Resiliency for 2013

Antioch New England writes about the importance of resiliency


It seems resiliency has become the buzzword of the sustainability field.  MBA programs teach courses in resilient organizations.  Articles regularly emerge on the importance of resiliency and in a recent scan, resiliency was mentioned in the human resource, finance, operations, and corporate social responsibility literature.

The sustainability field is familiar with buzzwords coming and going.   For example, we’ve seen the rise and decline of  “green” and “natural.”   A colleague recently shared the results of an information interview with a sustainability brand expert. In the interview, the expert went so far to say that it is time to “ban the “s” (sustainability) word because no one really understands what it means.”

Buzzwords come and go but in the case of resiliency, the sustainability field has landed on a concept that we should be fiercely defending.  Resiliency is beyond sustainability.  Resiliency lands squarely on a target that advocates for a systemic vision of change for stronger human, economic, and ecological systems.

Resiliency is defined as “ the capacity of a system to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of unforeseen changes, even catastrophic incidents.  Resilience is a common feature of complex systems, such as companies, cities, or ecosystems. These systems perpetually evolve through cycles of growth, accumulation, crisis, and renewal, and often self-organize into unexpected new configurations. “

Looking back at 2012, we see systems struggling.  We saw violence erupting and threatening the collapse of nations and cultures. We’ve watched economic disparity drive increasing tensions, hunger, and civil strife. We’ve stood in awe at the power of our changing weather and climate patterns and the resulting devastating storms and floods across the globe.   Yet, we also see human, ecological and economic systems rebound.

What does resiliency have to offer a world filled with, what at times appears to be, insurmountable challenges?   Resiliency offers persistence, innovation and an ability to reorganize and begin anew.  Resiliency in systems can become a thriving vision for the future.

What does resiliency look like?

Economic Resiliency  Many social entrepreneurs are trying to launch businesses to address some of the social challenges of our times.  Great innovations are often met by fiscal constraints. In a resilient system, financial support systems begin to emerge to support innovation.  For example, Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit microlender in the Bay area and Los Angeles, provides $1000-10,000 loans to help small businesses grow. Emerging business owners receive and pay back their loans through a fixed percentage of daily credit card sales. In another example, social entrepreneurs can gain momentum from a cash mobs’ purchasing power and thereby become one step closer to achieving the desired social mission.

Ecological Resiliency  Resiliency is often seen in ecosystems.   Think about the impact of recent storms on natural barrier islands.  Along the coast of New Jersey and Long Island, massive destruction took place.  However, in the more remote barrier islands, such as Assatateague Island VA, the systems are already rebounding from the pounding surf and flood waters.  The beaches and species adapt, adjust, and reorganize to shifting sands and waterways.

Human Resiliency   Resiliency is also linked to human emotions. Mathematician Marcial Losada has discovered a tipping point of positive to negative emotions that spell the difference between a flourishing and floundering outlook  “ It seems we need at least three positive emotions to open and lift us up to counter every single negative emotion that drags us down”.   Fortunately, the positive emotions don’t need to be intense or profound.

For every challenge we encounter in our global, national and local systems, there is potential for resiliency.  If we apply Losada’s theory to larger more complex systems, we need a three to one ratio of positive to negative forces.    As we enter into 2013, we need to find those small, micro level positive forces that will continue to build resiliency into our social, economic and environmental systems to counter the negatives.   We need to look for them and integrate them into our systems and counteract the weight of multiple challenges.   Resiliency is our future.

Learn more about Antioch University New England’s MBA in Sustainability

One response

  1. Thank you for this interesting and thoughtful post. I agree that we should “fiercely defend” the concept of resiliency from being co-opted or diluted. And while “sustainability” has unfortunately become an over/misused buzzword, I think we should strive to maintain the integrity of its true meaning and importance as well.

    As they relate to the climate change crisis, I believe that resilience relates to the growing need to adapt to the inevitable changes that have been set in motion. I hope, however, that it doesn’t overshadow the need to concurrently work to mitigate the causes of global warming with sustainability still held as an ideal worth our committed aspiration.

    Using these concepts as buzzwords to take up or discard as they fall in and out of fashion vs. understanding their true/original meaning and applying them skillfully and appropriately (whether they are in fashion or not) marks the difference, I feel, between an opportunistic dilettante and a sincere practitioner.

    Thankfully we have schools like Antioch University New England for those who are serious about learning how to use the power of business to cultivate both sustainability and resilience.

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