The Story of the Falling Man – A Tale that Could Happen to All of Us.

Falling ManThe Fall

His boss flew over to sack him. He was stunned. It felt like the walls were collapsing around him. A cold wind cut through his skin. He had not expected this. He thought they would discuss the new plans. That was what he had prepared for. He spent all week, including the weekends, to build further on the excellent results he and his team had produced the previous years.
When the boss told him the news, he was numb. He could not think. It  was like his brain shut down. The boss was talking and he did not listen. He heard the voice but could not register. He was answering but he can’t remember how. The world had stopped around him. And he was falling.

The Conversation

Falling Man: Why?
Boss: I just told you. You are not digital enough. The company wanted to become more digital, less analog.

Falling Man: You haven’t asked me to be digital before. You haven’t seen the plans my team and I have prepared for the next years. How do you know I am not digital enough? There’s a lot of digital in the plans. And there was a lot of digital in the way we got our results.

You can’t be digital. You are the wrong generation.

Falling Man:
How can there be a wrong generation? There is only right or wrong behaviour. Have I not delivered on targets? There was not a single year that I have let the company down. I have cleared up the mess for others. I have spent Christmas Eve on the other side of the globe in a godforsaken country where it is probably illegal to celebrate Christmas. I did that for the company and missed the best time of the year. My family had accepted it. It was for the good cause. My sacrifices for the company were great. I do not expect gratitude. I expect respect. I. Expect. Respect. 
The past is the past. We can only look at the future. In that future there is no place for men and women of the past. It is time for something new. Something disruptive. You stand for continuity, not disruption. And so there was a joint decision by the executive committee, endorsed by the board, that you should make way for the new generation of leaders. The ones who grew up behind a console. The digital natives. They will disrupt this company.
Falling Man (FM):
Why would the company throw away years of experience and years of potential. I can still deliver value. I am not too old.

It’s not your age. It’s your skills. You cannot keep up with new trends. You are a traditionalist. Your skills date from a time when everything was predictable. It’s not what you did, it’s about what you will not do.
I see that you have made up your mind, even though your argumentation is ludicrous and meaningless. What is the offer?
You will get paid generously. You need not to work until the age of retirement. You can enjoy life. See it as a liberation.
I don’t want to be liberated. I want to work, be useful, make myself relevant. I don’t want your pieces of silver. You nail me to the cross and smile. You say it’s not that bad. You say I should be happy with it. As if you do me a favour. Well, I don’t need favours. I need respect. Dignity. Fairness. 

You take it badly. These things happen. You should know. Whatever the reason, you should not take it personally.

You fire me, and I should not take it personally? How dare you?

He felt his blood pumping. His face got overheated. His eyes were spiking him to the wall. His fists were white with anger. He felt the tension in his body. The more the boss talked the more furious he became.
Well, I think you’re making a terrible mistake. You’re wasting a lot of money for nothing. But I know that you are just the messenger and that you are not the man to stand up against the executive committee. So I cannot blame you for this cowardice. I cannot expect a man like you to defend me and treat me in a dignified manner. So I suggest we could leave it here and get the paperwork done.

I’m glad you see it like that.
So let me get back to work. I have some work to finish.
There was an awkward moment of Silence. The boss stared at the corner of the table. And finally he spoke.
 You have to fill your box and leave immediately. And you’re not allowed to talk to anyone in the office when leaving the building. I’m sorry, but those are my instructions.

The Frozen Fall

Falling Man
Picture taken at Tate Gallery London

Months later one could still feel the pain in his words. He still could not understand. Oh yes, he understood the mechanics behind it. But he did not see the value of it. Here he was, looking for a new mission in life. His soul was scarred, he said. They made him stumble and he fell. It’s like he fell naked on raw concrete. His entire body ached.
He’s like the statue “Falling Man” by Giacometti, a fragile sculpture of man in a frozen fall. He stumbled and he fell. But it was a long fall. He seemed to be stuck in his fall. There was nothing for him than to resist and to protest.
He was working in the business of a friend.
But he missed the glory. The excitement. Everything was so predictable and so small. Every day is the same. He felt so unimportant.
What would he want?
He would prefer to be on a board or an executive committee.
I’m like a German God on a Volcano, he whispered. Nobody believes in me, yet I feel I have force.

