“Being lucky is not the same as being resilient. Resilience is a reflex, a way of facing and understanding the world, that is deeply etched into a person’s mind and soul. Resilient people and companies face reality with staunchness, make meaning of hardship instead of crying out in despair, and improvise solutions from thin air. Others do not.”
— Diane Coutu, “How Resilience Works,” Harvard Business Review (May 2002)
Resilience, Yet Once More
And now here’s another piece on the subject. You’re welcome.
How Resilience Works
If you google “Resilience Harvard Business Review,” a lot of articles appear. Near the top is one entitled “How Resilience Works.” Published in the May 2002 issue of Harvard Business Review, the article is something of a seminal text in the field and its author, Diane Coutu, has often been quoted in subsequent pieces on the topic.
In her article, she discusses the similarities shared by various theories on resilience:
I also observed that almost all the theories overlap in three ways. Resilient people, they posit, possess three characteristics: a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. You can bounce back from hardship with just one or two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three. These three characteristics hold true for resilient organizations as well.
My belief is that these three characteristics can/should be applied to daily fantasy sports, and I want to explore Coutu’s discussion of these attributes.
Facing Down Reality
In her section entitled “Facing Down Reality,” Coutu elucidates how resilient people and organizations . . . face down reality.
To start, Coutu asserts that resilience is rooted in not blind optimism but what might be called ‘realistic optimism’:
A common belief about resilience is that it stems from an optimistic nature. That’s true but only as long as such optimism doesn’t distort your sense of reality. In extremely adverse situations, rose-colored thinking can actually spell disaster.
Coutu talks about the research that management expert Jim Collins did for Good to Great, his book on companies that improve themselves:
In the business world, Collins found the same unblinking attitude shared by executives at all the most successful companies he studied. . . . That’s not to say that optimism doesn’t have its place: In turning around a demoralized sales force, for instance, conjuring a sense of possibility can be a very powerful tool. But for bigger challenges, a cool, almost pessimistic, sense of reality is far more important.
Published mere months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Coutu’s article considers an instance of realistic and prescient thinking that is undeniably powerful:
Morgan Stanley, the famous investment bank, was the largest tenant in the World Trade Center. The company had some 2,700 employees working in the south tower on 22 floors between the 43rd and the 74th. On that horrible day, the first plane hit the north tower at 8:46 am, and Morgan Stanley started evacuating just one minute later, at 8:47 am. When the second plane crashed into the south tower 15 minutes after that, Morgan Stanley’s offices were largely empty. All told, the company lost only seven employees despite receiving an almost direct hit.
Of course, the organization was just plain lucky to be in the second tower. Still, it was Morgan Stanley’s hard-nosed realism that enabled the company to benefit from its luck. Soon after the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, senior management recognized that working in such a symbolic center of U.S. commercial power made the company vulnerable to attention from terrorists and possible attack.
With this grim realization, Morgan Stanley launched a program of preparedness at the micro level. Few companies take their fire drills seriously. Not so Morgan Stanley, whose VP of security for the Individual Investor Group, Rick Rescorla, brought a military discipline to the job. Rescorla, himself a highly resilient, decorated Vietnam vet, made sure that people were fully drilled about what to do in a catastrophe. When disaster struck on September 11, Rescorla was on a bullhorn telling Morgan Stanley employees to stay calm and follow their well-practiced drill, even though some building supervisors were telling occupants that all was well. Sadly, Rescorla himself, whose life story has been widely covered in recent months, was one of the seven who didn’t make it out.
“When you’re in financial services where so much depends on technology, contingency planning is a major part of your business,” says President and COO Robert G. Scott. But Morgan Stanley was prepared for the very toughest reality. It had not just one, but three, recovery sites where employees could congregate and business could take place if work locales were ever disrupted. “Multiple backup sites seemed like an incredible extravagance on September 10,” concedes Scott. “But on September 12, they seemed like genius.”
Maybe it was genius; it was undoubtedly resilience at work.
For Coutu, the example of Morgan Stanley is clear. Resilience is the result of accepting reality, no matter how improbable or unfortunate it seems. Additionally, accepting reality doesn’t mean simply seeing and knowing. It means acting upon the knowledge one has acquired. It means preparing for the possibility of the worst-cast scenario.
When we truly stare down reality, we prepare ourselves to act in ways that allow us to endure and survive extraordinary hardship. We train ourselves how to survive before the fact.
To be resilient is to be a scout: “Be Prepared” — and preparation is the result of realization.
The Search for Meaning
In “The Search for Meaning,” Coutu discusses “the second building block of resilience, the propensity to make meaning of terrible times”:
We all know people who, under duress, throw up their hands and cry, “How can this be happening to me?” Such people see themselves as victims, and living through hardship carries no lessons for them. But resilient people devise constructs about their suffering to create some sort of meaning for themselves and others.
Resilient people imbue their suffering with significance. They survive by seeing their past and present troubles not as unfortunate facts but as destined steps on the path to the future. They experience every setback as a lesson. They interpret failure as the predecessor of success.
I have a friend I’ll call Jackie Oiseaux who suffered repeated psychoses over a ten-year period due to an undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Today, she holds down a big job in one of the top publishing companies in the country, has a family, and is a prominent member of her church community. When people ask her how she bounced back from her crises, she runs her hands through her hair. “People sometimes say, ‘Why me?’ But I’ve always said, ‘Why not me?’ True, I lost many things during my illness,” she says, “but I found many more — incredible friends who saw me through the bleakest times and who will give meaning to my life forever.”
