Cobalt Communications The Art + Science of Understanding

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WRITTEN BY KERRY BENNETT, WILLIAM HARRIS AND WILLIAM DANIEL

What Is Resilience? The concept of resilience is widely used — and its meaning is essentially the same no matter the context. In industry, resilience is used in reference to everything from the economy to engineering; from construction to chemical manufacturing processes; from building to branding; from software to the smart grid to the supply chain. A company, a culture, a community can all be — or not be — resilient.

When used in reference to human health, resilience typically means the psychological ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy or significant stressors — such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness or a terrorist attack. It’s the ability to “bounce back” from difficult circumstances or to withstand traumatic events. When used in the context of physical health, resilience is the body’s ability to overcome serious injuries, chronic illness and the effects of aging.

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In a New Yorker piece, Maria Konnikova looks at the work of three prominent resilience researchers. “Decades of research have revealed a lot about how [resilience] works. This research shows that resilience is, ultimately, a set of skills that can be taught.”

  • The first to conduct experiments in resilience, Norman Garmezy studied thousands of children from low-income, troubled backgrounds to find out what enable some of them to succeed despite hardship and trauma. “Garmezy’s work opened the door to the study of protective factors: the elements of an individual’s background or personality that could enable success despite the challenges they faced.”

  • According to George Bonnano, “all of us possess the same fundamental stress-response system, which has evolved over millions of years,” although some people use the system much more effectively than others. One of the keys to resilience is perception: “Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow?” Bonnano’s theory is straightforward. “Every frightening event, no matter how negative it might seem from the sidelines, has the potential to be traumatic or not to the person experiencing it.”

  • Emmy Warner studied hundreds of at-risk children to determine why some had resilience while others did not. Her findings? Those who became successful adults despite their backgrounds were those who believed that they were in control of their own fate, no matter what their circumstances. They “met the world on their own terms,” with autonomy and independence, seeking out new experiences with a positive social orientation.

Building Physical Resilience by Improving Your Health

Harvard Health Publishing recommends ways to fight stress by improving your health—"Stress takes a physical and emotional toll on the body. By boosting your overall health, you'll have more strength to take on stressful situations when they come along. Three ways to do that are exercising, eating right and getting enough sleep.”

Ideally, you should practice these resilience-boosting skills every day:

  • Exercise More: Go for a brisk walk outside or on a treadmill. Even better, aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity.
  • Improve Your Diet: Eat healthy whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and fish.
  • Get Your Rest: Sleep seven to eight hours per night.


Physical Resilience
Not only do traumatic events affect our mental health; these stressors also affect our physical health — potentially triggering another traumatic event, such as a heart attack or stroke. According to WebMD, ongoing, chronic stress can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease. Building physical resilience is critical for protecting ourselves from the effects of stress and for preventing illness as we age.

10 Traits of Emotionally Resilient People


In a Psychology Today article, Brad Waters takes a look at some of the latest research on psychological resilience and post-traumatic growth, examining how we can learn from people who seem to thrive in the face of adversity. According to Waters, the top 10 traits of resilient people are shown in the slideshow below.

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So, what makes a brand resilient?

In its most basic form, a brand can be embodied in a strong visual identity--logo, typography, color scheme and so on. But a resilient brand has a clear sense of purpose behind it, representing a core set of beliefs and values, and a strategy for sustainable consistency in the face of change. A resilient brand can adapt, change direction and realign itself to meet customers’ needs in the long term.

How can you measure your brand’s resilience?

Is your brand unique and distinct in a crowded marketplace? How do you differentiate your brand from your competitors? Do customers know the benefits you deliver? How do you use technology to communicate with your customers? How does your brand respond and adapt to changes? These are just a few of the questions you might want to keep in mind when assessing the resilience of your brand.

Developing a strategy for resilience

There’s a wide variety of tools and mechanisms available to help you build resilience into your brand.

Market and Competitor Analysis: Analyze the market and your competitors on a regular basis to stay abreast of changing markets and market players—and to build resilience into your strategy. A competitive analysis is a proactive, structured process used to identify competitors and examine the factors that make those competitors different. By performing a competitive analysis, you can determine the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors’ business and the products and services they offer—and adjust your offerings and brand messaging accordingly.

Messaging and Brand Guidelines: Defining a strong visual brand identity along with messaging guidelines for your brand is vital to building resilience. Your marketing and communications should be consistent, whether your customers interact with you through social media, walk into a physical store or reach out to customer service. By implementing brand standards for visual and verbal content, your marketing team will be able to communicate your brand promise clearly and consistently.

Business Development Planning: In a nutshell, business development is the process of creating long-term value for your organization—value from customers, markets and relationships. A business development plan should reflect the results of your market and competitor analysis. It should include high-level goals, such as generating revenue, retaining customers, introducing new products or services as well as entering new markets. Your plan should also identify how your business is going to achieve your goals. But don’t forget to build in flexibility—resilience comes from having the ability to be agile in an ever-changing marketplace.
Customer Feedback Tools: Never underestimate the voice of the customer. Use a variety of customer feedback tools in your business model to build resilience. Monitor customer feedback frequently so you can respond quickly to market demands.

