Real Resilience is not what you think it is

There is confusion about the term Resilience.  To many people, it means the ability to withstand stress. To some people, the ultimate resilience comes from thick walls (or huge capital requirements).  The picture above is one of many thousands like it that shows the ultimate result of seeking resilience in a static manner.

The dictionary has something slightly different:

the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.

But Holling, a prominent ecologist, suggests something much more robust.  He suggests that a resilient species will survive all of the stressors that attack it from its environment and thrive when conditions become benign.

“a major strategy selected is not one maximizing either efficiency or a particular reward, but one which allows persistence by maintaining flexibility above all else. A population responds to any environmental change by the initiation of a series of physiological, behavioral, ecological, and genetic changes that restore its ability to respond to subsequent unpredictable environmental changes. Variability over space and time results in variability in numbers, and with this variability the population can simultaneously retain genetic and behavioral types that can maintain their existence in low populations together with others that can capitalize on opportunities for dramatic increase. The more homogeneous the environment in space and time, the more likely is the system to have low fluctuations and low resilience.”  CS Holling, Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems

Real resilience is ADAPTABILITY.  The ability to change your approach.  To find the way to survive the extreme adverse scenario without devoting so much resources to safety that you miss the chance to “capitalize on opportunities for dramatic increase” as Holling says.

Does your ERM program build walls, thicker and thicker, or does it build adaptability?

How many people in your organization do you think would know what to do in the event of an adverse situation that has never happened before?

But what is this adaptablity?  In two studies in the late 1990′s, researchers studied thousands of crisis situations and identified 8 dimensions of adaptability for individuals.  See study here.

Handling emergencies or crisis situations

Reacting with appropriate and proper urgency in life threatening, dangerous, or emergency situations; quickly analyzing options for dealing with danger or crises and their implications; making split-second decisions based on clear and focused thinking; maintaining emotional control and objectivity while keeping focused on the situation at hand; stepping up to take action and handle danger or emergencies as necessary and appropriate.

Handling work stress

Remaining composed and cool when faced with difficult circumstances or a highly demanding workload or schedule; not overreacting to unexpected news or situations; managing frustration well by directing effort to constructive solutions rather than blaming others; demonstrating resilience and the highest levels of professionalism in stressful circumstances; acting as a calming and settling influence to whom others look for guidance.

Solving problems creatively

Employing unique types of analyses and generating new, innovative ideas in complex areas; turning problems upside-down and inside-out to find fresh, new approaches; integrating seemingly unrelated information and developing creative solutions; entertaining wide-ranging possibilities others may miss, thinking outside the given parameters to see if there is a more effective approach; developing innovative methods of obtaining or using resources when insufficient resources are available to do the job.

Dealing with uncertain and unpredictable work situations

Taking effective action when necessary without having to know the total picture or have all the facts at hand; readily and easily changing gears in response to unpredictable or unexpected events and circumstances; effectively adjusting plans, goals, actions, or priorities to deal with changing situations; imposing structure for self and others that provide as much focus as possible in dynamic situations; not needing things to be black and white; refusing to be paralyzed by uncertainty or ambiguity.

Learning work tasks, technologies, and procedures

Demonstrating enthusiasm for learning new approaches and technologies for conducting work; doing what is necessary to keep knowledge and skills current; quickly and proficiently learning new methods or how to perform previously unlearned tasks; adjusting to new work processes and procedures; anticipating changes in the work demands and searching for and participating in assignments or training that will prepare self for these changes; taking action to improve work performance deficiencies.

Demonstrating interpersonal adaptability

Being flexible and open-minded when dealing with others; listening to and considering others’ viewpoints and opinions and altering own opinion when it is appropriate to do so; being open and accepting of negative or developmental feedback regarding work; working well and developing effective relationships with highly diverse personalities; demonstrating keen insight of others’ behavior and tailoring own behavior to persuade, influence, or work more effectively with them.

Demonstrating cultural adaptability

Taking action to learn about and understand the climate, orientation, needs, and values of other groups, organizations, or cultures; integrating well into and being comfortable with different values, customs, and cultures; willingly adjusting behavior or appearance as necessary to comply with or show respect for others’ values and customs; understanding the implications of one’s actions and adjusting approach to maintain positive relationships with other groups, organizations, or cultures.

Demonstrating physically oriented adaptability

Adjusting to challenging environmental states such as extreme heat, humidity, cold, or dirtiness; frequently pushing self physically to complete strenuous or demanding tasks; adjusting weight and muscular strength or becoming proficient in performing physical tasks as necessary for the job.

The questions that remains are:

Is adaptability of a company anything different from adaptability of the people in the company?

How does a company get adaptable people?  Are people born that way or can they be trained?

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3 Comments on “Real Resilience is not what you think it is”


  1. Great Blog Dave.

    More than adaptability, Taleb (author of the Black Swan) illustrates in his new book ‘Antifragile’ that some systems even ‘gain’ from disorder.

    Youtube Interviews:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-20712582
    Book:

    This is the new direction in risk management, that is also set by Executive Director Financial Stability of the Bank of England, Andrew Haldane.
    Haldane’s speech, ‘The dog and the frisbee’, is a breakthrough in managing, modeling and controlling Risk and financial future results. It’s a MUST read for actuaries and board members in the financial industry.

    http://www.kansascityfed.org/publicat/sympos/2012/ah.pdf

    Keep on the good work!
    Jos Berkemeijer


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