Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Beers and conflicts with Duncan Solutions: You don’t need more resilience. You need friends. And money

 You don’t need more resilience. You need friends. And money

Resilience has become big business.
Airport bookstores bristle with paperbacks explaining “why some flourish while others fold” or promising to help you develop “unbeatable” levels of “mental toughness”. TED talks, podcasts and social media posts offer the three (or five) traits of resilient people, from optimism to grit to a growth mindset.
The self-help industry is estimated to be worth $20 billion a year worldwide.
The self-help industry is estimated to be worth $20 billion a year worldwide. WASHINGTON POST
As the management world has embraced the reality that any success is made up of numerous failures, a booming market has emerged for advice on how to bounce back, often with insights culled from elite military forces or extreme athletes.
I should know; over my nearly 20 years in the world of management thinking, I’ve edited and interviewed scores of such influencers. But I’ve become uncomfortable with two false impressions left by these well-intentioned advice givers: first, that resilience is rare; and second, that it almost entirely stems from within. Neither is true.
Most people recover from what life throws at them, even after experiencing horrific events such as mass shootingsor natural disasters, explains George Bonanno, author of The End of Trauma and a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University. After a traumatic event, a solid two-thirds of them will return to their baseline level of wellbeing – many surprisingly quickly.
What’s more, the emphasis on resilience through mental toughness fails to recognise the vital importance of external resources, from friends to family to money, in easing the way through difficult situations, explains Kimberley T. Johnson, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Utah.
Sometimes no amount of personal stamina is a sufficient replacement for outside help — whether in the form of practical assistance, emotional support or structural change.
Try this thought experiment: imagine you recently moved to a new city for a job. Your new CEO is impossibly demanding. The board is rife with clashing egos. Everything is more expensive, leaving you feeling cash-strapped despite the promotion; stock options don’t pay tuition bills. You’re now living far away from everyone you know. When small problems crop up – an angry client or sick kid – they feel huge.
Now consider how different this situation would feel in a cheaper city with friends and family living nearby. Your new job would still create stress, but you’d have the wind at your back, with plenty of practical and emotional support. The lower cost of living would make it easy to paper over the stresses and minor emergencies of daily life. Small problems would stay small.
In each scenario, you’re the same person with the same inner traits – the same level of optimism or grit. But in the second situation, you’re a lot more resilient thanks to external resources. Sometimes no amount of personal stamina is a sufficient replacement for outside help – whether in the form of practical assistance, emotional support or structural change.
Many business gurus selling personal resilience thus offer only half a toolbox, suggesting tactics that at best reflect coping mechanisms and at worst amount to retail therapy – a scented candle or a spa day. Sometimes such get-through-the-hard-times strategies are helpful, but in the long run, a more radical change may be needed; a new job with less intense hours, for example. You’ll rarely get that kind of advice from the influencers hoping to sell you something via an affiliate link.
Johnson’s interest in resilience stems from her area of study, which includes how women recover from injuries suffered during birth. Some birth injuries can require a lifetime of modifications. She cautioned against narrowly defining resilience as “bouncing back” – returning to exactly who you were before – rather than on adaptation to one’s new reality.
And Bonanno says that despite what thought leaders preach, there aren’t a handful of traits or behaviours that lead to resilience; on the contrary, there are many. Oft-suggested practices such as meditation and journaling might work for some; for others, it might be more effective to keep busy or even play video games, says Bonanno.
As for deeper changes, business self-help authors – who often make their real money not from selling books, but from paid speaking and consulting gigs at large companies – aren’t about to tell you to quit your draining job and take a (perhaps lower-paid) role at a less-demanding organisation.
Nor do most of them suggest policy changes that contribute to a more resilient workforce – such as paid sick days, parental leave or flexible staffing models – that cost companies money. It’s safer for their business model to keep emphasising inner strength. And maybe, too, that message plays well with an audience that hates to admit there can be trade-offs.
But overall, too much career advice gives the impression that if we’re struggling, we just need to dig deeper. We should be wary of that message. It’s only half the story.

The NSW Audit Office has blasted the Department of Customer Service over the procurement of digital parking app Park’nPay, saying there was a failure to manage conflicts of interest, key decisions were not documented, and there was no demonstration of how to ensure value for taxpayers’ dollars.
The report handed down by Auditor-General Margaret Crawford in mid-December found a litany of issues in the department’s decision-making in the rush to announce the app before the then-Coalition government entered a caretaker period ahead of the state election in March 2019.
 Costing taxpayers up to $1 million annually to maintain, Park’nPay was a free app developed with private firm Duncan Solutions allowing users to pay for parking digitally in more than 18 councils, while showing available spaces in certain areas.
It has been downloaded 260,000 times since its creation, but the Minns Labor government announced in September its funding would be cut.
Park’nPay was conceived after then-finance, services and property minister Victor Dominello was unable to use paid parking in Lane Cove National Park in late January 2019. Within “48-72 hours”, the department had decided to trial the app in The Rocks precinct in Sydney, despite not assessing any other site.
Despite concerns inside the department, the Coalition government began direct negotiations with Duncan Solutions without considering any other prospective vendors because the company managed the state-owned metered parking in The Rocks.
Following the trial, the company was awarded a contract worth an estimated value of $1.26 million over three years.
In its findings the Audit Office savaged the department’s handling of the expedited process, saying there was a failure to consider procurement obligations before The Rocks was selected as the trial location, and appropriate approvals were not obtained before direct negotiations commenced with Duncan Solutions.
“The department failed to ensure value for money either at key stages throughout the procurement process or overall,” the report found, noting this was a legislative obligation imposed on NSW government agencies.
“The department failed to document key decisions or discussions about the procurement, breaching departmental and statutory requirements.”
Conflict of interest declarations were made by staff almost a year after direct negotiations began with Duncan Solutions, and “even then they were not made by all members of the negotiation team and key decision-makers”.
The rush to progress the app resulted in an “improper blurring of the line between executive government and the public service”, the report said.
A spokeswoman for the department said all six of the report’s recommendations had been accepted, while three external reviews of procurement practices had been commissioned since 2019.
“DCS has started a comprehensive plan to implement the audit report’s recommendations, which includes additional training, and reviewing and updating systems, processes and guidance,” she said.