Our Time: Resilience Now and Into the Future

What do people mean when they talk about resilience? In this blog post, Royce offers both a definition and some practical applications for building resilience in the uncertainty of the current COVID-19 crisis. Learn to leverage your connections to create a more resilient world.

Resilience: a system’s ability to adjust its activity to retain basic functionality when errors, failures and environmental changes occur.

Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and
What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life

by Albert-laszlo Barabasi and Jennifer Frangos

I keep hearing people talk about how the post-COVID-19 world will very different. On the one hand, this seems to be a chance to change local, regional, and global patterns that have been draining the world’s resources and energies. At the same time, there seems to be a great deal being said about simply re-building our economy, social networks, political activities once this is all over. Both conversations speak of resilience as the key. I hear these conversations, and I begin to wonder what people mean when they talk about resilience.

Years ago, I read a book that made a powerful impression. It was Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi and Jennifer Frangos. In this book, the authors talked about resilience in a way that focused a new light on the concept for me. They made it less of a mystery for me and more of a map for building resilience in my day-to-day life.

According to Barabasi and Frangos, people are connected with each other in tangible and intangible complex networks of humanity. To me, this means that what I do today can have far-reaching impacts that I don’t even realize. It means that I am touched by others’ actions in ways I may or may not recognize. It means that what I do today can shape tomorrow in both unpredictable and uncontrollable ways.

Barabasi and Frangos, seem to offer me a path to move into new, more resilient patterns as I move through the current crisis and into whatever it is that comes next. In my terms, they define resilience as the ability to retain basic functionality when the world goes crazy. So, if I am to move into the reality of a post-COVID world, what might I learn from this definition of resilience? How can I use it to inform decision making and action to create new, more resilient patterns in my own life, my family, and my communities?

The authors explain that resilient networks exhibit three basic characteristics. Resilient networks are sensitiveresponsive, and robust. I have been thinking about what this means to me as an individual, and what it means to me as a member of the multiple networked systems where I live, work, and play. How can I leverage these characteristics today to shape resilient patterns that will take me into the future?

Resilient networks are sensitive. They are capable of “reading” their environments. They gather and make sense of data, considering varieties of sources and different kinds of information. Data can be in the moment or across time. It can be local, or it can come from afar. In my networks, I gather information and data to build perceptions and understandings on multiple scales. I share those perceptions with larger networks — family, teams, communities — to build patterns of shared understanding and action. Individually and in groups, I experience the differences that exist in our worlds and make sense of what those differences mean in the context of those groups. I belong to coalitions, communities, and social groups that gather information to share and make sense of the world.

In action for me, this means I watch news from multiple sources to get a handle on more than my own chosen perspective. I read non-fiction, poetry, fiction, and comics. I watch television and listen to radio — news, documentaries, comedy, drama, historical, science fiction. I listen, and I watch. I experiment with new ideas and concepts, watching for outcomes and impacts. I am a “hunter and gatherer” in the world, packing ideas and images in my living knapsack as I travel across time and space.

Resilient networks are responsive. I find ways to respond to my environment. I run from perceived danger. I stand and fight, or I find alternative ways through. I respond in kind to people who reach out in friendship or partnership. I engage others to create social, political, and economic organizations or coalitions that strengthen our shared positions. Individually or with others, I respond by problem solving, making decisions, taking action to create and leverage patterns in the world.doc

In action for me, this shows up in the ways I “do” friendship, stewardship, parenting, sistering, teaching and learning. I respond by writing and talking about new ideas and ways to move forward in the world. I take adaptive actions to set conditions for the patterns I want to see. I work with others and alone to amplify efforts for the greater good and to damp efforts that create havoc from self-interest. I am a warrior when I need to be, passionate about our impacts on one another, and a tenderhearted friend who can listen and hold when that’s needed.

Resilient networks are robust. To build robust networks, I establish multiple connections locally and globally. I connect for today and for a lifetime. Some connections are strong and tight. Some are weaker and more distant. I build individual connections and broader, networked connections. More connections increase the information that is available for decision making and action. I am stronger because of these connections. What I know and understand is deeper and richer as a result.

In action for me, I participate and support the network of individuals who engage with and use human systems dynamics (HSD). Each individual holds the basics of the theory, applying them in his/her practice. We share information to inform each other’s praxis. We learn together as we connect virtually and in-person. We expand the network as we share human systems dynamics with colleagues, friends, and family who are not yet part of the network. We expand the field as we share new ideas, insights, and applications. We contribute to coherent patterns around the globe as we live out the HSD Simple Rules*. As a network, we are sensitive to local conditions, responding from our understanding of HSD, and we continue to add new connections to continuously live into the HSD vision.**

As I move through the significant challenges brought about by the COVID-19, I focus on how I can attend to the networks I where I stand:

  • Where and how do I gather information I need to understand what’s happening?
  • How do I take action that responds to what I know locally and across my network?
  • How do I recognize, leverage, and establish new connections that help me contribute to patterns of equitable opportunity across the planet?

I wonder how or if you see a path here for you? Do these ideas match your perspective? Do they open new opportunities or questions for you? If you are curious and want to know more, visit the Human Systems Dynamics Institute at hsdinstitute.org to find a wealth of materials and resources to help you build resilience in your world.

*Simple Rules for the field of HSD:

  • Turn judgment into curiosity
  • Zoom in and zoom out
  • Focus on what’s true and useful
  • Transform difference into opportunity
  • Celebrate life

**HSD Institute Vision:
“People everywhere thrive because we see patterns clearly, seek to understand and act with courage to turbulence and uncertainty into possibility for all.”

If you are interested, join Mary Nations and me next week (April 21 and 23, 2020) for Adaptive Action Coaching: Supporting Resilience in the Time of COVID-19. This Adaptive Action Lab explores how we can help ourselves and support others in building resilience in these chaotic and unpredictable times. Whether you are a professional coach, a parent, a supervisor, or just a good friend, follow this link to join us. Learn and practice using HSD concepts, models, and methods to build resilience in your life.

Join a global network of learning about HSD!