Perseverance and achieving the impossible
How do we overcome life’s challenges to maintain an edge or reach our full potential? Or even aim for the impossible? There’s no singular path to success; and in business, investing or inventing, a range of ideas need to be explored. Keynote speakers at the 25th Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference (AIC) shared inspirational thinking on perseverance, overcoming adversity and making the world a better place.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused loss, suffering and stress for billions. We’re also living in a time marked by conflict, polarized politics, geopolitical tension and the threat of climate change. With challenges like these to deal with, the need for personal resilience has never been greater.
No one succeeds all the time – the most successful are simply those that bounce back best.
No time like the future
Michael J Fox, star of the popular Back to the Future movie series, was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1991. By focusing his energy on raising more than US$1 billion to support Parkinson’s-related research and on helping others, though, he has become a model of resilience and an inspiration to many.
Fox described gratitude as the most important factor in handling adversity. “It's about gratitude. With gratitude, optimism is sustainable,” he said, also summing up the premise of his 2020 book No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality.
When facing challenges and looking for a way forward, Fox explained, “take a deep breath, suck it in, and accept it; that’s the key thing, accept it. Accept it first and understand that this is an issue.”
Dr Sian Proctor, a geoscientist and artist, who became the first African American woman to pilot a space mission, shared a similar perspective. She described the setbacks she had faced in her life and ground-breaking career, as well as how she learned to accept those experiences and turn them into positives and causes for gratitude.
“I realised that instead of being disappointed that I got a ‘no’ again,” when she was cut from her first attempt to become a NASA astronaut, “to celebrate the fact that I was almost an astronaut at 39 years old. How many people can say that?” She was one of about 40 people that made it through to the final selection rounds out of over 1,000. Rather than dwell on falling short of the big prize, she learned to focus on the victories that got her so far in the first place. She relied on that and her creativity to eventually win her seat on the Inspiration4 mission with SpaceX, which was the first-ever spaceflight with a full civilian crew. “When I think about perseverance and moving forward, a big part of that is being able to, to some extent, self-regulate yourself and understand the things that put you into a mood where you can move forward.”
Fox and Proctor all emphasised how they had drawn strength from family and friends. “A lot of times when we face adversity, we think that we have to get through it alone,” said Proctor as she shared examples of times she had accepted help that she didn’t even ask for, and got through challenges such as her graduate program, which led to her earning her doctorate. “You don't have to do it alone.”
Where positivity meets investment
The networks that build resilience extend beyond our immediate circles to communities and societies more broadly.
“I don't know that we're going to cure Parkinson's as quickly as I want to,” Fox said. “But I do know that if I invest love in my family and the people around me, and I work hard, that I'll affect the world in a positive way.”
Investing in family – in a broader sense – was also high on the agenda for Indra Nooyi, the former Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo. She emphasized the importance, at the corporate level, of supporting “family builders” in bringing about positive change.
“The first problem… [is that] we've defined family as female. Families are not just female, it's male and female.” That old characterisation of family and family responsibility has led to the glass ceilings women face in the workplace as well as a talent crisis more generally for companies, which hurts profitability, and, by extension, could crimp growth for entire nations.
“The way I look at this is simple, let's have all talent out there and draw from the entire pool of talent. Don't exclude somebody because of gender or ethnicity or background.”
Technology can help counter this imbalance, added Nooyi. “In today's world, you can actually balance work and family, between flexible work hours, deploying technology to its fullest.”
Investing in happiness
Ultimately, the true purpose of technology is to solve human problems, not just to make money, said Mo Gawdat, Founder of the non-profit One Billion Happy, former Chief Business Officer for Google X, and the author of Solve for Happy.
For Gawdat, investment in technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) can support notions of positivity and still drive profit. “Invest in AI for good. Invest in AI that's not creating the next weapon, which might give you a little bit of money. Invest in AI that might solve global warming, or climate change, which would give you a load of money if it works.”
Companies face similar choices, said Nooyi. “Ask this question: are we doing right by the society, the communities, the countries that we’re embedded in? Having clear Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals is “a great way to de-risk a company and build superior shareholder value,” she added.
But you can also invest in positivity at the personal level, Gawdat pointed out. Choosing to be happy is like choosing to be more physically fit – and you need be intentional about it, he argued. People need to say to themselves: “I also want to be happy and I'm going to invest an hour a day, three to four times a week, like I do with my fitness in learning about the topic,” he said. “I'm going to make it my priority when it comes to decision making so that I can actually do… things that make me happier.”