Engineering Resilient Organizations

“The concept  of an adaptive mindset has given way to a new discipline of resilience engineering. Resilience engineering is a means of designing projects, organizations, and systems to be adaptable and to withstand unpredictable risks. Instead of investing in safeguards against previous threats, resilience engineering seeks to improve an organization’s ability to reconfigure in order to manage unexpected disturbances. Resilience engineering can be thought of as risk management by discovery.”  -via Gary Klein Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making

We have this unfortunate desire and erroneous belief that we can placate the complexity that exists in our world, our organizations, and in our lives. So, instead of engaging in proactive measures, we entrench ourselves and inundate our organizations in reactionary precautions and restrictive safety measures.

Instead of allowing for the experimental, discovery learning that leads to the internal capacity-building to deal more effectively with the uncertainty and ambiguity of a world that has become much more complex…

We work to create sterile, linear, predictable processes that provide the pretense and facade of a risk-free environment. The problem is that there is no such thing as risk-free environments.  Risk permeates the modern organizational landscape. In all actuality, the biggest risk in today’s world is the inability to take any…

As Gary Klein shares in Streetlights and Shadows, “In complex settings, risk isn’t a quantity we can manage and reduce. Instead of trying to predict and control unpredictable risks, resilience engineering prepares managers to expect to encounter unpleasant surprises.”

It is this proactive approach to risk that allows our individuals and organizations to create the capacity to handle the difficulties, complications, problems and challenges that litter our personal and professional lives. It provides the capacity, capability and competence to become much more agile and adaptable as individuals and organizations.

It is this proactive approach and idea of “resilience engineering” that Klein refers to in Streetlights and Shadows and Dave Woods adds to in regards to resilience that allows for “the potential for future adaptive action.”  

As Klein continues, “Resilience engineers don’t wait for accidents or black swans.  Instead, they assess the way the organization responded to small disturbances in the past – its stretchiness. Did the organization adapt smoothly, or was it brittle?”

Which, when we try to create sterile, linear, predictable, risk-free environments, we in turn empty all opportunities for that individual and organizational resiliency to be built. We create individuals and organizations that become both brittle and fragile, unable to deal effectively with the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that pervades our modern world.

So, in much the same manner that our modern organizations are finding necessity for Chief Innovation Officers, we may as well find a need for Resilience Engineers. Especially, if we are to create a “stretchiness” in both our individuals and organizations that allows us to be much more flexible to the complexities of our modern, evolving, exponentially shifting world.

“Organizations that try to eliminate risk are playing so as not to lose, which increases the chances that they will lose. We need to develop resilience as a tactic for protecting ourselves against risk. We need to engage Risk Management by Discovery.”  -via Gary Klein Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making


Outrunning Research: The Speed Of Change

“We are morphing so fast that our ability to invent new things outpaces the rate we can civilize them.” -Kevin Kelly

Never before has the speed and turbulence of change been so amplified across the entirety of our societal landscape, as it has in this moment in time. A speed that has been spurred on by a digital transformation that is intent on invading and disrupting every facet of our lives, from the personal to the professional. In many ways, it feels as if change has been driven from a continuous march of incrementalism to a push of exponential leaps and extreme hyper shifts.

In many ways, this digital transformation has created a cognitive wild west.

In other words, much of what we are creating and pioneering has evolved forward into other realms and new regions of unknowns at such an unsettling pace, that few settlers have even had the opportunity to stake a claim, let alone set up camp. We are truly beginning to see technology begin to outrun us.

This speed, pace and turbulence of change is not just unsettling the equilibrium of individuals, teams, organizations and institutions across society, it is having the same disturbing and disrupting effects on our markets, industries and even countries. To counteract these current conditions, Marc Benioff at the World Economic Forum in Davos was recently quoted as saying that…

“Every country needs a Minister of the Future.”

Under these conditions and the constant disruption and upheaval that we are currently facing, we have to then begin to wonder how long that the idea of the expert, the current level of research and even “best” practices we remain intent on deploying can keep pace.

We have to wonder if the current speed, pace and turbulence of change is beginning to outrun the research…

And, if so, how does leadership adequately prepare and adapt to this shift? How do individuals, teams and organizations determine the effectiveness of current steps, especially in regards to taking next steps, as the landscape before us where we plan on taking those steps keeps morphing, shifting and changing continuously?

As Peter Thiel shares, “Today’s ‘best practices’ lead to dead ends; the best paths are new and untried.” For which he adds, “Big plans for the future have become archaic curiosities.” The problem is that most of our organizations are founded in these ‘best practices’ and determine their future in strategic ‘long range’ plans.

It is this speed of change and digital transformation that will not just push, but force us to rethink many of our systems and processes if we are to not only keep pace, but avoid individual and organizational irrelevance.

We are going to have to become much more adaptable and agile, both as individuals and as organizations.  

This shift from the age of the expert to the world of the learner requires us to move beyond the research to more experimental, discovery learning if we are to even begin to consider paralleling pacing the staggering speed that change has set for society.

