotor of my friends, made me lunch every day after my surgery.

And also my colleagues stepped up. I rotated the chairing of my team meeting at work. And my deputy really stepped in when I needed it in a work context. And this really was quite remarkable. Not only were people really appreciative of being asked to help, but it’s really cemented some of those relationships. But also, it really brought about these bonds of trust.

And it really shifted my own perception of vulnerability. I’ve kind of always seen vulnerability as a bit of a weakness before, but actually it’s a huge strength, and reaching out and asking others for help shows tremendous bravery as anyone who’s read any Brene Brown will know.

But what I really noticed from a work point of view is that it was a really great way of instilling trust. Because I was willing to show vulnerability towards my colleagues, they in turn were more willing to be open with me and show their vulnerability with me, which developed these bonds of trust between us.

And it strengthened our relationships, which ultimately then improves your working relationships. And therefore, helps you be more successful as a team. So people kind of feel that they need to have all the answers and not reveal when they don’t know something.

But we can see that even as managers, we’re not expect to know everything. And actually approaching a problem by saying, “I want to work with you to, and we can all find the answer together,” it makes for much, much better team performance than simply coming up with the answer yourself and telling people how to work.

So really developing that two way street in a work context of both helping others and also asking them to help you is really, really crucial.

So I’m going to set you a little challenge here. And I do acknowledge that building resilience during these incredibly remarkable times that we find ourselves, it is tough, no doubt about it. And be gentle with yourself. But while we’re in this unique environment, we can still reach out to people.

And actually, I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that myself reaching out to people a lot more over the last few months and just checking in with people and seeing how they are, friends who’ve been furloughed or people who living on their own, just to kind of, just to check in with people and see how they are.

And so I think this is a really useful task. And you may have already been doing it, but why not take some time to over the next seven days, first thing in the morning, before you’ve even logged on, just send a little message, a WhatsApp or an email, a message of thanks or praise to someone, a colleague or a peer or a collaborator, or a friend, anybody.

But just do it every day for a week and see how it makes you feel. It’s not only going to make you feel happier, but it’s going to cement that relationship. If any of you want to follow up on any of this, there’s a really great book called The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. And he’s got a really great Ted talk. So I do encourage you to go and have a little look at that.

Okay. So my fourth pillar is deepen your wisdom. So as I mentioned before, when we experience hardship, our response is often dictated by the stories that we tell ourselves about that experience. So our brain kind of develops habits in response to stimuli and it sort of naturally leans towards this fight or flight response when we’re posed with challenges. But the brain is plastic.

We know this. And we can actually change these responses. We can build new neural pathways and change the way that we respond to events in our lives. And we can do this physically, emotionally, and psychologically, but we have to do it consciously. We have to make this conscious effort to change the way our brain and our body and our mind responds to things.

Anyone who’s ever developed a regular meditation or gratitude practise will be able to share the benefits of this. At the beginning of lockdown, I started writing down two things at the end of every day that I was grateful for. And I was shielding, so I wasn’t leaving my very small apartment.

And it was remarkable how different my attitude towards each day was when I knew I had to write something, write two things down at the end of every day. I was kind of seeking out these positive things that to be grateful for. And it really, really helped me during that time.

So we should remain curious and always learning and open to changing our responses to things. And I think that this is kind of one of the most important messages in my presentation today. We can change the way that we respond to things. We actually have a choice about how we respond. It’s not events, but it’s our beliefs about them that cause suffering.

And two people can go through the exact same situation and both have very, very different outcomes. And it’s purely because of their own response to that situation. And as Darwin said, it’s survival of the fittest, it’s actually survival of the person who’s most responsive to change.

How do you respond to change? How do you tend to respond when things go wrong, or when you make a mistake? We can actually use our brain to change how we process the world. And that in turn, changes how we react to it. And this is actually linked to… It’s all linked to our mindset.

Some of you may have come across Dr. Carol Dweck’s work. She’s brilliant. And she wrote this great book called Mindset. And she’s actually formed these theories about the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

So as you can see from this table I’ve put together here, the growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are actually things that you can cultivate through your own efforts, your own strategies, and also help from other people, et cetera, et cetera.

But yes, we’re all different. We all have different talents and aptitudes and interests and temperaments, but anyone can change. Anyone can grow through application and experience. But someone with a fixed mindset doesn’t believe this. Someone with a fixed mindset believes that talents are inherent.

And so if you find something hard, that means you can’t do it. So you may as well give up because you don’t have that talent. And effort is for those who don’t have the ability, failure is for those who don’t have that talent. And they feel like quite permanently defined by their failures.

