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Issue One REWIRE Magazine

Diversity is the Solution to Resilience

Published 22 Nov 2023

Multi-award-winning wildlife director Vanessa Berlowitz tells us what she has learned covering the natural world, from the north to the south poles - and how storytellers can learn from it.

What would you do if you were stuck in a tent in the North Pole with Sir David Attenborough – and then the food ran out?

It goes without saying, given the location, that the weather is atrocious and there is nothing of any use for miles. Suddenly the comforts of your home, and any chance of a quick trip to the local shops for supplies, seem a world away. The clock is ticking, Sir David is growing increasingly anxious, and the survival of yourself and national treasure depends on you.

The key to escaping with your life and your sanity is, according to Vanessa Berlowitz, famed producer of more than 20 wildlife and human documentaries, ensuring you have established core shared values up front; so everyone has clarity on what should happen next and why. It is the same for businesses looking to arm themselves against crises. Establish the reasons why you are there in the first place, and every step will be geared towards ensuring you achieve your goals.

“Situations like this are when people’s stress behaviours come out. People become withdrawn, lose focus, question why they’re there,” she says. “I have to, as the leader, put aside my goals and ambitions for that moment and say, what does it feel like to be in that space? You have to draw in every ounce of empathy, really see that experience from other people’s perspectives. The only thing you have in common is clear communication.”

The parallels with businesses and how they communicate are straightforward.

“Your messages need to be clear, respectful, and very objective-focused at every stage of a difficult shoot,” says Vanessa. “I keep thinking about why we’re here, and communicating that in different and subtly varied ways. As long as those core shared values are known and established upfront, I believe a team can do anything. You simply can’t be an expert in every environment that you find yourself in, so the thing I rely on is choosing people around me that I like and trust, who think quickly and react smartly."

"The thing I rely on is choosing people around me that I like and trust, who think quickly and react smartly."

Survival in extreme environments is not just about surrounding yourself with a great team that can help drive you towards you goals, she says. The resilience required to overcome these challenges is also about having faith that the stories you are trying to tell reflect the changing world in which we live.

“I’m very fortunate to have been trained by the greatest communicator in wildlife filmmaking, in Sir David Attenborough, and have learned a lot about how to engage large audiences,” says Vanessa.

“But of course, you need to keep evolving and finding new audiences in new places.”


This means making sure your stories evolve, that the people you engage to film or voice those stories change to reflect the environment. “Why wouldn’t we have women? Why wouldn’t we have indigenous filmmakers? Why aren’t we doing more to bring those people into our space and hear their stories and their perspectives?”

"Why aren't we doing more to bring those people into our space and hear their stories and their perspectives?"

“By watching what happens in the natural world, and the way social animals organise themselves and get through environmental change, you see that it’s only through diversity within individuals, some stronger in one situation, others stronger in a different situation, that those animal cultures often emerge.”

The “survival of the fittest” principle that Herbert Spencer coined upon analysing Darwin’s work on evolution is about how nature evolves by promoting and ensuring that key qualities for future generational survival are maintained. But real evolution, says Vanessa, is about adaptability.

“The idea of evolution is based on individuals that are pushed, often in extreme situations, coming up with new ideas. At a deep level, I feel reassured that nature will always find a way,” she says.

The join is clear. Establishing a resilient business and finding a way to ensure your business evolves to meet the needs of today’s – and tomorrow’s – customer, depends on clarity of thought and communication. In the natural world, diversity offers the solution to resilience. In business, the same is true.

“The key message of the natural world is that diversity is the solution to resilience,” says Vanessa. “If you don’t really hear that message properly – live it, breathe it and make it happen in your company and organisation – you’re ignoring the way that life on Earth has come to be.”

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Issue One

Resilience in a modern world

The Age of Resilience

War Footing

Turning Challenges into Positives. That's Resilience

Survive... Then Thrive

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