Resilience as an idea
As I considered another long day, it popped into my head that ideas matter. I’m sure you’ve had these days, too. You are also probably wondering why I am focusing on a pretty basic topic. Honestly, it seems at times that we need to go back to fundamentals to get a clearer vision of something. Resilience is a buzzword everywhere right now.
Organizational, operational, and personal resilience are all over social media. Everyone is considering the impacts of COVID and what the future holds. The fact that you are reading this means you are resilient. Somehow, you’ve made it through this pandemic (so far). Although you may have scars, I am guessing you are stronger for the journey. Resilience is just an idea until you live it.
Resilience as a concept
For example, it’s akin to the phrase can’t see the forest for the trees. The origin of the term gets traced to John Heywood. In 1546, he made a political statement directed at the Pope, who appeared more interested in making money than people’s well-being. Hopefully, I didn’t lose you there. I love history and am fascinated by the origin of words. For resilience to become a reality, it has to be lived, embraced, and taught to others.
You can be a resilient individual, learn to bounce back, and move forward. But realistically, it’s difficult to be resilient alone. Far better to teach others and be stronger together. So, personal resilience is an essential building block to community and organizational resilience. Unless it becomes part of the fabric of people and businesses, it falls short of its intended goal. And that is to build more robust, agile, and able survivors. At its core, it conveys adaptability.
Managing risk and resilience
How do to help others realize that ideas matter and help actualize them from concept to reality? In essence, for an idea to bloom, it must be developed, a period of transition ensues, then improvement. Finally, it is concluded or accepted. Last, it’s evolved. People talk about resilience everywhere, but let’s measure it.
Leadership talks about wanting elastic organizations, and boards are demanding it. Consultants are picking up the torch and running with it. We’re talking about it at conferences, and we see solidifying standards. Yet, beyond the surface definitions, I ask myself, how will we know when we’ve achieved it? Will it be when we see fortune 100 companies and governments name Chief Resilience Officers as they have Diversity, Environmental, Social Governance, and Talent leaders? It could be when companies achieve the scorecard for risk and plasticity.
What I know is that ideas matter. The concept of resilience has ignited a fire that’s spreading. Everyone thinks they understand what it means. To me, it’s the hard work of knitting together disparate departments loosely aligned to a common goal. My concern is that the delivery relies more on interpretation than guidance, just as with risk, security (physical, technological), business continuity, and crisis management.
I am all for flexibility, of course. What I would like to see is a more explicit adoption. Resilience success must go from a hazy idea to a universal concept, embraced by many. We’ll need to disband our well-established routines and embrace the flexibility of a resilient organization. As Fernando F. Suarez and Juan S. Montes share in their Harvard Business Review article, Building Organizational Resilience, it’s necessary to question the assumptions behind your routines. Developing muscle memory for dealing with uncertainty is a key to maximizing pliability.
Great ideas spread like weeds
In crises, ideas matter. Solutions are not always evident and can evolve out of the necessity of the situation. COVID and the Ukraine invasion are two recent examples. Playbooks appear less viable when addressing multi-faceted and layered events. Instead, I agree with Suarez and Montes in taking a SWAT team approach to address fast-moving, complex situations.
Rapidly assembling specialists to solve a complex or urgent problem aligns well with an agile model. Training with a framework that leverages a tool kit sets priorities, and is enabled with authority to act is ideal for resilient outcomes. For companies moving forward, that means investing in expertise instead of filling roles. These decision-makers and problem-solvers will empower companies to get through and thrive post-event.