How Self-Reliance Builds Better Networks and Boosts Innovation

How Self-Reliance Builds Better Networks and Boosts Innovation


Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

If you ask people to define self-reliance, their answers will understandably be influenced by their own sense of self. Self-reliance is a key part of an individual’s growth process. To me, it’s about understanding your own ability and willingness to be capable, then exploring how you build that foundation for future productivity.

I also see an important link between self-reliance, community and society at large. For those who can be self-reliant, I feel we have a moral and ethical obligation to society to develop and maintain our self-reliance in order to be effective contributors in both our personal and professional relationships.

Gaining a Sense of Self-Reliance

For every unique take on self-reliance, there’s a unique path to achieving it. If it’s a question of nature or nurture, the best answer is probably “both.” Some people may be naturally quicker at acquiring those skills, but I believe it’s remarkably trainable.

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My wife and I have a protective inclination when it comes to our children, but that set up a struggle when they were younger: When do you clear their path of obstacles and when do you let them navigate independently? We had to shift to a support framework that allowed them to puzzle out how they might act or what they thought in a particular situation, instead of stepping in with the solution ourselves. Those lessons in self-advocacy, conflict management and resolution, and transparent communication lead to the kind of self-confidence that is core to self-reliance.

That was something I struggled with in my own development. My fear of letting go of what I imagined to be safer places kept me from understanding the joy and excitement of discovering the world. But once I began acting on my love of performing live music and those external experiences grew, my curiosity and hunger to learn more also grew.

Eventually, I became a global traveler and citizen with a different perspective of my place in the world. And that helped me realize what I had accomplished, what I had yet to accomplish and what I could offer as part of that journey toward self-reliance.

Connecting to Elevate Everyone

I often like to view things through an economic lens. If you’re self-reliant, theoretically you’re making deposits into society as part of a local and global framework. Of course, there are times when you need to ask society for a withdrawal and you shouldn’t feel fearful, embarrassed or isolated in those instances—it’s part of how the system functions. That’s key to remember.

People sometimes view self-reliance as separating themselves from what’s around them. I think we’re all part of a humankind network and it’s important to continually work to build and reinforce that. You might eat food from your own farm and generate your own energy, but to me, it’s more interesting to see the infusion of what you bring to the world once you’ve realized your ability to meet those needs on your own.

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Whether it’s money, time or efforts at better communication, there are simple things each of us can do to contribute positively to the well-being of others (and, in turn, ourselves). If you’re in an isolationist or adversarial mindset, however, it will be hard to benefit from those connections.

That applies in the professional world as well. Partnerships are important in elevating your own capabilities. As long as you’ve set up a framework and understanding of expectations through each stage of the partnership, you set up the potential for both sides to share, learn and grow mutually.

Creating Space to Innovate

As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve always recognized the value in both self-reliance and forging connections, but I needed to find a way to foster both in a work environment. I developed a cultural framework for my company that draws from my training in emotional intelligence. Empathy, in particular, is core to the behaviors leaders should model and encourage in the workplace.

Yet sometimes the speed of business doesn’t allow time for empathetic, lengthy maturation. So my approach in a time-sensitive situation might be more prescriptive, and that’s OK, as long as I allow time in the future for mentoring that employee.

I’ve also found it’s important to celebrate people who go above and beyond as models of self-reliance, but equally important to have a safe space where people know it’s OK to try something that may not go as planned but provides great insights or lessons. That’s promoting innovation by supporting people in their self-reliance — in their belief that they can create something that makes things better.

In my leadership model, “discipline” refers to knowing there is a right and wrong way of doing things, particularly in manufacturing. We don’t want to encourage failure on processes that have already been defined, tested and shown to deliver quality. But we also don’t want failure to be the destruction of innovative ideas.

Instead, we need to encourage people to think along the edges of what they’re doing to discover new ideas or processes. Then we start small, see what we learn and scale strategically from there. If you imagine a lot of experiments iterating simultaneously, that’s exciting. It’s also quite powerful. Because through that trial and error, you’re creating a place for people to build confidence as independent contributors to your company and define their future within it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson closes his famous essay on self-reliance with, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.” Whether it’s to reach our personal or professional goals, self-reliance is about finding peace in recognizing our strengths and weaknesses, leveraging the former and improving upon the latter, and, for me, practicing the principle of contributing to an overall greater good.

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