Whereas someone with the growth mindset, they know. They think that if something’s challenging, that’s actually really motivating because it means that they’ll work harder to overcome the challenge and to become good at something. And that if they fail at something, that’s actually an opportunity to learn.

So that next time they will not fail, they’re kind of failure as a stepping stone to success kind of thing. So the growth mindset really helps you convert life’s setbacks into future successes. And resilience and perseverance are really born out of this growth mindset.

This is the mindset that really allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives. So why is a growth mindset important for resilience? It kind of means you’re more honest with yourself. You don’t judge yourself or feel judged by your abilities because you know that you can work to improve.

You know that you can, if you don’t have the capability right now, you can keep working hard and you can develop the capability. So you can identify your strengths and weaknesses, but you are also honest about them.

If you don’t feel that not being able to do something, it defines you personally, you’re much more likely to be open and honest and admitted, and talk about the fact that you can’t do it, but you want to try and you want to improve. And so this kind of makes you more honest and more reliable as a colleague and more effective as a collaborator.

So you’re seeking challenge, you’re thriving on it, but you’re not afraid to be honest about where you fall down, where your gaps are. And so then other people will trust you more. Your learning curves are going to be steep, but your mind remains open to new possibilities.

And you’re seeing failure as another opportunity for growth. And if that’s how you view failure, you’re much more likely to actually experience that growth. So then you’ll kind of scan your mental mind map for the positive opportunities and you’ll move up, not despite the setbacks, but actually because of them.

So how do you respond to failure? My partner’s a scientist, and one of the really interesting things I’ve learned about science is that scientists love failure.

They will spend years working on a problem. And even if they spend years working on a problem and don’t find the solution, the fact that they find many, many different things that aren’t the solution means that they’re one step closer or several steps closer to finding the solution.

And even if they don’t find the solution, they pass that baton on because scientist is so iterative and they’ll pass that baton on to someone else who will ultimately one day solve the problem. And sometimes these problems can take generations to solve, but failure is great because you’re eliminating a possibility.

So I think it’s really shifted my perception of failure in many ways. And I’m not saying failure is not difficult. Yes, it’s really challenging. It can be really hard. It can hurt, but it’s doesn’t define you. It’s just a problem to be faced and dealt with and learned from.

So if people believe in fixed traits, they’re in danger of being measured by their failure and it will define them in a permanent way. So they’re kind of robbed of their coping resources with that mindset in a way, which I think is a real shame.

A kind of real live example of this is recently a lead curator who I won’t name, but they, someone in their team will curate an exhibition. It was going to be one of the big blockbusters at their institution that year. And it kind of bombed. I mean, there’s no two words about it.

It bombed. It didn’t get even half the number of people that they ticket buyers that they were expecting. And it went really badly, despite all best efforts to plug it. And their response was just so demonstrative of a fixed mindset. They were kind furious. They stripped the responsibilities of all of their direct reports.

They very, very kind of openly talked about it as a failure and then tried to brush it under the carpet and never speak of it again. It was kind of like the exhibition that should never been named for months and months, years afterwards, or about several months afterwards.

And it’s a real opportunity, real missed opportunity because that could have been a learning opportunity. That could have been a, “Okay. We took these risks. We really tried. It didn’t work, but hey, we’ve learned from this. And this is what we will do differently next time. This is what we won’t do next time> but actually, it ended up being something that no one ever talked about.

And one of the crucial things was that this person always used to email everybody after a successful exhibition and say, “Congratulations. Well done. Thank you for all your hard work.” And there was just nothing after this, not a peep because they were so embarrassed and so kind of angry at it and felt that it defined them, that failure.

And actually, people worked really hard on that exhibition. Just because it didn’t succeed, just because it didn’t reach the numbers, it was still something and people still worked really hard. And so they’ve kind of deserved to be thanked and praised for that.

So if we don’t take risks, we’ll never innovate and we’ll never grow. We’ll just stagnate. So on an organisational level, we sort of have to build resilient organisations, we have to still have room for failure.

We have to be able to fail intelligently or fail forward. Or we have to kind of develop a culture where people aren’t afraid to take risks within boundaries, obviously. But it means that they’ll be creative, it means that they’ll continually adapt.

And then that is kind of how an organisation can respond to failure and can be resilient. So I’ve got quite a good exercise here about this. So COVID notwithstanding, let’s say that you’re going to feature a double page spread in your annual review about the things that your organisation has failed at this year and highlight the things you’ve learned from them.