I’m like a German God on a Volcano, he whispered. Nobody believes in me, yet I feel I have force.

Falling Man

This story is partly fictitious, although inspired by a true encounter with a falling man. I have met many people who were frozen in their. As if the act of falling prevents them from taking the hit. 
Here are some questions:

  • Why can’t they stop falling?
  • What must be done to help these people?
  • How can we prevent that people feel it’s a fall? What else could it be?
  • What does this say about their resilience?
  • What do people in a frozen fall need to get out of it?
  • What are the other questions we should ask to better understand and help falling people?
  • How can we make difficult decisions like that better, more empathic, less a surprise, more kind, and more fair?

I know these are just questions, and not answers. But maybe we should first define the list of questions to ask, rather than stampeding into the solutions.

Community Resilience as answer to Disaster

The Paris Attacks

The November 13 Paris Attacks leave us in shock. In spite of many terrorist attacks in the past 10 years Europeans have no experience with war. The past 70 years were pretty much peaceful and wars have been fought outside of the continent. But as violence is at the borders and closes in on us, we might need to change our actions and get used to the risks of violence.
I am not a specialist in the matter. But the question is how we can defend ourselves mentally against  the attacks of a fundamentalist minority. If we let ourselves live in constant fear, we will perish as well. I guess that is also what the attackers want: paralyse our society.
I heard Eric De Soir talking about community resilience as an answer to these events. Eric intervenes as psychologist in crises to help people and policy-makers on how to deal with calamities. He has been awarded with the honorary title of psychologist of the year and is highly acclaimed.
I had not heard of the word before. So I have researched a bit and I have found a very interesting article by Norris e.a. (2008) which gives a framework. Here is the summary. You can find the article here: .


This article describes disaster as a potentially traumatic event that is collectively experienced, has an acute onset, and is time delimited; disasters  are attributed to natural, technological, or human causes. The Paris attacks surely fits this description. It’s still too early to tell, but this attack might become a historic moment. It’s comparable to the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915, which turned public opinion against the Germans in the first year of the war.

The process of community resilience

Resilience is defines as a process linking a set of adaptive capacities to a positive trajectory of functioning and adaptation after a disturbance. This is the model they have put forward:

community resilience
Model of stress resistance and resilience over time: Resistance occurs when resources are sufficiently robust, redundant, or rapid to buffer or counteract the immediate effects of the stressor such that no dysfunction occurs. Total resistance is hypothesized to be rare in the case of severe, enduring, or highly surprising events, making transient situational dysfunction the more likely and normative result in the immediate aftermath of disasters. Resilience occurs when resources are sufficiently robust, redundant, or rapid to buffer or counteract the effects of the stressor such that a return to functioning, adapted to the altered environment, occurs. For people and communities, this adaptation is manifest in wellness. Vulnerability occurs when resources were not sufficiently robust, redundant, or rapid to create resistance or resilience, resulting in persistent dysfunction. The more severe, enduring, and surprising the stressor, the stronger the resources must be to create resistance or resilience. (Norris e.a., 2008)

So the question is how to get back to a positive way of functioning after this massive disturbance, not to resist and stick to our old ways and not to be weak (vulnerable) and stay in permanent state of dysfunctioning . The latter could be that we would change our ways in an unhealthy way: staying indoors, abandoning certain freedoms. A resilient way of coping with the events could be that we learn from that, that we integrate routines in our daily life to manage and reduce risks, that we become collectively more vigilant, that we change the way we deal with refugees, that we adapt international politics. A resilient approach could contain new individual behaviours, but also structural and cultural changes.

