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Enhancing Organizational Performance

Patience vs. Perseverance

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Is patience the same as perseverance? In the world of business, perseverance, the ability to stick to something, to see it through is often viewed as a positive personality characteristic. How many times have you heard that innovators, or inventors, or entrepreneurs will fail many times before finally succeeding? And that those who finally succeed are the ones who persevered? In order to persevere must you have patience?

Aspects of patience feel different than perseverance. It feels more like the guru sitting crossed-legged on a mountain-top waiting for that mountain to wear down or for enlightenment to strike. Gurus, for some reason are never depicted in images as young people (or as female), but rather as old men with beards. That somehow wisdom comes with age and with patience (and apparently maleness). But of course the world is full of many patient people who never achieve wisdom or enlightenment.

While the stone of the mountain seems strong, we all learned that water and wind (even human footsteps), given enough time, will eventually wear away those steps or that mountain, changing the landscape and the environment as it slowly does its work. All you have to do is be patient. Just look at what water was able to do in carving the Grand Canyon and other western landscapes.

Perseverance somehow carries a connotation of activity, whereas patience feels more passive. You can persevere at learning and education, but as you look around the world and see the conditions of many of the humans living upon it, the notion of “patience, all good things come to those who wait”, rings rather hollow, doesn’t it.  You must go out and make things happen for positive change to occur.

Perseverance is closely tied to resiliency. Humans, both young and old, tend towards resiliency. One overarching review of resiliency in humans came to the conclusion that the most surprising thing and defining thing about resiliency is how common-place it really is. We seem to be very good, when faced with adversity to “keeping at it” or when overcome by adversity, to recover and trying again. Resiliency is a key characteristic of organizational vitality, for we know that every organization, no matter the type, profit, non-profit, political or even religious will face challenges and being resilient will be a key marker of those who will overcome those challenges and survive.

So perseverance seems to be generally positive in tone whereas patience has both a positive and negative connotation. And that is where generational issues comes in.

When a characteristic can have both positive and negative attributes, through the eyes of different people the same attribute can be viewed either positively or negatively depending on the point someone is trying to make. It is like making folk wisdom fit whatever situation you happen to find yourself in to explain, rationalize or justify.

“Get off my lawn!” The grouchy old man, (very rare to see grouchy old women depicted – rather the stereotype is that they are nurturing), seeing the kids playing on his lawn, sees damage to the grass that he so carefully tends and enjoys and the kids see a beautiful lawn that is just perfect for a game of tag. Same environment, two viewpoints. But the world is also full of old men who would love to see kids playing on their lawn and kids who would never dream of trespassing without permission.

Individual differences and characteristics are key. Young people can certainly be patient. They can certainly persevere. They can also be impatient and eager to get ahead quickly, and be seen as wanting rewards without paying their “dues” by others. But there are older generational people who would also fit those characteristics to a tee as well.

As a CEO, I can tell you, I have to remind myself to have patience. Everyday. CEO’s in general have a proclivity towards action and towards getting things done quickly. Time is the enemy. When a project takes more time, it is less profitable. When a support task takes more time, it costs the company more in both dollars and resources. When a new product roll out takes longer, you run the risk of a competitor beating you to market and grabbing market share, damaging your company. Or an environmental change which makes your investment in the new product meaningless. As a CEO you want things done and you want them done quickly. On the flip side, as a CEO you want the company’s reputation to be sterling. Things done quickly run the risk of being haphazard or of poor quality. That can damage the organization. So each and every day a balance must be achieved, between speed and quality. The trick is to figure out how to do things quickly and with high quality (at the lowest cost possible).

Surrogate measures are when we use a characteristic or measurement of a person or environment to infer something about that environment. A column of mercury rising in a thermometer is a surrogate measure for temperature. We make the assumption, based on science (yes it is a scientific principle), that as the atoms in the mercury become more energetic due to the rising temperature, they expand as they bounce around more, causing the visual appearance of the mercury to more fully fill the tube it’s in. We are not measuring temperature directly, we are using an outcome (the energy of the atoms and the visual appearance of the mercury) as a surrogate measure to infer the temperature.

Some people use surrogate measures, such as patience, to infer personal characteristics of someone else and to further infer whether they will succeed or fail in various situations. Young people look at old people (like me) and could see patience as a negative. But they are using a surrogate measure. The real question is whether in the unique situation we find ourselves, in order to succeed, do we need to be in a hurry to get things done or is patience the best path towards success. And many if not most people can adapt themselves to the situation.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

January 20, 2017 at 7:00 am

Posted in Human Behavior

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