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Dave Ancel, Ed.D.

Some mixed metaphors here. The piece mostly reads as if organizations are ecosystems. Resilience has a particular meaning in biological terms -- specifically referring to the ability of system to re-establish health and balance after a disruption, not to return to a pre-existing state. Resilience in psychology suggests the human ability to recover emotionally from a shock, again, not to return to a pre-existing state. Whether an organization is a person or an ecosystem, Resilience is about health and well-being not about returning to a pre-existing state. Just thoughts.


An exceptional piece, much appreciated. I agree with Joe Brewer on some confusion on resiliency, and perhaps equilibrium. In my view equilibrium isn't an aquarium where water once spilled must be returned to previous levels, but rather more similar to a biosphere where environmental elements either must be balanced if dominated by hubris of human maintenance engineers, or allow nature to correct--in business with the help of creative destruction. This is where I think the FRB has it wrong, which is very dangerous--I agree with John strongly in recent posts that our institutions are obviously just not up to the task.

I also note however the use of the term conservative, which may be misleading to some given the current macro political environment. Conservatism actually has roots in literal conservancy--as in resources certainly to include natural, which is quite different than the context used by most today--in both parties.

Perhaps risk averse would be more appropriate, or better yet--addiction to power, fear of change. One thing is certain-- adaptability in a world that is undergoing change at the fastest pace in human history isn't optional, but a method of survival.

It's pretty clear to me that most of our institutions are not up to the challenge. I sense in John something more than an aha realization in that regard, which I share. That leaves us with an understanding that is at best uncomfortable--and for futurists somewhat alarming, especially given the lack of progress on structural reforms that can even lead to sustainability--in all major political parties in the U.S. and EU.


Isn't Bruce Lee's advice the best way out...

Joe Brewer

Throwing my two cents in here... John confuses resilience with robustness. A robust system is one that is able to remain essentially the same in form and function as it is disturbed by outside forces. A resilient system is one that is able to dynamically adapt when disrupted in order to "flow with the punches" and still preserve core functionality.

This can be seen in the way resilience is used in psychotherapy. A resilient person is one who internalizes changes in their life while maintaining the ability to cope and manage new experiences -- very similar to the concept of thriving -- while an unresilient person is traumatized by the experience, crippled emotionally, and less able to manage the stresses of future events.

So John rightly criticizes the use of static models (with inherent preferences for returning to recognizable prior states), but he makes the mistake of treating resilience as if it refers to static models as well. A resilient business will continually innovate in the face of change and be adaptive to new market niches as they arise (or as it participates in their creation). This is not the same as robustness at all.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes these distinctions in his book about "antifragility" -- a concept he introduces to explore the distinctions between robustness, fragility, and resilience. I have written a review of the book here that elaborates some of these points:

What Happens When We Shock A System

Still I like his central argument (correcting for this misunderstanding) and tend to agree that the term is often misused by business execs who lack a nuanced understanding of complex adaptive systems.

Thanks for stimulating this wonderfully productive dialogue!


Joe Brewer
Director, Cognitive Policy Works
Co-Founder, DarwinSF

Ian Easson

Resilience is the antithesis of flexibility (which is the ability of a complex system to change its built-in rules to meet new situations and shocks).

Antifragility is merely a special case of flexibility, in which the system (perhaps futilely) tries to make itself even "stronger" (a term which is nowhere defined) in response to such external shocks.

In the very long run, flexibility always wins over resilience.


Hi John,
thanks for sharing this terrific post.
The bounce-back attitude is indeed conservative.
I'd rather use the word "Transformation" because it conveys a sense of evolution and retains within it the concept of adaptation.
Deal with ambiguity and uncertainty are definitely two crucial traits that a leader in this times needs to master
I am very intrigued by Taleb's Antifragility and look forward to reading it as well as the report you have linked above.

Greets from London

Michael Gusek

Hey, John. Been a while...Have you explored Taleb's idea of Antifragility?

Taken from Investipedia:

"A postulated antithesis to fragility where high-impact events or shocks can be beneficial. Anti-fragility is a concept developed by professor, former trader and former hedge fund manager Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Taleb coined the term "anti-fragility" because he thought the existing words used to describe the opposite of "fragility," such as "robustness," were inaccurate. Anti-fragility goes beyond robustness; it means that something does not merely withstand a shock but actually improves because of it."

I think you are on to something, my man.

Bruce Waltuck

Thanks, John, for spotlighting this key point. In my forthcoming book, FLUXed, with Denise Easton, we explore disruptive experience, and the common oatterns and domains of our responses (at both the personal and organizational level). We are familiar with the "anti-fragile" ideas, and similarly, the Panarchy ecocycle. We write about the need for "resilience" in the broad sense, and for adaptability in the face of significant change around us. In the context and parlance of the book, we refer to this as "FLUXcapacity.". The book is in progress, but we have a short e-book coming soon, and an article coming in the Journal for Quality and Participation. We are also gathering stories of people's disruptive experiences. We welcome input - and your stories of being FLUXed - at getfluxed.com

Eric McNulty

I must send you the paper that I wrote a few months back. In it I take "resilience" to task for similar reasons as you though I am not yet ready to throw the baby out with the bath water.

I think that the key for leaders is to know when to try to absorb a shock (closest to the bounce back school), when to facilitate adaption, and when to prepare to transform.

In a complex world, there is no single answer to being resilient.


Thanks for examine the limits of resilience as maintaining that we have rather than something better. In my book - called Adaptability - the distinction is made between adapting to survive, thrive or transcend. Stability is an illusion, which can be dangerous to those who cling to the past and those who want a better future. Thanks again for your work - look forward to your next post.

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