A Conversation with Author Rick Newman
Q: Why is resilience important in today’s Darwinian economy?
A: A lot of people are going to have a harder time getting ahead. It’s not necessarily their fault. Powerful forces such as globalization and the digital revolution are rapidly transforming the economy in ways we don’t completely understand yet. Here’s what we do know: Many of the old rules no longer apply, and there will be new classes of winners and losers. Better resilience allows people to recover faster from setbacks and stay confident while taking risks. It helps you become bold, without being reckless. It’s just the kind of edge people need today.
Q: What is the science behind resilience?
A: We develop resilience the way we develop athletic or academic skills: By practicing and getting better at it. Here’s the catch: Most people don’t want to fail, and parents in particular don’t want their kids to fail. So we’re programmed to avoid failure. To some extent, that’s a mistake. The good news, if you will, is that some sort of failure is inevitable for most people. So when it happens, it’s important to acknowledge it and learn from it. Researchers think of this in terms of building blocks: Learning how to recover from small setbacks, even as children, helps us build the reflexes and durability that will allow us to overcome bigger setbacks in the future. The vital thing is to recognize failure as a learning opportunity and not hide it, deny it or pretend it didn’t happen.
Q: What are some examples of people who have turned setbacks into success?
A: One of the things I discovered while writing this book is that many successful people have endured some kind of significant failure. These crucible moments often provide insights that open the door to success later on. Many of the titans we consider landmark Americans, such as Ben Franklin, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, experienced serious setbacks along the way. They became indomitable because they learned how to stumble and recover.
It’s not just a historical phenomenon. In the book, I profile a dozen contemporary Americans whose failures helped make them successful. Tim Westergren was a burned-out musician when he got the idea for the Pandora Internet radio site, and realized it might be a way for struggling bands like the one he had been in to connect with new listeners they wouldn’t find any other way. As a player early in his baseball career, Joe Torre struggled with weak confidence and a raft of personal problems. But that later gave him a unique ability to manage the complex personalities on a team like the New York Yankees (not to mention the combative owner, George Steinbrenner), and turn them into world champions. Many of the people we envy and admire are far more familiar with failure than you’d ever guess.
Q: What are some modern misconceptions of success?
A: There’s a familiar slogan, “failure is not an option.” But that’s for amateurs; true achievers know that failure is often an option if you’re trying to do something difficult. Here’s another one: “Follow your bliss,” popularized by the mythologist Joseph Campbell and millions of baby boomers who sort of misunderstood what he was saying. Baby boomers made it trendy to seek passion in your career. Sounds great, but many people have followed their passion straight into a career dead-end because they didn’t think about what might go wrong. Passion alone usually isn’t enough.
You often hear people talk about optimism as if simply looking on the sunny side will lead to riches. But optimism can be dangerous if it leads to a blind belief that things will work out with no need for extra effort. Resilient people believe they have the power to make their lives better, but they believe that because they’ve learned how to anticipate what could go wrong and developed “rebounding” skills they can summon when they need to. They’re not blind-sided by setbacks. Anticipating them helps surmount them. The best optimism comes from gaining experience at bouncing back.
Q: Is an American renaissance possible?
A: Many Americans feel a frustrating sense of decline, which I think is legitimate. I also think it’s reversible—but it’s going to take a newfound self-sufficiency to turn things around. New government policies won’t do it. Traditional safety nets will probably get weaker, not stronger. Anybody waiting for somebody else to solve his/her problems will be waiting a long time. But people who learn to channel the bootstrap ruggedness of the nation’s great achievers still face a very promising future. And self-sufficiency is a core virtue possessed by Rebounders. That’s why Rebounders will be the vanguard of the American renaissance.
“What an exciting, refreshing, and desperately needed book! Our culture tends to ‘pretty up’ the logic of success. But what really separates winners from losers, legends from laggards, is not a stroke of genius or unbounded ambition: It’s the capacity to bounce back from life’s inevitable setbacks. In Rebounders, Rick Newman draws a set of powerful insights from a collection of masterfully told stories and teaches all of us how to become more resilient in the face of adversity—and thus more likely to succeed. Bravo!”—William C. Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company and author of Practically Radical
“There are many guides to success. Rebounders is a standout because it teaches one of the hardest and most valuable things anybody can learn: how to make the most of your setbacks and even turn them to your advantage. This uplifting and entertaining book is a great read for strivers, entrepreneurs, and anybody eager to get ahead in these challenging times.”—Jane Bryant Quinn, author of Making the Most of Your Money Now
“If the idea of failure makes you wither, read this book. If you want to know how to fail better, read this book. Only a Rebounder like Rick Newman could clarify these lessons. And only a journalist like Rick Newman could write about them with such clarity.”—Erik Proulx, filmmaker of Lemonade and Lemonade: Detroit
“Rebounders is a great read. Rick Newman reveals some powerful perspectives and gives some outstanding examples of people who have learned from their past and created a successful present. This book is full of valuable knowledge; read it and reap the benefits!”—Keith Cameron Smith, author of The Top 10 Distinctions Between Entrepreneurs and Employees
“Business platitudes are a dime a dozen. By contrast, Rebounders shares a dozen remarkably instructive and specific stories of resilience in action. Rick Newman gives us all a road map to success.”—Sydney Finkelstein, Steven Roth Professor of Management, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, and author of Why Smart Executives Fail