Adaptive Capabilities

The article talks about community wellness as outcome of resilience. It’s defined as a high prevalence of wellness in the community, defined as high and non-disparate levels of mental and behavioral health, role functioning, and quality of life in constituent populations. 
To achieve that wellness and be resilient, a community needs adaptive capabilities. The next figure gives an overview of these capabilities.
Economic development is an important capability. Poorer communities have a hard time defending themselves. Natural disasters have a higher toll in poor countries.
Social capital is about having connections. Integrated communities have a higher resilience than fragmented communities.
Information and communication feeds into the awareness. The Paris Attacks were broadcasted almost live. We have all seen snippets of films and horrible pictures of what happened at the Bataclan concert hall. They do offer a certain narrative of the event. But there will be another narrative needed. And responsible media will have to make sure that this event receives its place.
Community Competence is about having the necessary competencies to act.

A Roadmap toward community resilience

Interestingly enough the authors give a roadmap to develop community resilience in face of disaster. I think this could be applied to the Paris Attacks.

  1. To increase their resilience to disaster, communities must develop economic resources, reduce risk and resource inequities, and attend to their areas of greatest social vulnerability.
  2. To access social capital, one of the primary resources of any community, local people must be engaged meaningfully in every step of the mitigation process.
  3. Pre-existing organizational networks and relationships are the key to rapidly mobilizing emergency and ongoing support services for disaster survivors.
  4. Interventions are needed that boost and protect naturally occurring social supports in the aftermath of disasters.
  5. Communities must plan, but they must also plan for not having a plan; this means that communities must exercise flexibility and focus on building effective and trusted information and communication resources that function in the face of unknowns.

Remedy and Antidote

We do not know what’s a head. We cannot decide on the cards we get in the game, but we can decide on how to play them. Building resilience can help our communities in coping with the increasing numbers of violence by a small and unpredictable number of terrorists. I also believe that resilience is als the answer to prevent these acts of violence, especially when they are committed by people that have been living in the very community they attack. Social capital, community competence etc. are skills that could well be an antidote against radicalization.
This blog is my way of contributing to the discussion in this matter. My thoughts go to those people who have lost their lives in the Paris Attacks and in other recent attacks (Ankara, Beirut). I offer the people close to the victims my condolences.

Resilience, the ultimate mindset for change ?

Resilience is relatively new in the change management – vocabulary.
Kurt Lewin has developed a traditional model for explaining change. His model is known as “Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze”. It explains the three stages of any change process.
Lewin uses the metaphor of an ice block. If you have a large cube of ice but want a cone,  what do you do? First you melt the ice to make it amenable to change (unfreeze). Then you mold the iced water into the shape you want (change). Finally, you solidify the new shape (refreeze).

Ice and water, the first two steps of Lewin's model (resilience)
Ice and water, the first two steps of Lewin’s model (resilience)

  • In “unfreeze” you will feel loss, regret or grief.
  • “Change ” is an in-between time. You will feel uncertainty, confusion, and questioning. You are out of your comfort zone. You can’t see a path forward.
  • In “refreeze” you move into a new beginning. It’ a time of energy and excitement. Here the future becomes clearer.

Continuous change.

Today, there is no  “refreeze” anymore. We are continuously in the middle phase. The change phase.
Or you could say these 3 phases continuously repeat themselves very quickly. You can hardly see any cubes or cones in these cycles. The only constant is change.

Managing continuous change ?

Can continuous change be managed ?
A lot of leaders try to do so.
They develop change overviews. They spread change over consecutive quarters of the business year. Green, orange and red indicate how concrete changes on the field are corresponding to the change goals.
They appoint a project leader, responsible for implementing the change. The project leader sets up a change team. The change team does all that needs to done. Or it makes sure other people will. The team wants to guarantee that the change gets implemented.
Of course there’s also the “human” side of change. People will not always like or agree when leaders declare that the change is done. People need to be listened to, given attention and coached. Certainly when change becomes very tough on the emotional side.
I’m convinced that all these initiatives are necessary. I’m also convinced they approach change as something that will “stop” someday, after the project ends. At that moment a “new” period of rest and stability will start. Someday the last topic on the change overview will indeed turn into green. The change project will formally be declared “completed”. The day after however, a new change will present itself.
You need more than just some management models, to keep on doing this. Every human has his/her limits.
You need resilience. You need resilience. But what is resilience ?


