I have joined this month’s Critical Business School on the topic Complexity, Prompts and Resilience. Yesterday we talked about planning and resilience. Some questions that were asked and discussed by the participants were: Can we plan for resilience? Can we build resilience? Can we measure resilience? Is resilience a capacity of an individual? Is resilience something you can build and then ‘have’?
For me, resilience is not a quality that can be found in something (an individual, a company, an economy, a country). I see resilience as a relational quality that emerges between elements of a system – between capacities in the individual, between staff and assets in a company, between companies and other actors in an economy, etc. Resilience is the capacity to combine and recombine capacities in the face of change and crisis. Nitzan called resilience a meta capacity. This means that from a logical perspective, the quality of resilience is located on a higher level of aggregation than the elements themselves (it is of a different logical type).
One can see the relationality of resilience: it is not about having as many individual capacities as possible, but rather about the ability to combine and recombine the existing capacities in order to be able to face change or a crisis. That is also true for an organisation, which is resilient if it is able to recombine the skills of its people and its reallocate its assets – i.e., change the relationships between them (or in the worst case let go of some of them to ensure survival, same as the body starts shedding cells when faced with stress).
The other question I found interesting was whether resilience is a quality that one can acquire and ‘have’, and, hence, measure. The point I made was that resilience cannot be assessed as a universal quality of a system but can only be seen at a specific time in a specific context when it is invoked by a crisis. As resilience is a capacity that emerges from the relationships in the system in unpredictable ways, different relationships will play different roles depending on the time, the context, and the type of crisis we face. Not all relationships are always available to the same extent and different contexts demand different combinations of relational qualities for the system to be resilient. We also don’t know all the capacities we have available or about all the relationships. And certainly we don’t know the types of crisis we might have to face. Some of the participants yesterday agreed that we cannot really know if we are resilient until we hit that specific moment in that specific context, facing a specific crisis or specific crises. I cannot know in advance, for example, if I will be able to be resilient in the face of an emotional crisis that I have never faced before until I actually face it. And when I face it I am in a particular state at that moment of time and so are my relationships (will my partner or work colleagues, for example, be able to support me in my crisis or not?).
Can we consciously build this meta capacity? There are some aspects of a system that makes it more resilient, which we can strengthen. For example we can build diversity into the system and we can build and strengthen relationships between the elements ensuring that we have many options to combine and recombine elements and capacities when hitting a crisis. It also seems valuable to be exposed to crisis regularly to ‘flex the resilience muscle’ as otherwise the flexibility that is needed at the moment of crisis is likely to be lost.
A prompt for you this week to think about: Where do you build resilience potential?
Please share your thoughts and reflections by responding to this email.
This week I want to share a new word that I have discovered: coddiwomple.
From the Urban Dictionary:
Coddiwomple(v.) To travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.
Lets coddiwomple over to the river or market.
Why have I added this to my Paper Museum? I like the word because of its sound but also the meaning seems very useful when finding yourself in a complex and uncertain context. We cannot know our destination but we can have a sense of direction which gives us a purposeful manner of walking or talking – a member of the Systemic Insight Circle used it last week to describe the discussions we are having during the circle calls, which I found fitting.
This week we had the wonderful Emma Osore from BlackSpace sharing her story in the Systemic Insight Circle. I want to share here the BlackSpace Manifesto. The Manifesto has grown out of BlackSpace’s work to guide their growth as a group and their interactions with one another, partners and communities. Many of the principles in the manifesto resonate a lot with my own experiences.