Building back after setbacks

A new book looks at how we can rebuild after setbacks such as redundancy or business failure.

Seedling, growth, hope, business


Given the turbulence that is almost constant in the world of work at the moment, having the skills to adapt to change and weather the storms ahead is crucial to personal and business success.

A new book says that we need to begin at the earliest age to equip people with the ability to rebuild their careers and to be resilient because the more people practise resilience the better they get at it.

The Rebuilders, by advertising executives Sara Tate and Anna Vogt, evolved out of a lockdown podcast and looks at how people can move forward from career and, in some cases, personal setbacks.

It points out that for some years employers have been seeking an additional set of skills than those that the education system necessarily equips people with.  These include coping with uncertainty, structured problem solving, mental flexibility, adaptability, an ability to resolve conflicts and take different perspectives on problems, creativity, an openness to keep on learning and, crucially, the ability to deal with and recover from failure.

The book says the way we educate children for academic exam success misses those who may have had to overcome numerous hurdles and may therefore have some of these resilience traits that are so necessary in the workplace. It cites Craig Fenton, a senior Google executive, who says intelligence is far broader than what we educate and test for and restricts diversity and social mobility to the detriment of business. It also rewards people who can come up with plausible, on the spot solutions rather than ideas which have been tried and tested. Instead, the book argues, we need to encourage a sense that education is ongoing and that people can learn from failure and we need to praise effort rather than achievement.


The book’s main thesis is that setbacks can provide the impetus to change and innovate and that resilience is a muscle that we can strengthen through the way we approach such setbacks. That may include taking a break to recover from a setback and to think carefully about the way forward, if you can afford to, changing your mind, being aware of the things you need to anchor you in a world of constantly shifting plates, sharing your story, asking for help and having difficult conversations and disagreements.

The authors write: “You can spend your life trying to succeed or fail in a way that looks desirable and socially acceptable to others. Or you can just be you and own your actions. Good or bad; glamorous or embarrassing and make them part of your DNA. Brands, businesses and people often find greater opportunity in setting themselves apart through their reaction to adverse circumstances than favourable ones. So make every twist and turn part of your strength and secret sauce.”

*The Rebuilders: Going for setback to comeback in business and beyond by Sara Tate and Anna Vogt is published by Kogan Page.

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