Resilience allows you to return to the original state. It’s about you, not the organisation. After being stretched, compressed or bent. Resilience allows you to recover from adversity. Developing resilience is highly desirable in today’s world.
In his book Resilience “Managing at the speed of change”, Daryl R. Conner outlines five characteristics of resilient people. They are positive, focused, flexible, organized, proactive.

    • Positive

      Resilient people are optimistic and self-assured. They perceive life as complex but filled with opportunities. Optimists believe defeat is temporary. Its causes are not their fault, but rather due to unfortunate circumstances. Pessimists believe defeat will last for a long time. They blame someone, including themselves.

    • Focused

      Focus means having a clear vision of what you want to do. Focused people write down their goals and describe obstacles. They focus on the strategies they will use to find solutions for problems.

    • Flexible

      Flexible people are adaptable to uncertainty. They name their fears when facing new and intimidating situations.

    • Organized

      Organized people approach ambiguity in a structured way. They creatively plan, carefully set priorities and engage in deliberate action steps.

    • Proactive

      Being proactive means you engage change and not defend against it. Proactive people take the offense and not the defense. They take calculated risks. They apply lessons learned from experiences, to similar challenges facing them.

Developing resilience

Years of research into the nature of resilience have created a solid understanding of it. And how it develops. To develop your resilience, here are some key qualities to develop. (Inspired by Al Siebert)

  • A playful curiosity. Ask lots of questions. Play with new developments. Wonder about things, experiment, make mistakes, get hurt, laugh. “What is different now ? What if I did this ?”
  • Constantly learning from experience: assimilate quickly new or unexpected experiences. Facilitate being changed by them. “What is the lesson here ? What early clues did I ignore ? The next time that happens I will…”
  • Quick Adaptation. Be mentally and emotionally very flexible. Be comfortable with contradictory personal qualities. Be strong and gentle, sensitive and tough, logical and intuitive. Be calm and emotional, serious and playful, and so forth. The more the better.
  • A Solid self-esteem. Self-esteem is how you feel about yourself. It determines how much you learn after something goes wrong. It allows you to receive praise and compliments. It acts as a buffer against hurtful statements. While being receptive to constructive criticism. “I like, appreciate, and love myself.”
  • Good friendships and loving relationships. People are more stress resistant and are less likely to get sick when they have a loving family and good friendships. Loners are more vulnerable to distressing conditions. Talking with friends and family diminishes the impact of difficulties and increases feelings of self-worth and self-confidence.
  • Honest expression of feelings and emotions . Express anger, love, dislike, appreciation, grief, etc… Do it honestly and openly.
  • High tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. Being able to work without a job description, is a good role model of professionalism. Bring stability to crises and chaos. “How can I interact with this so that things turn out well for all of us ?”
  • Empathic reading of others. See things through the perspectives of others, even antagonists. Win/win/win attitude in conflicts. “What do others think and feel ? What is it like to be them ? How do they experience me ? What is legitimate about what they feel, say, and do ?”
  • Use intuition. Accept intuition as a valid, useful source of information. “What is my body telling me ? Did that daydream mean anything ? Why don’t I believe what I’m being told ? What if I did this ?”
  • Have a talent for serendipity. Learning lessons in the school of life is the antidote to feeling victimized. Convert emotionally toxic situations into emotionally nutritious. Convert misfortune into good luck and gain strength from adversity.

“I would never choose to go through anything like that again, but it was the one of best things that ever happened to me.”

When you can imagine this quote coming from you, you are probably developing your own resilience very well.

Being resilient

You need more than resilience to get the change done. Resilience needs some management skills as well. There is nothing wrong with that. Continuous change will make you aware that managing it is key during your career. Resilience will  make you successful in it. Without getting desperate, without negativity. Resilience will help to avoid this trap.