By: Cathy Hayward
What doesn’t kill you makes you more resilient. That was the message from CoreNet’s One Big Day conference last week. A host of fascinating speakers, who barely mentioned real estate once, offered plenty of lessons on how to create resilient people, brands and cities.
Part of that is around thinking long-term and turning negatives into positives, argued Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland. An apartment without a lift is a free gym; Wagamamas isn’t an inconvenient dining experience because the food comes at different times, it’s traditionally Japanese. Red Bull tastes disgusting because it has magical energy powers.
We think of resilience being a conventional pursuit. But Sutherland used the example of bees to demonstrate that rogue thinking can make businesses more innovative and therefore more resilient. When bees leave the hive, the majority head in the same direction to where they know pollen is. A small percentage explore new pastures for pollen thereby ensuring the long-term survival of the community. How many businesses organise themselves along similar lines, or do they allow their people to just doggedly follow their colleagues in the same direction?
This was something that Copenhagen did in the early 1980s, when it started to transform itself from an unsafe environment with a major drug problem to a family friendly tourist city with strong investment, a focus on cyclists, social housing and clean water. The city’s head of planning Ingvar Sejr Hansen described how over a 35-year period they used the investment in infrastructure to create a resilient, long-term city which different ages and classes could call home.
The survival of any city isn’t guaranteed, argued Hamish Cameron from the London Fire Brigade who talked about pandemic flu and flooding being the main threats to London, despite terrorism being popularly seen as the key issue. Resilient cities, he said, are able to adapt to a changing environment with different groups being able to work together for the city’s long-term survival.
Emotion (apart from boredom) is not often seen at real estate conferences so it was a refreshing change to hear Doug Shaw’s Pecha Kucha describe his experience after losing his father. “You don’t get over a loss, it’s about rebuilding yourself differently, and becoming more resilient in the process.” There is a beauty in imperfection he said, evoking Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted with powdered gold. The thing that was once broken is now celebrated for the beauty in its former fractures.
That approach is about creating a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, said leadership expert Tom Flatau. Our brains are plastic and can grow and develop if we use them. London cabbies have a larger hippocampus than the average brain because they need to remember the capital’s 60,000 roads, for example. Our IQs have increased over the last 100 years as the amount we now use our brains has increased. To stay resilient, we need to exercise and disrupt our brain.
That’s something that Benedict Allen has accomplished with some flair. The adventurer is known for living with remote tribes with no external support. At times of crisis – he spent months taking part in a brutal crocodile test of strength which left scars all over his body – you learn coping mechanisms and you become more resilient. What doesn’t kill you, definitely makes you stronger.