OSS Resilience

At the dinner before the Forward Partners board meeting in February we were talking about the characteristics we look for in entrepreneurs. I was going through my usual list – drive, discipline, charisma, intelligence, resilience etc. etc when one of our investors interrupted to ask how we assess resilience.
He caught me out. We form our view on whether to back entrepreneurs by spending time with them, discussing their business idea, what they’ve done in the past and with a workshop to see how we work together. In that process we consciously test and probe and have a pretty good track record of backing people who have gone on to be successful, but we don’t do anything to directly test resilience. We like backing entrepreneurs who have a failure in their past and have a point to prove, and the fact that they’ve picked themselves up to go again shows resilience, but that’s all.
I’ve been thinking about it since though, and happened on an article today about learning resilience which looks at research in this area and points to simple tools for assessing and improving resilience in people. This is important to people making investment decisions, but it’s also important for anyone hiring people to work at startups. Startup life is like a rollercoaster and it takes resilience to get to the end with a smile on your face.
The biggest determinant of resilience turns out to be how we react to traumatic events. People who construe them positively, perhaps seeing them as a challenge to be learned from, are much more resilient, whilst those of us who make negative construals, perhaps blaming fate or feeling out of control, tend not to bounce back so easily
.”
Nic Brisbane
, here.

Being on a customer site delivering an OSS can definitely call upon your powers of resilience. There are times when, despite all your best efforts, more seems to be going wrong than right.

It makes sense then that we should search for resilience when interviewing new hires, especially in customer-facing roles. Before reading Nic’s article, and the link listed within Nic’s quote above, I hadn’t been aware of any way to reliably gauge resilience. Interviewees are always going to have back-stories where they’ve achieved under duress.

The positive or negative construal process discussed seems like a much more reliable predictor. Could you use these concepts in your role?

As an interview aside, I once had an interview for a senior OSS role and the company’s COO asked whether I had ever failed on an OSS project. He was somewhat surprised, but smiled knowingly when I said that every OSS project I worked on had elements of failure… and learning opportunities. I ended up declining their offer as it would’ve precluded me from working on PAOSS.

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