Today, I spoke with Bob Jennings, who is the coauthor of The Adversity Paradox.  Bob views the poor economy as a transformational opportunity—those who emerge stronger will be the success stories of the future.  In this interview, Bob talks about key traits that he looks for when hiring new employees, and more information on why overcoming adversity is the key to success.

Over your careers what were the key traits you looked for when hiring new employees? And why?


Recruiting and retaining high performers is crucial for any organization, in any economic situation. We hired based on all the usual things such as educational achievement and relevant work experience, but there was one trait we found to be critical. Those who had shown the ability to overcome adversity had a much better chance for future success. In the sales environment in particular, which can be full of setbacks, the ability to be resilient and show perseverance can be a significant predictor of success.

But we found this to be the case across the board—those who’d surmounted serious difficulties, no matter what type, nearly always went on to be top performers in our organizations. That’s the adversity paradox in a nutshell.

Often, those who endure the most difficult circumstances or setbacks emerge stronger, savvier, and better positioned for success.

How does the ability to overcome adversity relate to millennials?

Members of the millennial generation have been labeled by some as being soft because they came of age in a time of prosperity and relative ease. We see this a bit as a bad rap. In reality, each successive generation has enjoyed greater prosperity, and naturally, each generation uses its new-found prosperity to shield their kids from some of the hardships prior generations may have had to endure. That’s a good thing, but what we cannot ignore is that fewer people may be gaining the experiential lessons overcoming adversity can provide. What has not changed for the better is the work environment, which remains full competition, pressure, and adversity. The business environment is often much less hospitable than the environment many millennials grew up in.

What is the solution?

Virtually everyone will experience adversity at some point—given the current economic crisis, that’s nearly guaranteed. If you’re a millennial, make a commitment to persevering and overcoming whatever obstacles you’re experiencing. That may mean applying to a hundred different companies and making sacrifices in the meantime, but if that’s what it takes, do it. If you’re managing a millennial, understand this is the most talented group ever to enter the work force. If you can help your younger workers befriend adversity and learn from it, they should become more productive than older generations.

Where does one start with gaining valuable lessons from the Adversity Paradox?

Study the people who’ve learned from overcoming adversity and pattern your behavior on their success. For The Adversity Paradox we studied over 200 people who lived the adversity paradox—successful businesspeople who faced adversity head-on, overcame it, and leveraged what they learned to create both personal and business success. We interviewed those with the most impressive stories, we conducted academic research primarily in the areas of moral development and the psychology of positive thinking, and we relied on our own experiences. The answer does not come in a three- or five-step process or an afternoon seminar but in addressing adversity with personal accountability where appropriate, optimism, and what we call “and then some.”

“And then some” is the practice of consistently giving every task what is required of you and then some. It applies especially to the process of building your own human capital, which we discovered is impacted in five key areas: Introspection, Values Behavior, Work Character, Purpose and Passion and a Thirst for Knowledge. In The Adversity Paradox we show you how to improve each component and thus position yourself for greater success.

In your research did you find learning the adversity paradox to be correlated to age?

Not at all. Although many of the people we studied came from really tough beginnings and learned the adversity paradox early, an equal number faced significant obstacles later in life, through job-related struggles. You can benefit from the unique lessons adversity has to teach at any age!


Bob Jennings is the coauthor of the book, The Adversity Paradox: An Unconventional Guide to Achieving Uncommon Success. In today’s prevailing climate of economic adversity, he offers inspiration, practical wisdom and deep insight into how to turn these challenges into success trajectories. Bob is President of Lean Management Inc. and was COO and then President of EFCO Corp., a world leader in the design and supply of forms for concrete construction, with operations in twelve countries. Mr. Jennings was influential in taking EFCO from a domestic company of 400 employees to a multinational company of 1200 employees, with new products, acquisitions and international growth. He holds five patents, has participated in many of the world’s largest construction projects, and has been published in various trade magazines.