Ricky Robinson

Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Embracing Struggle

Why Embracing Struggle is a Catalyst for Purpose and Performance?

Struggle Leads to High Performance, Better Outcomes and Ongoing Relevance

It’s a strange paradox, isn’t it, that struggle makes us stronger?

In all breakthrough human striving – explorations, scientific discoveries, feats of endurance or craft or willpower – struggle and suffering are bedfellows of greatness. But how important is struggle for the vast majority of us, in relation to our work and daily lives?

Well, if we don’t keep struggling for improvement even in small dimensions, for ways to reinvent what we do, for maintaining our relevance in our chosen field (or a new one), we may become personally and professionally stagnant.

Betterment, innovating, staying relevant – these are mentally taxing, and require hard work. Practise definitely matters. But it must be the right kind of practise: deliberate practice. Growth requires difficulty, and often repeated failure, without which learning doesn’t occur.

“This is a fundamental truth about any sort of practise: If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve,”

Even our brains are wired to benefit from struggle: developments in neuroscience indicate that effort and challenge builds new neural network pathways with strengthened protective sheaths. In our sleep, too, we grapple with problems: our dreams are a form of struggle, a subconscious re-patterning and learning. So even when we aren’t aware of progress, or it feels impossible, improvement may be happening in the background. The trick to actualising this is to persevere.

How do vision and belief drive the struggle?

Perhaps the underlying reason we need to embrace struggle is precisely because it’s impossible to pin down the degree of endeavour needed to achieve a goal. Genes do matter: some people simply have the intellectual capacity, or skilful predisposition, or physical attributes, to perform certain tasks better than other people.

It’s also probably true that luck, or randomness, depending on how we consider it, plays a role in a successful struggle. We can take comfort in how even expert statisticians are baffled by the relationship between causation, correlation, association and outcomes, as wonderfully captured in this cartoon by webcomic XKCD

Still, by continuing the struggle, by keeping up the momentum, and by maintaining what Intel co-founder Andy Grove called a ‘productive paranoia’, we can weigh the odds in our favour.

In times of intense difficulty and pressure, it may be helpful to remember what Tesla and SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk once said: “Nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.” He took social media flak for this – but apart from the incredible hours he specified (he worked 80-90 hours a week during the start-up phases of his companies!), his point surely holds true.

In different words, what Musk meant was that accomplishing ground-breaking or high-performance work should not be seen through the lens of the required grind and graft, or the many hours of practice, but to see the struggle as a journey towards a vision. This helps to reframe the question, from ‘What am I struggling to do?, to ‘What do I believe in?’

Pain Points

Russian performance-protest artist Pyotr Pavlensky has been jailed numerous times.

His form of art often involves self-mutilation. In Fixation, in an attempt to shake Russian citizens from what he called their passivity, he nailed his scrotum to the paving stones outside the Kremlin in Moscow’s Red Square.

In Carcass  he cocooned himself, naked, in barbed wire outside the Russian parliament in St. Petersburg to protest restrictive laws.

“Everything in my art is done to make people think. It’s not enough just to have your own individual freedom; you need to help others free themselves.”

How far would you go to struggle for something you believe in?

The value of struggle for growth

Reinvention and innovation: many of the world’s most valuable companies today – Amazon, Apple, Netflix – made significant early losses as their founders battled to crack the different elements needed for success. Interestingly, what filters through in many such examples is the prioritization of growth as a business strategy rather than short- or even medium-term profits. The creative minds pioneering these companies understood the intrinsic link between struggle and – as a first-base measure of its progress – growth. FedEx is another example, with an unusual twist to the founder’s tribulations. Started in 1971 by Frederick W. Smith, the company made substantial losses in its first three years. Nearing bankruptcy, Smith went to Las Vegas with the company’s last $5,000 in a desperate bid to win further working capital in the casinos. He was, literally, lucky. Leaving Las Vegas with $24,000 meant he could buy a bit more time before securing further loan financing. Today, FedEx earns about $80bn in annual revenues, and has a market capitalisation of around $60bn! Stories like this present some of the most important lessons for organisational leaders and entrepreneurship in general. Business innovators and pioneers embrace struggle because they understand it to be a path towards achievement. The vision is paramount, and so they are willing to tolerate the stress and challenges to fulfill it. Truly, it’s a case of ‘struggle now, dividends later’.

