Resilience and Togetherness

Paul Bennett

Paul Bennett

Özlem Tuskan

Özlem Tuskan

5 mins

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What is the light that binds us?

We began with a moment of silence. 

Creatives from over 20 different countries gathered in a collective quiet: holding space.

This is Creative Sparks: a gathering designed for audacious leaders by Neol to ignite creativity and inspire meaningful discussions that lead to positive change.

For our first gathering—compelled by the recent earthquakes affecting Türkiye and Syria—we explored the intersections between creativity, togetherness, and resilience. We invited two creatively curious minds—Özlem Tuskan, founder of The Resilient, and Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer of IDEO—to share their perspectives of two major questions:

  1. When is a time in which you have found creativity to be a powerful tool to shine a light amidst the darkness? What is the light that binds us?
  2. How do leaders continue to create during times of such difficulty? What is our role as leaders of teams? What is our role as creatives in these periods? 

When is a time in which you have found creativity to be a powerful tool to shine a light amidst the darkness? What is the light that binds us?

Togetherness enables us to develop resilience.

Our first speaker, Özlem began by sharing her powerful story of collapse (divorce, bankruptcy, economic crisis, losing her company, and imposter syndrome). Her life—which was once laced with grief, loss, and shame—was eventually transformed into renewal through collaboration and connection to her support systems. Her need for togetherness through grief was met by a community that cultivated her resilience.

 “A flicker of hope,” she called it, reflecting that resilience is the mental agility to adapt to challenges in order to surmount them. Özlem’s number one principle of resilience building (the thing that moved her from “grief into a place of hope") was learning how to rely on the support of her collaborative community. For Özlem, resilience became a superpower that enabled her to grow past her survival state, through emotional and creative shutdown, and eventually, into an empowered and experienced maker of light within darkness.

Togetherness and empathy are design tools.

Paul Bennett delved into a story that had sparked in his memory. Paul was once touring a medical lab for a project he was working on. The tour guide asked him if he wanted to see the nursery. She brought him to a lab to view their heart stem cells; microscopic specks of life dancing in a petri dish. Casually, she tapped the screen and the cells scattered.

“Now watch.”

After a moment, all of the scattered cells slowly began to come together and beat in sync as a heart again. Though they were thrown apart, they immediately came together in order to survive. “Love is biological.” He profoundly quoted her saying, “Even on a cellular level, we do not want to be alone.”

“Our ability to collectively feel,” continues Paul, “is this powerful tool that we have.” Through empathy and togetherness, we resurface from our darkness, create light with those who surround us and mutually cultivate our creativity, resilience, and adaptability.

“Look into the eyes of the people who are suffering…we are not separated…[Until they are] whole, we cannot be whole ourselves.” — Farah Ramzan Golant

There is no “other”

Sparked by the vulnerability of our guest speakers, a new voice joins in: Farah Ramzan Golant, the president of kyu collective, felt a pull to share her own story. She recounts her young life in Nairobi, how her mother was committed to the care of children with down syndrome, and though uncomfortable at first, how she learned to truly see people. 

Through a beautiful story of unwilling generosity (required by her mother to give one of her personal birthday gifts to a child in their home every year), young Farah truly saw the children around her for the first time when handing a gift and catching a glint of light in the girl’s eyes across from her. 

When you look into someone’s eyes, regardless of where they are from, you can see a momentary glimpse of light within them. The same light, the spark, which we all carry. This is the light that binds us. Through this eye contact, Farah realized that there is no “other”—no person who is so different from us that they are unworthy of our compassion. Her experiences in generosity taught her the power of truly seeing people as the hurting, hopeful, and healing humans that we all are.

How do leaders continue to create during times of such difficulty? What is our role as leaders of teams?”

Don’t be a storm in a teacup leader

Our world is in desperate need of present, vulnerable, and authentic leaders. People who feel, listen, challenge, and guide without judgment or tyranny. Unfortunately we have an influx of leadership that emphasizes power and management, separating leader and team. Somehow being a leader became synonymous with being aloof and in-charge.

“Power is a disease, it is actually a numbing virus” that stops us from being able to connect with others, Paul shares. Many leaders enter into an echo chamber of power that disconnects them from their team, stopping them from listening, seeing, and feeling the people that surround them. They walk around trying to prove that they are successful by storming their way through challenges alone, rather than being a calm and safe space within the storm to develop creativity alongside their team. Paul called the former style “storm in the teacup” leadership, challenging us to become the “calm in the storm" instead.

Calm in the storm leaders are leaders who:

1. Hold space to listen without judgment

Calm-in-the-storm leaders hold space for understanding and approach each conversation with curiosity and intentionality. As Paul shared: “You don't need to have the answer. What you need to do is ask the question and…listen to what everybody else is bringing as the answer.” When we stop listening and we start speaking, we lose the ability to notice the light that binds us all.

2. Stay Present

To truly create impactful solutions, we have to actively engage with our problems, sit in the struggle, and experience the challenge of the process alongside our team. Unlike storm-in-the-teacup leaders (who are often distant, isolated in their responsibility, and disconnected from their team’s reality), calm-in-the-storm leaders intentionally sit in the darkness beside their team members.

3. Focus on Psychological Safety, Well-Being, and Trust

In order to build an effective and impactful team, we have to support the holistic health of our team members. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs describes our healthy and holistic life as a pyramid with levels of growth. Individual and corporate productivity come only at the peak of the pyramid, once the lower tiers of the pyramid (such as physical and emotional safety, belonging, trust, and respect) are ensured. 

4. Let Themselves Be Human

Calm-in-the-storm leaders practice radical acceptance of their failures and openly acknowledge their struggles. Through this vulnerability, they create a space for new perspectives from their team that balance out their weak points, building a creative collaboration that is both accepting and impactful.

As our gathering closed, we sat together, reflecting upon the importance of our collective humanity, our ability to gather together as one heart in grief as well as in creativity. Kerem Alper, co-founder of Neol, grounded us once again with this final reflection:

Some of the communities in Türkiye are going through the darkest moments of their lives that they will never forget. It's on us to bring the lightness there however we can…We are all humans, after all, so we shouldn't forget that.

We are so grateful to Paul, Özlem, and all of our Neolians who gathered for this conversation. Through them we learned to recognize the light that binds us; the safety, growth, and empowerment that comes through togetherness; and the resilient creativity that comes from having a solid support system. We are all humans after all, and the community we have built here at Neol is helping us to become better ones.

If your creativity was sparked by our conversation on resilience and togetherness, you will love our upcoming gatherings as well. Become a Neolian to build your community, creativity, and curiosity!

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