Maintain connections. Even when you don’t feel like seeing people, even when you don’t have the energy to reach out, remind yourself that is precisely the time that you need to connect. Checking in with others is even more impactful on our sense of wellbeing than a gratitude journal. Checking in with others, without an agenda or an ask, just genuinely checking in, is a great way to remind yourself of the support system you have, and the support system you can be to others.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sally Dominguez.
Futurist, Educator, and award-winning inventor, Sally Dominguez’s unique blend of talents have led her on an extraordinary journey to understanding the 10X innovation mindset and activating it in others. Sally’s first book, EPIC Resilience, launched in March 2021 and she was IKEA’s sustainable resilience expert for their 2020 Life At Home report. Sally’s Adventurous Thinking strategy, a syllabus for expanded thinking, proactive design thinking, and problem-solving, was showcased at VIVID Sydney and SXSW and is used by organizations around the world.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I am an Australian architect and inventor living in the Bay Area. We initially moved here to create a business around my Rainwater HOG tank and rain catchment and we intended to only stay 2 years, but I absolutely love California and we’ve been here 12 so far! I’ve worked on Australian TV as a judge of invention and innovation, I’ve tested cars on the track and in off-road rallies, I’ve invented, produced, and distributed several groundbreaking products. In all that I do, I find the Californian way of encouraging innovation, of really lifting and supporting big ideas, to be a huge part of my happiness and impact with what I do. My husband Simon is an ultra-marathon athlete who attempted to swim to the Farallon Islands and was stopped 22 miles out by a great white shark! My daughters Liv (23) and Jemima (21) are my sounding board for extreme ideas. We are an action-packed family with a lot of big energy! A lot of my work in resilience, wellness, and creative thinking is a result of sound boarding with my family and my local community.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
In 2012 I was invited, along with one of my best friends and fellow car journalists, to race the grueling 10-day off-road Rally De Gazelles through Morocco. Volkswagen sponsored us as the first Australians to drive it. NOBODY told us the entire race was in French, nobody told us that electronics were banned — it was all maps (in French) and compasses and old school navigation and — when we arrived — it turned out everyone else had done a mandatory 2 weeks training on driving the massive Erg Chebbi sand dunes of Morocco — except us! The plan was for Sammy, an expert track driver, to drive and I would navigate but the driving was so seat-of-the-pants extreme and the navigation was so technical that we swapped roles. The Rally sends you into the landscape with 3 days worth of military food supplies and a tracker — then you are on your own. If you don’t navigate to camp they leave you in the desert for 3 days unless you hit the distress beacon. It was super extreme and I LOVED it but most women (it’s an all-female race) break down during the course which is why TV crews are closely following to record the drama. We placed 40th out of 186 in the marathon leg — pretty stoked about that! Being lost in a massive desert of towering dunes, having to think our way out, the entire experience was incredible. The hardest thing I’ve done but one of the best. Taught me a lot about what we DONT need: what I don’t need to worry about, what I don’t need to survive. Taught me a huge amount about resilience, grit, and mindset.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My companies Adventurous Thinking and EPIC Resilience are unique: all the mindset work I do is original and very future-forward. I try then as a micro-business to surround myself with like-minded people and increase the impact I can have. Both companies have as their vision spreading optimism and helping every person discover their own creative confidence. When I was meeting with the Stanford Continuing Studies selection person about teaching Adventurous Thinking back in 2013, they said (looking at me) “we suggest your audience is middle-aged women returning to the workforce.” So, I realized immediately that he was literally telling me that my audience was me (what he perceived me to be). In fact, my workshop was packed with students and workforce people of all ages, all vocations, with an equal gender split. With all of my work, I have realized that innovation and idea-sharing is the most inclusive thing humans can do. And we have so much more impact if we do it together! But I am pioneering in a field littered with men and so people who are unfamiliar with my work constantly make assumptions about me: particularly American and Australian men.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Two people stand out: for my OTT optimism, it’s my dad, an engineer, and entrepreneur who never let reality slow his thinking and always encouraged me to do anything and everything. For helping me realize all the opportunities offered to me it is Simon, partner for 30 years husband for 25, who has never questioned my need to leave the kids and drive a rally, or produce a design that others thought was impossible. My dad nurtured my energy, and Simon made everything I do possible by always enabling me despite our financial or family issues. For instance, I was working as an architect, had a baby without really thinking (!), and, with 7 houses under construction, had to move my business to our small cramped apartment. The main room for seeing people were dominated by a plushy, old school, and very dirty vinyl highchair. I sketched an easy to clean version based loosely on the vision of Saarinen’s tulip base with a deeply scooped motorcycle helmet on top: this was the vision of the NEST highchair. I showed colleagues who were skeptical of a “one-legged high chair” but another new mom with a financial background offered to partner with me 50/50 and help me realize the dream. Although we were not solid financially and were struggling through the whole new baby experience, Simon said, “go for it” and didn’t hesitate to raid the mortgage and cover our half. He has always backed me.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Old school resilience was about surviving an event and, ideally, helping others also make it through. Today resilience needs to be different because we are facing continual unexpected events brought about by the exponential change of the Fourth Revolution: the rise of digitization and machine intelligence. Today, resilience is about handling the unknown, thinking outside knowledge and expertise, with creative confidence and vision. The key trait of a resilient person today is someone who, to paraphrase Leonardo da Vinci, is not constrained by their present reality. Resilient people lead with hope and seek to connect with others, and all rise through uncertainty together. Resilient people need to be mentally and physically fit, because big thinking is hard work, and they need to be constantly nurturing their growth mindset with random learning and idea-sharing.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage is an important part of facing unknown circumstances with confidence, but resilience pairs courage with mental and physical strength. Courage is the will to deliver, resilience is the ability to deliver. In this new era that also means the ability to think differently and solve unprecedented problems with creative thinking.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Helen Keller is an incredible example of resilience. Unable to see or hear she was nevertheless a prolific writer and advocate for disabled access and disability rights. It’s almost unfathomable how a child without sight or hearing was able to develop into this incredible, impactful icon of resilience. A huge inspiration to me for resilience and impact is Muhammad Ali. Profoundly dyslexic, he was told he was stupid yet persevered to become not only one of the greatest athletes of his time but an outspoken advocate for minority rights — as an African American and as a Muslim. Most importantly, Ali focused on connection and community and leading with hope. In his words, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”. His ability to not only make a comeback but come back better and with greater social impact, upholding his own values at all times, is EPIC resilience. I think he may also have been the first athlete to rap…..
