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Claire - portrait interview


I first met Claire when we were both working at a branding consultancy. She moved, I changed jobs, and we lost track of each other’s lives. By the time we reconnected years later, she had reinvented herself, started her consulting business and was leading a Resilience Group that serendipitously came into my life right when I was redesigning my very own Portrait Interviews.  


Claire has the ability to truly step back, process information, build knowledge and  transform. That’s how she quietly but confidently forged her own path. Here is to Claire, a brave and gentle soul determined to helping us redefine conflict as an opportunity for collective change. 

Claire - portrait interview photos-5.jpg
Claire - portrait interview
Claire - portrait interview

How did you come up with a consulting model based on the concept of resilience? 

Resilience by Design Consulting came out of my research at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where I was studying for my PhD in Communication. I was looking for some research to do for my dissertation when one of my professors told me about an NSF-funded research group studying the 100 Resilient Cities program. I fell in love with the idea of enacting resilience. 


My company was officially founded in September 2017 while preparing for a talk I was giving at the Boulder County Resilience Summit. A week before the talk, I realized that this could not just be a one-off, that I was going to start a business.


How did you transition from academia to consulting? 

In retrospect, this process of making my own path and the self-discovery that came with it, was about realizing that I had the power within myself to make change. When I made the decision to stand up for myself in my academic program, it was because I was feeling like I was getting lost in the system. It was after I had my first child and I was trying to make progress on my PhD.  I hit a breaking point. I couldn’t be dismissed anymore, and I had to reinvent myself even if it meant starting over, even if it meant not pursuing academia. Reinventing myself was me saying that these things that have happened in the past don't define me. 

Claire - portrait interview

Tell me a little bit about the actual presentation?

That presentation was the first step on my new path, a kind of a landmark. The talk was about practical resilience strategies, about the choices that people can make whenever they're striving to become resilient. I focused on explaining that resilience is built through changing how we are defining ourselves and our roles. We need to redefine ourselves as ongoing students of the world around us and not just as participants in the world. We need to redefine ourselves as designers of the worlds we want to live in. I also talked about how we should redefine all the information we are taking in as valuable, whether we agree with it, or whether it is good or bad. The message is simple, but it’s hard to do because it’s difficult to rewire our brains. It takes constant practice.


NOTE: To see Claire’s talk check

Claire - portrait interview

What is resilience thinking and how do you define resilience?

Resilience thinking is a way of processing information more effectively. In my Tedx talk, I use the example of how we all have experienced moments in a conversation when you are met with information you don't quite understand or agree with. Our first reaction is judgement, whether we bulldoze over the other person with our own views or we change topics. These things we do are signs that we don’t know how to process the information very well. If we did know how, we would find success more often in our conflicts or disagreements. But, we don’t.


What should we do? Resilience thinking tells us to step back from judgement and to step back from trying to define the problem. The conflict we feel is an opportunity to both build knowledge and process information. Resilience thinking points us to something more valuable in what people are saying. Specifically, there are held values embedded in what people say and when we find connections across these values, it lead us to opportunities for a collective change, a change we can share and agree with. This lead us to opportunities for transformation, whether we transform a conversation or the world around us.

Claire - portrait interview
Claire - portrait interview

What's your earliest memory of resilience? 

I was in third grade, standing in the playground area of my elementary school in a small town in southern Illinois. Every day, after recess we were all responsible for picking up the soccer and basketballs, but someone was chosen by the teacher to be the carrier and take the balls back into the classroom. 


I was kind of a shy kid, but I remember walking over to my teacher, Mrs. Cochrane, before she got to ring the bell. As I was approaching her, I had this feeling in my chest, a mix of a kind of burning passion of knowing that I was going to do something that I really cared about, and fear because I wasn't sure what was going to happen next. I went up to her and said “You always ask boys to carry the balls in. Why can't the girls carry the balls? I remember her face, like something was clicking. I don’t recall she had a good answer for me. I don't think she knew how to respond to me, but that day Mrs. Cochrane asked a girl to bring the balls inside.


Sometimes we are put into these boxes and we are told that there are things that we can’t do, and those messages repeated over time weigh heavily on us. Taking that step forward and asking that question created a different way of viewing the world. And just like that, my little third grade world opened up and this thing that wasn't possible before became a possibility. It was a sense of accomplishment. 

Claire - portrait interview

What's the effect on people when you work with them using resilience thinking framework?

This is a project I did with an early childhood education nonprofit. They came to me because of a problem; they didn't know what to send out to parents and caregivers in terms of marketing and messaging. They wanted to know “What do we put in our newsletters? What about Facebook versus Instagram?” I told them “I can help you answer those questions, but in order to get there we have to go through the resilience thinking process." They agreed and the first thing I did was to do one-on-one interviews with parents and teachers to understand the larger context of their experiences with the nonprofit, what I call the issue landscape. 


When the time came to present the findings, I remember being in this conference room with these large Post-it boards, drawing a journey map based on the interviews I had done, and all the data they collected about the students, and the caregivers' experiences with the teachers and even their life outside of the school. As I am drawing the map, I see the light bulb go on! They are realizing that this is so much bigger than this one communication problem they came to me to solve. The reason why they didn’t know what to say was simply because they don't know their caregivers well. There was one director that was almost jumping out of her seat. I could see her hands moving in space in a circular motion. As she is going through this process of connecting the dots and seeing the possibilities, she is bringing others with her in that same discovery.


The process helped them re-see their mission, it reinvigorated them and helped them align everything they do, not only what they say in social media, but also the little things within their programs and the services they offer to caregivers. As they are starting to reevaluate everything, there was this new energy in the room. It was like this huge veil came off and now they can see the way forward. They went from physically looking down at the papers, feeling puzzled and not knowing what to do next, to looking at each other and then looking up and seeing the opportunity and the road ahead. That’s everything for me! It’s the whole point, the reason I do what I do.

Claire - portrait interview
Claire - portrait interview

Is there a connection between the early and the recent memories you shared?

I guess I am a bit embarrassed to share what I see, but I see a rainbow between these two moments in time. A rainbow between the Claire holding the ball and asking the teacher why she never asked girls and the Claire at that workshop. In both instances it’s about pushing it forward and helping people move along the path, redefining and transforming what is to what could be. That is what my work is all about.

Claire Chase, Ph.D., Founder of Resilience by Design Consulting

Photography by Shanna M. Photography  

Claire - portrait interview
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