out of control: resilience, as a form of business travel


by carolyn mathews

Once in a while, the world has a way of reminding us that we do not have total control over what happens in our lives. Despite our attempts to manage time, meet deadlines, or find life/work balance, our lives can take an unanticipated direction. Hopefully, the implications are short-term, such as when a volcano sends giant plumes of ash into the air, essentially bringing air travel to its knees for over a week.
My husband, abroad in the UK for a business trip, was one of the many thousands of people who could not get home as planned. “Stranded” seems like a harsh word for spending time in London and the Midlands region of England. Yet the lack of control over travel plans still felt frustrating to many travelers and those awaiting their return. Together, we eagerly watched the news in the U.K. and U.S. hoping for a glimmer of hope that things would return to “normal.” Instead, what was supposed to be a seven-day trip turned into what eventually became a twelve-day trip, as ash continued to burst into the air and drift eastward. The situation was entirely unpredictable – not only that that the volcano burst, but also when flights would resume.
Although the volcano ash created a fairly minor diversion, it highlighted our ultimate lack of control over such circumstances. Am I suggesting we needn’t bother making plans, because situations beyond our control will force changes? No way! Instead, situations like this call for a resilient approach. Researchers in the area of Positive Organizational Behavior (POB) explain resiliency involves the ability to be flexible and adaptive in situations of change and uncertainty. (I suggest Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano, qualifies…).
Despite the delays and resulting frustrations of re-scheduling travel, finding rental cars, and extending hotel stays when so many others were trying to do the same all at once, resilience reigned in my husband’s situation. With travel plans up in the air (pun intended), my husband adapted by returning to the Midlands to continue the work he’d started one week prior. His colleagues there showed flexibility in this situation by re-arranging their schedules to continue working with him. Their collaboration went so well, in fact, that their work may be extended to other areas of mutual interest. In short, the unplanned extended stay helped to strengthen the partnership between two organizations.
This story has a positive ending. In addition to the business success, my husband made it home safely and even arrived with a suitcase full of clean clothing!

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