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E152 | How to Thrive in a Disruptive World with Gerry Valentine

If you’re struggling with resilience, if you or your business is going through change, then don’t miss public speaker, executive coach, business advisor, and founder of Vision Executive Coaching, Gerry Valentine, on this week’s Mind Your F**king Business Podcast. 

Gerry has written a great book called The Thriving Mindset, a book that is part autobiography and part tool set design and delivery. 

Gerry grew up as a gay man in Brooklyn in the 1970s, and the adversity of his upbringing gave him the resilience he needed to succeed in the corporate world. And succeed he did. 

Today we talk about how the chances of him being where he is today were about 6% – a sad statistic that is as true in 2021 as it was in 1970. Gerry is a very humble man with a thriving mindset – a term he uses to teach others how to cope with uncertainty and change. 

Gerry also talks about why we get fearful, and how we can learn to not run away from the problem, how to take fear, look it in the eye and work out what could be on the other side of this disruption, and how to have the mindset to push through. 

This is a really interesting conversation with some of the most diverse book suggestions of recent guests. A truly fantastic conversation with Gerry, we really enjoyed it. We’re sure you will too.

On today’s podcast:

  • Turning adversity into advantage
  • Disruption is a normal part of life
  • The importance of education
  • The Thriving Mindset
  • Curiosity gets you through disruption
  • Our response to fear


Turning Adversity Into Advantage with Gerry Valentine

Gerry Valentine is an executive coach, author and public speaker. A native New Yorker, he grew up in 1970s Brooklyn, New York, and lives in New York City currently with his husband. 

Gerry works primarily with corporate executives or entrepreneurs, high performing individuals essentially, because he’s interested in working with people who are either looking to step up to a new opportunity or overcome some type of disruption in either their business or their lives. 

“My business card says turning adversity into advantage. I believe very strongly that disruption and adversity are a natural part of life. And the key is understanding how to handle disruption and adversity well, and when we do that, we can find the advantage or the opportunity that is often on the other side of the disruption or adversity.”

Gerry says being able to deal with adversity is both a mindset, but also a specific set of skills that can be taught. 

“The ability to thrive through disruption, to use disruption as a tool to thrive is a set of skills that we can teach people that we can impart upon people. And much of my work is teaching people those sets of skills, such that they can thrive through disruptive times.”

Gerry works both with individuals and organisations. When he works with corporate leaders it’s akin to training the trainer, to help them understand themselves better and how they themselves can thrive through disruptive times, but teach them also how they can create organisations of people who have the necessary skills to thrive through disruptive times too..

Disruption is a normal part of life

Gerry says his success is a 6% story. In the US, the stats say that the probability of an African American man born into the circumstances he was, ending up in the life that he now has is approximately 6%. When you layer onto that he’s also a gay man, the stats go down even further.

But it’s his adversity and disruption in his formative years that led Gerry down his current path. He himself learned resilience and so he teaches what he’s learned to others, to allow them to grow and thrive through disruption. Because disruption is a normal part of life. 

“Part of what allows people to thrive through disruptive times is what I call intellectual capital. And I think that is one of the things that we do poorly as a society here in the US.”

Gerry says the US does a bad job of providing people, on mass, with educational capital. Kids simply aren’t getting the basic foundation of education that they need, which then cuts off opportunity for them later. 

The importance of education

According to Gerry, education isn’t one dimensional, it doesn’t simply encompass foundational education, it is so much more. There are four elements to it: 

  1. Foundational education – i.e. schooling.
  2. Critical thinking – this is the ability to use your foundational knowledge in unanticipated novel new circumstances.
  3. Social intelligence – the ability to interact with people who aren’t from your society. 
  4. Self-education – college education is good, but the world is moving so quickly, the information you obtain at college quickly becomes outdated. You have to be able to upgrade your skills through self-education.

Being adept in those four areas, says Gerry, is what you need to thrive in a disruptive world. 

“What a high quality education really provides is our critical thinking skills, and an ability to continuously self educate through life.”

The Thriving Mindset

“One of the skills that I talk about in the book is a part of a thriving mindset. It’s this cycle that I call ‘the adversity fear paralysis cycle’. And this is how it works: if you accept the premise that disruption and adversity are unavoidable, they are a normal part of life. The normal response to disruption or adversity is fear. And it is the fear that you will not be able to meet the demands of whatever the disruption or adversity is.”

The problem isn’t the fear itself, the problem is how people respond to the fear, says Gerry. People often enter a state of paralysis when they encounter fear, which is an unproductive response to the disruption or adversity. This then causes you to loop around and go back into paralysis, which makes the original disruptor or adversity worse, or creates a new one. 

Take Kodak as an example – the leaders there would have had disruption thrust upon them, the fear of change put them in the adversity fear paralysis cycle, which ultimately prevented the company from leveraging its own invention for so long, that by the time they came in, the competition had an insurmountable lead.

Curiosity gets you through disruption

Why does adversity cause some people to break and others break records? It’s all down to curiosity, says Gerry. Curiosity is one of the tools you need to thrive in a disruptive world. 

Cultivating a sense of curiosity allows you to feel the natural fear that comes with disruption, but then use that fear as a springboard to leapfrog out of the disruption and into the opportunity on the other side. 

“And one of the skills is to learn to recognise: ‘Wait a minute, I’m experiencing this new thing as some type of a threat, it might be an overt threat which threatens my value chain’. Or, ‘this looks different from the way we have always done it. I don’t really know about that. So I’m going to stay away from it’. The answer is to pivot [and say], ‘I don’t know about this. Well, that’s interesting. Let me find out about it.”

Our response to fear

“We have no choice but to experience the emotional impact of what’s going on around us. First, it’s literally the way our brains are wired. Our sensory system works by taking in information from our spinal cord into the limbic system, and that’s the emotional response.”

The thing is, unlike rats or reptiles that don’t have a prefrontal cortex, we have the option to recognise that we feel afraid, and we get to decide what we’re going to do about it. 

The issue of describing yourself as a ‘fearless leader’ says Gerry, is that fearlessness doesn’t exist, at least not in healthy people. 

Fear is important. What we need to do is not pathologize fear, because when you do, leaders never want to admit they were wrong or they made a mistake. When what they need to do is be able to say to their team – I don’t know, but here’s how we’re going to figure it out, you all need to put your fear to one side

And that’s a very different thing to pretending you’re not afraid. 

Book recommendations:

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