So what would you feature? And how can you kind of turn things around and actually champion failure within your organisation and treat it like it’s not a bad thing? Because the result of this is going to be the organisation will be more innovative, it’ll be more creative.

Because if people aren’t afraid of the consequences of failure, they will experiment. I mean, your job is obviously to ensure that it’s sustainable. But just pause on this slide and come up with what you’re going to put in that double page spread.

Okay. And then finally, our final pillar for today is feed your soul. And this is people have long believed that if you work hard and you succeed at your goals, then you’re going to attain happiness. But actually, researchers now realise that the opposite is true.

This is Shawn Achor that I was talking about earlier on. And he’s proven that actually we become more successful when we are happier and more positive, not the other way around. So this happiness advantage, Shawn has seven principles for how to maximise it.

And Martin Seligman, who is the founder of positive psychology, he breaks happiness down into these three different components, pleasure, engagement and meaning. And so my kind of interpretation of this is that I think about what feeds my soul. So what can I reliably turn to, which I know will shore up my happiness and wellbeing?

What can I turn to that brings me pleasure, that engages me, that brings me meaning? It’s not necessarily spiritual. For me, it’s kind of big hikes. I love the satisfaction and physical exertion of them, but I also love the natural beauty I witness when it’s not foggy.

And I love visiting museums and galleries, partly because I learn things and I can experience beauty. But what was really interesting about the lockdown, about COVID is that while neither of those things were available to me and they weren’t available to many of us, people still sought those things out. And a lot of us really succeeded in putting a lot of things online because people were still wanting to seek out those experiences somehow.

So for me, it’s about actively seeking to consciously incorporate into your life the things that you know feed your soul. So why do we do this? Well, what happens to the brain when we’re happy? Positive emotions, actually, not only do they release dopamine and blah, blah, blah, but actually they broaden the amount of possibilities that we process.

They actually make us more thoughtful, more creative, more open to new ideas. So this is instead of resorting to that old fight or flight, we can actually be more resourceful, which again, leads to being more resilient. It’s hugely important in a work context.

And so for this reason, I feel like it’s really important that we create a work environment in which we can bring our whole selves to work. So the elements that are seemingly non-work related in our lives, they actually contribute to our wellbeing, which in contributes to our increased level of performance at work. So sharing these parts of ourselves with colleagues is actually really important.

I think one of the side effects of COVID is that it’s led many of us to kind of work from home. And then we’re finding out so much more about each other’s lives, children, pets are coming in for Zoom meetings and stuff. So barriers break down and we’re viewing our colleagues as their whole selves.

And this has led to, I think we should be taking some of these lessons into the future beyond the pandemic. Let’s say one day when we go back to working in offices again, because that will really lead to greater team fusion. And happier colleagues leads to more creative problem solving, which ultimately leads to a more resilient organisation.

So a little takeaway here. Take a moment to consider what feeds your soul. What is it that really kind of makes you feel great, that really kind of shores up your resilience and your happiness and your wellbeing?

What do you love and what do… Often these are things that we find hard to set aside time for, especially with our busy lives and families and homes and everything. But make a pledge to build in time for this in your life over the coming weeks. Make a pledge, write it down, try and commit to it for the next seven days. And see how that makes you feel, see how that’s actually actively building your resilience. So it’s well worth doing.

Okay. So just finally, let’s take a moment to look at these five pillars of resilience once more and just consider which of the pillars that you tend to lean towards, usually. Which would you say is your strongest. What’s your go to pillar? And also, which would you say that you need to try and work a bit more on to grow or add to?

Which one is a bit of a stretch for you? So next time your resilience is tested, how might you both play to your strengths, but also lean on your under-practised pillar a little bit more?

And can you actually promise yourself that you’ll put that into action? So I’m kind of going to challenge you to make a promise right now, say it out loud. We can’t hear you. Write it down. Where are you going to really build on your strengths and where are you going to kind of flex that pillar a little bit more, build on it a little bit more, shore it up a little bit more?

So thank you. That was a very whistle stop trip through the five pillars of resilience. I really hope that you found this informative and helpful and that some of the pillars resonated with you. And I hope you’ve added some more stitches to your parachute.

Please do get in touch if you want to find out more to give me any feedback, I really appreciate that. You can email me or visit or find me on social media. And I really hope that you enjoy the rest of the MuseumNext Disrupt sessions. It’s a fantastic programme. The next few weeks are going to be great. And I hope you continue to stitch your parachutes and keep resilient during the pandemic. Thank you very much.


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