Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World
Ama Marston and Stephanie Marston
PublicAffairs (January 2018)
How and why “we must meet change head-on [and] use stress and adversity to open the door to new opportunities”
Ama Marston and Stephanie Marston pose a timely and timeless question: “How can we leverage change and hardship into opportunity as individuals and carry that progress into the world as a contribution to the collective?” They wrote this book in response this question. Its title refers to a mindset and skills as well as the characteristics that define them. Type Rs “embrace uncertainty and accept — indeed welcome — change, failure, and disruption” because they will expedite progress toward eventual success, however defined.
In her recently published book, Forged in Crisis, Nancy Koehn focuses on five Type Rs, listed in alpha order: Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Rachel Carson. However different they may have been in most respects, all of them exemplify Transformative Resilience. Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas characterize the process as a “crucible.”
Rather than major historical figures, most of the examples that the Marstons cite are people in every day situations facing challenges with which most of her readers can readily identify. One key point is that those who develop Transformative Resilience “leverage change and hardship into opportunity as individuals and carry that progress into the world as a contribution to the collective.” In this context, I am reminded of one of Margaret Mead’s most astute observations: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
There is much in our lives that we cannot control or manage but we can determine how we respond to whatever happens. In his classic work, Denial of Death, Ernest Becker acknowledges that no one can deny a physical death but there is form of death that can be denied: that which occurs when we become wholly preoccupied with fulfilling others’ expectations of us.
I checked the etymology of the word “resilience” and learned this: “dating from the 1640s, ‘springing back,’ from Latin resilientem: inclined to leaping forward or springing back.'” The people who interest Nancy Koehn certainly did not spring back from challenges; they embraced them with an enthusiasm worthy of Helen Keller who once asserted, “Life is either a great adventure or nothing.” Ama Marston and Stephanie Marston agree.
With all due respect to etymology, hoWever, coping with severe challenges requires more — much more — than a physical reaction of springing or leaping. Character development — in organizations as well as in individuals — is an endless process, not a “project” of limited duration. There will be setbacks, relapses, dead-ends, detours, barriers, and frustration. I view resilience as a shock absorber when traveling over perilous terrain.
Ama Marston and Stephanie Marston know that not everyone who reads their book is both willing and able to become a Type R person. In this context, I am reminded again of what Henry Ford observed long ago: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” For at least some people, however, this may well prove to be the most valuable book they ever read.
You can’t make a decision you don’t know exist. Whether or not you read the book — and whether or not you are enlightened and motivated by the material — are up to you. The choice really is yours. It always has been and always will be.