This dynamic of meaning making is, most researchers agree, the way resilient people build bridges from present-day hardships to a fuller, better constructed future. Those bridges make the present manageable, for lack of a better word, removing the sense that the present is overwhelming.
In a way what matters isn’t the meaning that resilient people attach to negative events but that they bother to search for meaning in the first place. The simple measure of transitioning from object acted upon to subject who interprets and reacts is important. Creating significance is a means through which, in the midst of chaos, one can assert control over one’s self and maybe even one’s circumstances.
In “Ritualized Ingenuity,” Coutu highlights “the ability to make do with whatever is at hand”:
Psychologists follow the lead of French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss in calling this skill bricolage. Intriguingly, the roots of that word are closely tied to the concept of resilience, which literally means “bouncing back.” Says Levi-Strauss: “In its old sense, the verb bricoler . . . was always used with reference to some extraneous movement: a ball rebounding, a dog straying, or a horse swerving from its direct course to avoid an obstacle.”
Bricolage in the modern sense can be defined as a kind of inventiveness, an ability to improvise a solution to a problem without proper or obvious tools or materials. Bricoleurs are always tinkering — building radios from household effects or fixing their own cars. They make the most of what they have, putting objects to unfamiliar uses. . . . When situations unravel, bricoleurs muddle through, imagining possibilities where others are confounded.
Of all the examples Coutu gives in her article, the following might be my favorite:
Richard Feynman, winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in physics, exemplified what I like to think of as intellectual bricolage. Out of pure curiosity, Feynman made himself an expert on cracking safes, not only looking at the mechanics of safecracking but also cobbling together psychological insights about people who used safes and set the locks. He cracked many of the safes at Los Alamos, for instance, because he guessed that theoretical physicists would not set the locks with random code numbers they might forget but would instead use a sequence with mathematical significance. It turned out that the three safes containing all the secrets to the atomic bomb were set to the same mathematical constant, e, whose first six digits are 2.71828.
Although bricolage seems synonymous with creativeness, the truth is that bricolage isn’t the resilient-centric equivalent of handing a kid a blank piece of paper and some crayons and saying, “Go for it. Draw whatever the f*ck you want.” Bricolage is reasoned creativity. It’s improvisational ability rooted in long-term mastery. Feynman didn’t crack the atomic safes just because he was good at breaking into locked boxes. He cracked the codes because he knew a lot about math, physics, and the way that people think. He was operating within a very defined set of rules and rationales.
Bricolage isn’t someone writing some words on a page and then calling the result poetry. It’s the blind John Milton vocally composing Paradise Lost within the iambic and decasyllabic confines of blank verse. It’s not a guitarist randomly fretting, hammering, and strumming during a solo. It’s Jimi Hendrix holding the same note for a few bars because he gets more from one note then most guitarists get from an entire scale. Per Coutu:
Improvisation . . . is a far cry from unbridled creativity. . . . [This] opinion is echoed by Karl E. Weick, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Michigan Business School in Ann Arbor and one of the most respected thinkers on organizational psychology. “There is good evidence that when people are put under pressure, they regress to their most habituated ways of responding,” Weick has written. “What we do not expect under life-threatening pressure is creativity.” In other words, the rules and regulations that make some companies appear less creative may actually make them more resilient in times of real turbulence.
Bricolage is the ability to be MacGyver or Walter White — or an inventor. It’s the ability to create with discarded and imperfect materials.
You probably don’t need me to infantilize you by discussing how these three core characteristics of resilience apply to DFS, so I’ll do it just a little.
It’s incredibly easy not to see a slate for what it is. It’s easy to believe that a player will do well or a team will outperform merely because we want that to be the case. Analyzing salaries and potential production and ownership requires that one focus on facts and data and think realistically (read: probabilistically). One must fight against biases and preconceptions.
I’ve found that the best way to approach a slate with an eye toward reality is simply to comb through the Player Models. I start with a high-level view. I compare Player Ratings in various models. Who are the players rating well across multiple models? What positions seem to be more expensive relative to other positions as well as position-specific historical pricing? Etc.
From there, I look at each player individually. Did I expect him to rate higher/lower in the model? If so, why? And why does he rate where he does? What should I know about the matchup? Are any of his teammates expected to miss the game? What has his historical ownership been? What does the Vegas data suggest? How does he compare to other players at his position in the Trends tool?
For me, reality is most easily grasped by researching with our Tools as fully as possible.
Everyone loses DFS contests. To turn those losses into lessons, you must review lineups. I’ve previously written about how to leverage failure into DFS improvement:
And when you review lineups, you should be doing more than patting yourself on the back. This isn’t just mental masturbation. This is deconstruction.
When you review losing lineups, don’t look at the players who did well and think, “I got that guy right.” Instead seek out mistakes in everything — like the overvaluation of premium assets — because your process can always improve.
A DFS loss is nothing more than the opportunity to learn how to win next time.
DFS bricolage I think falls into two categories:
The DFS inventor displays creativity by leveraging the general population via arbitrage and also by reacting intelligently to late-breaking news as it changes the dynamics of slates and contests. Ingenuity — practiced contingency planning — is what distinguishes great DFS players from good ones.
A truly resilient person wouldn’t acknowledge this is the end.
The Labyrinthian: 2017.13, 108
This is the 108th installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge in order to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation. Previous installments of The Labyrinthian can be accessed via my author page.