Learning from resilience of proteas after fire

I spent the first 10 years of my working career in a forestry/environmental role.

This meant traipsing around the mountains in Jonkershoek and Grabouw.

During this time, I saw first-hand some of the best examples of the Cape flora, inclusive of the beautiful family of proteas.

I wonder if you recall the fires of March 2015? Vast tracts of land on the Table mountain range, including much fynbos, burnt for weeks.

From Simon’s Town to Hout Bay, Muizenberg to Tokai, fires raged for 11 days.

Would the veld ever recover? Would the proteas recover and survive?

The answer to that was yes, and the protea led the way. It took time but the recovery may be seen in many places today.

Protea’s have an in-built capacity to be resilient and this is found in two aspects: A strong and developed root system and an ability to sprout and/or reseed.

Sprouting plants often have insulating mechanisms to allow them to survive fire (for example, Protea nitida has thick bark on its stems that insulates buds from fire damage.)

Resprouters include plants that resprout from fire-resistant rootstocks, such as the grasses and species such as Proteaceae (With thanks to the GoBaviaans.co.za website).

It is no secret that entrepreneurs face two fronts of challenge, the outer and the inner. The inner one is all about developing a strong entrepreneurial mindset.

With this in mind, I want to focus on one inner aspect developing your sense of self awareness.

Self-awareness means the habit of paying attention to the way you think, feel, and behave.

It means paying attention to how we tend to act and behave in certain situations. What are our default responses to things? What are our habits and tendencies?

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a why can endure any how.”

And in various ways, research has affirmed this wisdom.

“Those leaders with strong self-knowledge – who have a clear understanding of their skills and shortcomings, their frustrations, and their core principles – are more likely to sustain those needed reserves of resilience to thrive through adversity and change,” wrote author Ron Carucci in Harvard Business Review, citing a study by the American Society of Business and Behavioural Sciences.

Here are seven ways to improve your self-awareness:

Get out of your comfort zone. Kalk Bay harbour is a haven when the seas are battering the wall. The fishing boat owners wisely take refuge at this time. Yet boats and ships are not meant to stay indefinitely in the comfort zone of the harbour. Rather, they must venture forth to fulfil the purpose for which they were built. So, it is with you and I.

Get to the bird’s eye view. When we are at the coalface of some heated discussion, client dissatisfaction or other conversation under pressure, we can sometimes lose objectivity. By intentionally observing yourself and your reactions, you may find a greater objectivity and a clearer perspective.

Revisit your values regularly (and act accordingly). We are stronger when we both know our values clearly and also live true to these values. I have experienced both the joy of staying true to my values as well as the dissonance of taking on someone else’s. I would recommend the first every time.

Develop your gratitude meter. People are more familiar with and focused on the obstacles holding them back instead of the resources enabling them to succeed. It is by focusing on and being grateful for what you have that identifying solutions may arise. It is further true that most successful entrepreneurs have built this competency into their everyday life.

Learn a new skill. One of consequences of the lockdown is that we have more time to attend to some of the things we have neglected before the crisis. An example is to grow in our skill in using technology. I am by no means an expert, but in publishing my book, Entreprenacity, during lockdown, I have had to grow in areas like editing, book design, uploading, etc. (Incidentally, I made use of external providers for much of these and am delighted I did so. ).

Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Resilient people have learnt to manage their weaknesses, but more importantly, deliberately play to their strengths. I am on a journey in this regard but can affirm the value of learning my strengths and living them. It has clearly helped grow the resilience muscle.

Embrace mistakes as strong teachers. In South Africa, the small business ecosystem has been slow to embrace the value of mistakes. In other countries, mistakes are seen as having “cut your teeth” and “earned your stripes”.

“We all make them, the difference is what we do after we make the mistake, how we see the mistake – a learning experience or a failure,” says author Catherine Pulsifer.

The “fire” of the Covid-19 crisis will reduce, die down and eventually be something that has passed. Yet the need for resilient entrepreneurs will still be vital. I trust that many will work on their “root system” and emerge stronger than before.

Steve Reid is the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at False Bay College.

His book Entreprenacity was launched on Amazon on May 30.

The book captures the journeys of many entrepreneurs; shares nuggets and tools for aspiring entrepreneurs; helps those needing incubation and coaching; strengthens those needing to pitch to investors; and helps focus on the growth and entrepreneurial mindset

It represents 10 years of leading two incubators and working with a broad range of entrepreneurs.

It has also been a work in process for five years.

Entreprenacity is available on Amazon Kindle for $3.44 (roughly R60). Hard copies of the book will be available by the end of June.

For more information, email Steve.Reid@falsebay.org.za