Resilience: The 21st Century Imperative
The theme of this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting is ‘Resilient Dynamism’, and this has provoked much debate as to what this could possibly mean. Having led a BCI working group to produce a white paper on Organisational Resilience last year, it is a debate I have followed with interest. It seems the concept of resilience is continuing to raise its head and could now gain support from the heart of the economic and political world. Arianna Huffington recently explored the complexity of the term in an excellent article titled ‘Davos 2013: Resilience as a 21st Century Imperative’.
The word resilience means so much to so many and in more ways than one can imagine. Arianna’s article ranges across the full scope of the term from the building of “bounceability” for businesses facing major disruption through to development issues such as poverty reduction and the impact of globalisation. She notes that resilience is our ability to respond to crises – personally, collectively and globally.
The five core areas noted in Arianna’s article as being characteristic of resilient systems (be that a business, national economy or a local community) are:
- Spare capacity (or redundancy)
- Flexibility — the ability to change, evolve, and adapt in the face of disaster
- Limited or “safe” failure, which prevents failures from rippling across systems
- Rapid rebound — the capacity to reestablish function and avoid long-term disruptions
- Constant learning, with robust feedback loops
These are a good set of characteristics but not necessarily complete in describing a fully resilient organisation. In looking at how we can measure the resilience of an organisation, I have come to some conclusions of my own. To my mind we should add:
6. Reliability – systems built to withstand the pressures they may face and that are not prone to failure
7. Anticipation — To be truly resilient we have to be able to anticipate – and do it better in the future than we do it now. That said, many of the current woes in the world are, or already have been, anticipated yet that knowledge of the spread of hunger, climate change and so on seems to have little impact. We remain resolute in our ability to ignore the clouds on the horizon.
Therefore resilience will only work if it is in tandem with:
8. Action – The ability to act is the ultimate element of resilience. We see far too many organizations at a local level who know what they should be doing to increase their resilience, yet politics, culture and many other elements stifle change and prevent much-needed action.
Maybe this is what we need to start to focus on more. Action and the ability to drive real change; perhaps this is the ‘dynamism’ referred to in the title of this year’s meeting of WEF. Undoubtedly, delivering action would be a real achievement.
Our work on ‘Organisational Resilience’ was presented at BCM World in October 2012, the full presentation can be viewed and downloaded here.
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