Ultimately, perhaps we should adjust how we view struggle. (Stress, too: a significant body of research informs us that stress can serve a helpful purpose to resolve problems, learn from the process, and develop.) The stories that intrigue and move us often involve trials and tribulations, sometimes a tortuous path. But – let’s be honest – most of us do not go through these exaggerated troughs.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t battling, in our own way, against those circumstantial demons Fate places in our paths. As such, maybe the idea of struggle is better understood as determination, perseverance, rejuvenation, or reinvention.

And so what strikes me most is that our struggles are often neither unique, nor fought in isolation. We are all connected. We can help one another. And even when we compete we can improve, mutually.

When you last struggled, what was it about – and did you grow?

Share this

What to read next

Bridging the skills gap

Bridging the skills gap to unleash progress: Africa 2050

By 2050, Africa is set to boast a workforce exceeding 1 billion people, an impressive 60% of whom will be under 25 years old. This demographic boom presents a rare opportunity for businesses to leverage the world’s largest labour pool and utilise technology to amplify their impact both on the continent and in people’s lives.

Read More »
LRMG - Shaping the Cybersecurity Vanguard

Shaping the Cybersecurity Vanguard

In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, our mission as leaders is clear: guide the next generation. We’ve learned the hard way, and now it’s time to share our insights. By emphasizing resilience, critical thinking, and the importance of collaboration, we can equip young minds to stay one step ahead of cyber threats. Join us in shaping the future of cybersecurity.

Read More »

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource.

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource


Career Dreams

Fast track career growth in the new world of work:

Certified learning paths that build relevant skills and competencies

Invigorate your skills development offering:

University-certified online and blended short learning courses

Rapidly improve your scorecard metrics:

B-BBEE (South Africa) and other scorecard solutions

Trusted certification:

Digitally enabled learning solutions supported by dedicated teams of Wits, Queen's University Belfast, UFS and GIBS academics and experience managers

Real-world scarce skills training for youth:

Find, recruit and custom train youth to your demand-led specs, getting them work-ready and employable


We find the talent, match personalities and abilities to your culture fit, and then train them to meet your digital skills needs

Comply with your B-BBEE, transformation and skills levy agenda:

Rapidly improve your scorecard metrics: create a talent pipeline for 4IR, ICT and Tech-future Skills

Work-ready graduates and interns:

We find the candidates (or you find them). We train them to use your technology and digital systems within the defined roles


Sales and Unlock Customer Value

Discover why your customers buy what they buy:

Learn to meet customers’ social, emotional and functional requirements

Activate and strengthen sales team engagement:

Digital sales activation challenges

Cultivate a performance-based sales culture:

Sales leadership and culture solutions

Mobilise the right sales strategy:

Sales strategy validation and optimisation

Accelerate sales pipelines and spark growth:

Customer-centric sales strategy

Grow and sustain critical sales capabilities:

Digital learning content for Sales


People Productivity

Engage for sustainable high performance:

Human capital strategy, learning strategy and transformation

Future-fit your organisation for success:

Learning and talent assessments, talent management and people balance sheet planning

Connect learning journeys to performance outcomes:

Onboarding, talent development and learning mapped to your individual and company needs

Move the needle on learning experiences:

Smart learning and talent experience platforms, tools and digital learning assets

Upskill people with new digital smarts:

Digital learning content (customised or plug-and-play)


A Performance Culture

Talent management:

Make better future-fit data-driven decisions for your talent and organisation

Strategy and change:

Inspire your people to change and ignite their passion to deliver business results

Leadership and culture:

Enable your leadership teams to create their unique brand and to build new high-performance habits and behaviours

Digital transformation:

Enable people processes through digital technologies that transform performance

Talent assessments:

Better understand your people's strengths and your team’s productive habits to compete and win

Performance enablement:

Create a culture of feedback that actively measures performance


Leadership Perspectives

Establish a high-performance culture:

Interactive multimedia inspirational stories

Unlock new thinking and shift mindsets:

More than 13 intriguing true stories of high performance

Empower leaders and teams:

Expertly facilitated moderated conversations

Build new habits for high performance:

Smart toolboxes to activate habits for success