Crisis Communications Strategy: Develop a strategy for dealing with crises before they happen so your brand will remain resilient in the face of adversity. One proven method is by conducting a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) on your brand, which will help you identify not only potential threats, but areas where you have advantages in the marketplace. Once you conduct this analysis, your communications team can develop “template” messages—for example, press releases and social media posts—addressing potential crises. In the event that your company experiences a crisis, your team will be prepared to deal with it in a way that aligns with your brand messaging.

Employee Feedback Tools: Give your employees tools for providing feedback about your company, your customers and your leadership. Encourage them to give you feedback often and listen to their feedback. Be sure to reward employees for sharing their ideas for improvement and innovation—being open to change is important to resilience.

Continuous Improvement Processes: Build continuous improvement processes into everything you do to remain effective, ensure resilience and cultivate a culture of growth.
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Men (and Women) of Steel

Some of the best, most inspiring movies ever made are stories — many of them true — about people with true grit in the face of adversity and the ability to achieve personal growth because of hardship and misfortune. In fact, this may be one of our most satisfying story archetypes — the unconquerable human spirit, which is exactly why Hollywood is drawn to them. Now it’s your turn to see if you can identify these do-or-die characters in our Cobalt Understanding Quiz: Resilience in the Movies.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one quarter of all employees view their jobs as the biggest stressor in their lives. So many people experience stress, in fact, that the World Health Organization describes stress as the “global health epidemic of the 21st century.”

Even for those who love their jobs, stress is a fact of life, so it’s important to cultivate skills and build a toolkit of techniques that will help you be resilient in stressful situations.

Insights into Building Resilience

Harvard Business Review offers a whole suite of resources to help build your personal resilience in the workplace in its Building Resilience Insight Center, such as “5 Ways to Boost Your Resilience at Work,” which shares these techniques to effectively navigate your work life:

  • Exercise mindfulness
  • Compartmentalize your cognitive load
  • Take detachment breaks
  • Develop mental agility
  • Cultivate compassion

Recovery Is Critical

Another insightful piece, “Resilience Is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure,” looks at the research behind resilience and recovery.

“We often take a militaristic, ‘tough’ approach to resilience and grit,” explain authors Shawn Acher and Michelle Gielan. “We imagine a Marine slogging through the mud, a boxer going one more round, or a football player picking himself up off the turf for one more play. We believe that the longer we tough it out, the tougher we are, and therefore the more successful we will be. However, this entire conception is scientifically inaccurate.”

“The very lack of a recovery period is dramatically holding back our collective ability to be resilient and successful. Research has found that there is a direct correlation between lack of recovery and increased incidence of health and safety problems. And lack of recovery — whether by disrupting sleep with thoughts of work or having continuous cognitive arousal by watching our phones — is costing our companies $62 billion a year… in lost productivity.”

Creating “Recovery Periods”

The authors offer some tips for building resilience by recognizing overwork patterns and creating “recovery periods” to help control overworking, including:

  • Using apps like Instant or Moment to see how many times you turn on your phone each day
  • Using apps like Offtime or Unplugged to create tech-free zones by scheduling your phone to automatically go on airplane mode.
  • Taking a cognitive break every 90 minutes to recharge your batteries.
  • Leaving your desk for lunch—spending time outside or with your friends.
  • Taking all of your paid time off.
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The Most and Least Stressful Jobs

This CBS News report looks at the most and least stressful jobs in the country and their median salaries.

The 10 most stressful jobs and their median salaries:
  1. Enlisted military personnel of three or four years: $26,802
  2. Firefighter: $49,080
  3. Airline pilot: $111,930
  4. Police officer: $62,960
  5. Broadcaster: $62,960
  6. Event coordinator: $48,290
  7. News Reporter: $39,370
  8. Public relations executive: $111,280
  9. Senior corporate executive: $104,700
  10. Taxi driver: $24,880

The 10 least stressful jobs and their median salaries:
  1. Diagnostic medical sonographer: $71,410
  2. Compliance officer: $67,870
  3. Hair stylist $25,850
  4. Audiologist: $75,920
  5. University professor: $76,000
  6. Medical records technician: $67,870
  7. Jeweler: $37,960
  8. Operations research analyst: $81,390
  9. Pharmacy technician: $31,750
  10. Massage therapist: $39,990

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Cobalt’s Understanding(x) Series examines complex topics with the goal of increasing understanding among laypeople. At the end of each year, we hope to have a portfolio of materials about the chosen topics that will become part of the public record — a resource for teachers, students and citizens to draw upon in their quest for clarity and connection. If you have any suggestions for topics to be considered, drop us a line.