Adaptive Capacity: Resilience in the Face of Ambiguity and Uncertainty

Adaptive Capacity is the critical attribute for individuals, teams, organizations, and communities as they deal with the uncertainty and emergence of complex systems. Thriving in those systems requires that you to see the world in ways that help you build resilience and fitness. The human systems dynamics vision is that people everywhere thrive because they build Adaptive Capacity. See how you, too, can build Adaptive Capacity in yourself, your family, your community, and your organization.

Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain. —Vivian Greene

Recent global and local challenges—climate change, socio-political unrest, uncertain economies—reflect the increasing complexity of our world. People everywhere, of all ages are called on to face levels of emergence, ambiguity, and uncertainty that challenge their very existence. People are displaced from their homes due to natural disasters caused by climate change, war, and civil unrest. Political and social divisions tear communities apart. Economic challenges create a self-reinforcing social divide where the “rich get richer,” and others don’t. Pandemic and potentially pandemic illnesses create untenable situations around the globe.

It is clear that we can only move forward in these times if we build adaptive capacity. In human systems dynamics (HSD), we define Adaptive Capacity as, “the ability of individuals or entities to make sense of uncertainty and ambiguity and take informed action to thrive.” You can build adaptive capacity, using the foundations of HSD: Pattern Logic, Inquiry, and Adaptive Action.

Pattern Logic is a sense-making practice that helps you see simplicity in complexity. Rather than feeling stuck with the chaos and noise of rapid and unpredictable change, you can use Pattern Logic to see, understand, and influence the future as it emerges.

Seeing and understanding patterns requires that we stand in inquiry as we observe and engage in our worlds. Inquiry allows you to engage with intention, even when uncertainty and ambiguity are unavoidable. We use four simple rules to help us stand in inquiry all the time, in every situation.

  • Turn judgment into curiosity
  • Turn disagreement into shared exploration
  • Turn defensiveness into self-reflection
  • Turn assumptions into questions.

We put Pattern Logic and Inquiry into practice through an iterative cycle we call Adaptive Action. In this deceptively simple—but not always easy—cycle, we ask three questions:

  • WHAT? invites you to look for similarities and differences in the interactions and actions around us. This enables you to see the patterns that move you forward and the ones that keep you stuck.
  • SO WHAT? is the work you do to make sense of those patterns. You use HSD-based tools to understand conditions that shape the patterns you face. That deeper understanding allows you to better understand what currently exists and what is possible. It helps identify options for action for getting unstuck.
  • NOW WHAT? Then, you take a well-informed action to shift the patterns that challenge you. As you watch for the impact of that action, you step into your next cycle of Adaptive Action.
  • NEXT WHAT? The complexity of today’s landscape means that the world is constantly changing. As we complete the first cycle of WHAT?, SO WHAT?,  and NOW WHAT?, we continue to watch the patterns, seeing impacts of our actions, preparing for the next cycle of iteration and change.

These three principles—Pattern Logic, Inquiry, and Adaptive Action—are the cornerstones of Adaptive Capacity. As you practice these skills and supporting tools, you build the capacity to adapt, and help bring the HSD vision into reality:

People everywhere thrive because
we see patterns clearly,
we seek to understand, and
we act with courage to transform
turbulence and uncertainty
into possibility for all.

This vision guides our decision making about the work we do in the HSD Institute. We offer multiple ways to build Adaptive Capacity. Join us for these events and opportunities to build your skills to dance in the complexity and ambiguity of today’s world.

Daily Inquiry Sessions help you see and make sense of patterns that characterize the wicked issues people bring to the table. Since mid-March 2020, members of the HSD community have met weekdays for 30-minute sessions to practice this process. We invite you to join us whenever you are able. For more information, follow this link.  To register and receive each day’s reminder and Zoom link, follow this link.

  • Adaptive Action Labs are deep dives into individual applications of HSD. An Adaptive Action Lab (AA Lab) brings the best of HSD consulting and training into a single event. Each Lab is a work session, as opposed to a training session. As a participant, you define and work on your most intractable challenge. Then you learn about human systems dynamics (HSD) as you apply your new learning to frame your challenge in a way that points to your best next wise action. For more information, follow this link. Our next AA Labs are scheduled from now until the end of the year:
  • 21st Century Consulting: Working in Complex Systems
    August 23 and 25, 2022 | 12 pm – 3 pm CDT | Online
    Register Now!
  • Thriving in Uncertainty: An Introduction to HSD
    September 27 and 29, 2022 | 12 pm - 3 pm CDT | Online
    November 15 and 17, 2022 | 12 pm - 3 pm CDT | Online
  • Resilience: Build Adaptive Capacity to Move into Your Future
    October Oct 18 and 20, 2022 | 12 pm - 3 pm CDT | Online
  • Reaching Across Difference: Shift Patterns of Racism and “Othering”
    December 6 and 8, 2022 | 12 pm - 3 pm CST | Online

Live Virtual Workshops are monthly dives into a single application or practice of HSD. Glenda Eoyang, founder of the field of HSD, hosts free, online Virtual Workshops (webinars) every month. Covering topics from health care to education reform to world peace, she draws on current events, global opportunities and concerns, and local actions. You are invited to stand in inquiry about some of today’s most salient and intractable questions. Join us on the first Thursday of each month (except January and July) at 11 am - 12 pm CDT. Register, even if you cannot attend, and you will receive a link to the archive recording to view at your leisure. For more information, follow this link. Topics for the reminder of the year are set:

  • Patterned Responses to Difference: Address Bias, Privilege, and Hate in a Diverse World
    September 1, 2022
  • In Robust Systems, Connections Count: Build Connections to Reduce Risk in Complex Times
    October 6, 2022
  • What am I missing? Find Your Problem’s Most Interesting Patterns
    November 3, 2022
  • There’s Always the Next One: Plan for 2023’s Finite and Infinite Games
    December 1, 2022

Become certified as an HSD Professional. Build your own Adaptive Capacity and prepare to support your family, your community, and your team. Join an international community of transformative change makers. For more information, follow this link.

  • Join Cohort 64 (online)
    August 30 through December 15, 2022 | Online
    For more information, follow this link.
    Register Now!
  • Join Cohort 65 (in-person and online) 
    5 days of face-to-face learning at Roffey Park in Horsham, West Sussex, UK from November 21 – 25, 2022, followed by 3 months of online learning through March 16, 2023. For more information, follow this link.
    Register Now!
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