“The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists”Japanese Proverb
Although resilience has been studied extensively within the fields of ecology, biology, and neuroscience, the focus on resilience within Organisational Research has been relatively recent. Today, however, resilience has become a buzzword for many that wish to cope with the challenges of our time, be it on an individual/personal level, or a collective/organisational one…
So What Is Resilience?
Personal Resilience is “the capacity and dynamic process of adaptively overcoming stress and adversity while maintaining normal psychological and physical functioning.” (1)
In her article “How Resilience Works”, Diane Coutu suggests that resilient people possess three main characteristics: they have “a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise.” (2) Common traits of resilient people seem to be that they approach life with a realistic lens, they know that ‘bad things happen to everyone’; instead of being in despair, they make meaning of their hardships and adopt a hopeful mind-set for the future. They are flexible and adaptable in crises, and they often view failures as opportunities to learn from and grow.
Similarly, Organisational Resilience marks an organisation’s capacity to adapt, improvise and recover in the face of crises. Resilient organisations are agile, flexible, proactive and innovative overall. They can effectively adapt to rapid, turbulent changes in markets and technologies, placing themselves as a leading company within their field (3).
For organisations, resilience is not only surviving the chaos, but thriving in it and growing from it. It is bouncing back and leaping forward.
If we adapt Coutu’s definition to Organisational Resilience, resilience is an organisation’s ability to evaluate their current situation with a commitment to understanding the truth of it. For the members of an organisation it involves aligning their purpose with the vision and culture of their company. On a collective level, it involves learning from organisational failures in a proactive manner.
So Why Is Resilience Important?
In today’s changing society, with the constant uncertainty surrounding the economy and the business world, all organisations are challenged by adversities. The turbulent times that we are experiencing right now – the impact of Covid-19 on individual’s physical and mental health and on businesses and governments around the world, the impending economic crisis, the current climate emergency we are in, and social uprisings around the world that call out for change – point towards an increasing need for survival and adaptation.
Within prevention and intervention literature, one can distinguish between routine emergencies and low-chance, high-impact events. As we become increasingly globalised and more exposed and vulnerable to risk, low-chance, high impact events are becoming more likely than before (4). With such increase, there is more uncertainty, more volatility and less room for prevention. Therefore, in the current climate, the strength of Organisational Resilience is more important than ever because it prepares the system for the unknown. (5)
Hence, adversities can be perceived as opportunities for innovation and growth, enabling the organisation to leap forward.
- Wu, G., Feder, A., Cohen, H., et al. (2013). Understanding resilience. Front Behav Neurosci. 7(10). doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00010 Russo et al., 2012; Rutter, 2012b; Southwick and Charney, 2012
- Coutu, D. (2002). “How Resilience Works” https://hbr.org/2002/05/how-resilience-works
- Robb, D. (2000). Building Resilient Organisations. OD Practitioner, 32(3). http://learninginaction.com/PDF/ResilientRobb.pdf.
- Boin, A., Comfort, L.K., Demchak, C.C. (2010). “The Rise of Resilience”. University of Pittsburgh Press.
- Weick, K. E., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2001). University of Michigan business school management series. Managing the unexpected: Assuring high performance in an age of complexity. Jossey-Bass.