What Is Resilience?

Disruption, uncertainty and exponential change

Traditional thinking around resilience defines it as "absorbing change and bouncing back". It portrays the human spirit as a kind of behavioural elastic band – it stretches and then when the tension is released goes back to where it was.

In a steady state world, "bouncing back" is an apt description. Unfortunately, we don't live in a steady, consistent, unchanging world. Today's environment is marked by disruption, uncertainty and, where technology is involved, exponential change.

In any process seeking to bring about "change" … self-reflection isn't important … it's essential.

Without reflection there is no learning. Meanwhile, with ongoing "black swan" events likely to become the new reality, resilience seen as a way to return to the status quo isn't very helpful. Indeed, it's misleading.

Being strengthened by the storm

A more relevant approach presents resilience as pushing to the edge, being comfortable with being uncomfortable, adapting to the new state, reflecting on the experience and developing new ways to behave. It's a dynamic rather than a static process. It's about leading and learning; not absorbing and then acting as before.

Resilience means not only weathering the storm … but being strengthened by it.

Moreover, in assuming that resilience describes an individual's personal resources – as is invariably the case – we miss an important piece of the puzzle. Context matters and the right network, a support system and being around positive people make a difference.

Tomorrow's successful leaders will surround themselves with people who are resilient. Accepting the plasticity of the brain, we can learn to become more resilient. There is a link, for example, between resilience and the research on positive psychology. If you are overly anxious, risk-averse, trapped by yesterday's success, have difficulty facing adversity or are overwhelmed by life, resilience is spelt "r e s i s t a n c e".

Insights from "When the Trees Get BIGGER and the Forest Gets DEEPER – It's Time To SHARPEN YOUR SAW" (PDF).

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