The super-resilient organisation
Unlike resilience, super-resilience doesn’t just look to endure the storm, but to grow stronger because of the tumultuous experience.
Resilience is good, but it makes for a stressful / miserable existence if the storm never ends.
It’s not over
There is a sense that we are emerging from the irregularity and disruption of the Covid-19 period, at least in some countries. Many predict that what lies ahead is some sort of new or next normal. A kind of ‘old normal’ but possibly a little faster and perhaps a little more competitive.
It would be a mistake to think that. The digital tsunami still looms large and the biological tsunami is likely to be a regular visitor. But these are only two of many growing macro-environmental forces that when combined will make the last year feel like the warm up act for the main event. Political, environmental, social and access to skills are just some of the main vectors that are turning business plans into a new genre of fiction.
If it’s going to be an increasingly rough ride, it would make sense to operate a business model that can turn chaos into value. Hence the need for super-resilience.
It is a characteristic of living organisms to grow stronger as a consequence of their exposure to pressure. Admittedly insects do not benefit from being stepped upon. But within a certain range, we all benefit from having to contend with challenges / adversity. Strong people become strong through exposing themselves to a range of forces.
These forces can be distilled down to three categories:
- Physical, eg. in the gym.
- Mental, eg. exams.
- Emotional eg. loss of a loved one.
Living organisms of all kinds have evolved to deal with all three force types and as such all exhibit:
- Physical intelligence.
- Mental intelligence.
- Emotional intelligence.
You will possibly be thinking that an amoeba doesn’t go to the gym or mourn the loss of a loved one. The reason we go to the gym is because our industrialised lifestyles has made our physicality redundant. Our ancestors would marvel at how we dedicate time to wasting our energy reserves in moving weights around with no obvious productive outcome in mind.
Emotional intelligence is in my view mistakenly described as the ability to sense what is happening both within yourself and around you, and to then act in an optimal manner. The first part is correct, but the acting part is a mixture of mental (how should I respond) and physical (respond). Essentially emotional intelligence is being sensitive to yourself and your surroundings.
It is emotional intelligence that signals that you are being stared at. The way they are loading their groceries onto the conveyor belt might suggest that the shopper in front of you is very close to ‘kicking off’.
I believe we need to build organisations that behave like living organisms. As such the organisation will be better equipped to:
- Sense opportunities and threats both from within the organisation and in the wider market. NB. This is not the same as anticipating what might happen. This is real-time awareness, free from perceptual filters. Tomorrow doesn’t matter if you don’t survive today.
- Decide what is an appropriate response, given the detected ‘signal’. This is why a centralised leadership model doesn’t work. Fighters who rely on brain recall (wait for a c-suite decision) to decide their next manoeuvre, rather than muscle memory (let those in the field respond at the time and location of the opportunity / threat), will be at a disadvantage.
- Act appropriately and swiftly. This will often require an innovative response.
To start the journey towards developing a super-resilient organisation, I would suggest the following:
- Pay attention (emotional intelligence) – Using the latest technologies and your people as the organisation’s sensors.
- Improve decision making (mental intelligence) – This is easier if you have a common esprit de corps / shared ambition. Diversity will reduce groupthink.
- Act (physical intelligence) – Acting requires action (duh), results, shipping, outcomes etc. Technology can do this well. But we need people when the response needs to be innovative. Think less about personnel, human resources or even talent, artistry is required.
The industrial era factory model has had its day. It is an inert, soul crushing and increasingly unresponsive approach to business.
The super-resilient organisation is a living organism based on millions of years of testing and treats people as cognitive athletes, rather than simply ‘cogs in the machine’.