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Haha oh yes!!!! I was told I was too young to run my own architectural practice but I did it and succeeded. When I designed Nest highchair the insurers said “you can’t have a one-legged baby chair” although, I tried to explain that a tulip base represents infinite legs and is extremely stable. I made it despite the criticism and Nest won several international awards and is in two museums. When I designed my Rainwater HOG tank, I was told by water tank experts “you can’t hold water in a flat walled plastic container.” I proceeded with my design that involved a kind of inside-out bracing — inspired by the hole in a donut — and I invented a structure that is now known as “slim walled tanks”. My entire career has been “experts” underestimating the way I think and design.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Yes, and it’s almost too soon to discuss……but here goes. Just a few years ago I forced my family to take in an abused teenager with undiagnosed Borderline Personality Syndrome. Despite my family vehemently opposing this move I felt that our combined good energy and drive would help him through addiction and through the mental issues that we could see he had (although it took much longer to fully understand the extent of those). I intensely cared for him for a full year, lost connection with my family, lost connection with myself battling through the gaslighting and constant lies, and ended up in a full mental breakdown after some violence in the house. Hospital scale meltdown. It was only a creative job I loved and an incredibly patient husband that saved me. In the aftermath, I learned the value of boundaries. I still wish the best for this person but, in protecting myself and my family, I won’t ever see them again. Surviving a meltdown nobody could ever have predicted, learning to rebuild with boundaries and reconnect with friends I had abandoned — led me to create EPIC. I was strong Physically, Intellectually, and Creatively but Emotionally I was vulnerable and lacked boundaries. I am a better, stronger, far more resilient person for this experience. I hate what it did to my daughters and we have had to work hard to rebuild trust, but I appreciate the insight it has given me into emotional resilience and the importance of maintaining connections and optimism.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I have never been afraid of failure. Perhaps because I was an unusual child, very tall, known as “weird” and moved schools and cities every few years, I was bullied for a fair part of my childhood. I just did my own thing most of the time and the ability to disregard other people’s opinions is extremely useful when you have an inventive mind. SO, my special resilient power is that I am not deterred when someone tells me an idea is impossible. As Muhammed Ali observed, “impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” That’s how I feel most of the time. I think my dad was instrumental in that thinking — he was constantly trying new ideas and often failing but was never deterred.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
First, understand the very direct connection between mental and physical strength. Within this I have two steps:
1. Learn your physical strength. Try boxing. Lift something heavy. Understand your potential and then ensure that you are as physically fit as you can be.
2. Consider your top 3 values and how you are communicating them to others. Make sure you are very, very, clear about what you will and will not accept in terms of behavior from others. This will clear away so much of the everyday chatter and gossip that slows people down.
3. Look for opportunity in every incident. Something happens that you didn’t expect? How can you optimize that? Where are the adjacent opportunities?
4. Do not be defined by what you know. Freely admit when you don’t know, and develop the habit of asking questions that help you learn and understand better. Have the confidence to know that not knowing is exciting and that learning is great for your brain and for your general happiness.
5. Maintain connections. Even when you don’t feel like seeing people, even when you don’t have the energy to reach out, remind yourself that is precisely the time that you need to connect. Checking in with others is even more impactful on our sense of wellbeing than a gratitude journal. Checking in with others, without an agenda or an ask, just genuinely checking in, is a great way to remind yourself of the support system you have, and the support system you can be to others.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Idea-sharing. Idea sharing is the most inclusive actively humans can do. Age doesn’t matter, ethnicity, experience, geography, seniority. None of that matters when human brains do what they do better than any other living thing: imagine big ideas and then share them and improve them with others. IF everybody across the world practiced idea-sharing with random people once a week for 15 minutes I believe we would have harmony in so many areas. AND we would solve a bunch of our global and local problems.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Melinda Gates has incredible vision and impact: I think she would have really interesting thoughts on how to push out this concept of structured idea-sharing and scalable resilience across the world. I’m working on a free educational EPIC resilience series for school kids which will start in Australia and the USA, then Mexico and Latin America. Imagine if she were interested in pushing it across Africa and in brainstorming a digital platform for pure idea-sharing and global connection. THAT would be a really interesting breakfast chat!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I am most active on Linkedin as the hub for my futurist work, my design work, Adventurous Thinking, and EPICResilience. https://www.linkedin.com/in/sallydominguez/. EPIC also has its own page https://www.linkedin.com/company/epic-resilience
I need to update my website — http://www.sallydominguez.com but all my design work and writing is there.
http://www.adventurousthinking.com has my Five Lenses Adventurous Thinking Strategy.
We are fleshing that out in early 2022 as a Corporate Culture strategy promoting Inclusion and Innovation, as well as the EPIC education strategy which will launch July 2022.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!