It will require us to not only rethink and reimagine our systems and processes, but our organizations and how those within them learn. This will require deep learning to create the type of transformation needed to better prepare our children and adults for a very different world and future.

The problem is that change is not waiting around for us to get our act together. As Hoque and Baer share in Everything Connects, “We have to assume that everything we think is right today will be wrong tomorrow.”

And if that statement is true in today’s world, then the pace of learning, both for our individuals and organizations, must be disrupted. In other words, we can’t engage these exponential shifts through linear and predictable processes of learning. In other words, our mindsets are going to need to undergo some major mindshifts, for…

The world has changed, exponentially.

As Jeremy Gutsche shares in his book, Better and Faster: The Proven Path to Unstoppable Ideas in regards to trying something radical, “It’s the opposite of painting by the numbers.  There are no numbers. And sometimes there’s no paint.”

This problem is, we are too often still searching for those numbers…

The Game Has Changed…

“The most stubborn habits which resist change with the greatest tenacity are those which worked well for a space of time and led to the practitioner being rewarded for those behaviors. If you suddenly tell such persons that their recipe for success is no longer viable, their personal experience belies your diagnosis. The road to convincing them is hard.”  -via Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity

The problem is…

In many ways, we are stilling playing Pong in an Xbox world.

The game has changed…

So the question becomes, are we willing to admit and face it?

Or are we so busy looking straight ahead that we’ve lost the ability to see around the corner…

In Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity Gharajedaghi shares of this tipping point, this “shift of paradigm” we have to reach as individuals and organizations, that is summed up in Stafford Beer’s observation, “Acceptable ideas are competent no more and competent ideas are not yet acceptable.” It is in this realization, this “shift of paradigm” that Gharajedaghi notes where “Eventually, the exceptional courage of a few leads to questioning the conventional wisdom and pointing to the the first crack in it.”  

For which, whether we are willing to admit it or not, may be the chasm that we currently exist within, both as individuals and as organizations.

We see the cracks, we notice the erosion, we even see the futility and irrelevance in many of the processes and strategies we continue to implement, but we find it much easier to patch up these cracks, even when we know the dam is ready to burst. Even when the red flag is lifted and the caution bells are ringing. For it is much easier to patch that which exists, than to create anew. It is the difference between reforming and transforming.

Especially when we consider the heavy lift and mental mindshift this ringing bell is threatening to extoll in regards to the extensiveness of this “shift in paradigm.”

In many ways, this is an easy bell to ignore or even turn away from. The volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that this bell is summoning is overwhelming in its scope. The sheer audacity and disruption required in attempting to redesign and reimagine our systems and the leadership required to heave this lift is tremendous even in its consideration.

However, it did not stop those facing many of these same obstacles and challenges as our organizations and leaders rolled into the first industrial revolution. 

The first industrial revolution required a disruptive overhaul of many of our systems, organizations and leadership, the same disruptive shifts will eventually be required of our current systems, organizations and leadership as we move into the fourth industrial revolution.

What was designed for the linear and predictable won’t automatically shift to becoming creative and innovative.

I will leave you with these words from Gharajedaghi in his work Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity, as we begin to truly consider whether business as usual will work in a world that has shifted gears from incremental to exponential…

“A shift paradigm can happen purposefully, by an active process of learning and unlearning. More commonly, however, it is a reaction to frustration produced by a march of events that nullify conventional wisdom. Faced with a series of contradictions that cn no longer be ignored or denied, and/or an increasing number of dilemmas for which prevailing mental models can no longer provide convincing explanations, most people accept that the prevailing paradigm has ceased to be valid and that it has exhausted its potential capacity.”

Innovate Leadership: Think Different

It is not enough to do different, if we never learn to think different.

We need leaders in today’s world who can begin to prepare our organizations for the exponential shifts that are exploding across the entirety of our societal landscapes. Much of the leadership abilities and skill-sets that were both effective and efficient in the industrial model we are finding to be neither effective nor efficient to the changes that we are experiencing. Leading today’s modern organizations will require us to not only do different, but we must also learn to think different.

Below is a beginning list of some of the leadership shifts we can begin to consider if we are to lead our organizations more effectively in the Exponential Age. And while it initiates an OVER/OR attitude, it still very often remains an AND approach…

Questions over Answers

Collaboration over Competition

Creativity over Compliance

Innovation over Implementation

Autonomy over Control

Adaptive over Technical

Journey over Destination

Process over Structure

Agility over Bureaucracy

Differentiation over Standardization

Long Term over Short Term

‘Best’ Idea over ‘Whose’ Idea

Distributive over Control

Holocracy over Hierarchy

Exponential over Incremental

Transform over Reform

Exploring the Unknown over Amplifying the Known

What If over What Is…

What would you add?

Future-Casting: Exploring An Exponential Mindset

“It is in the nature of exponential growth that events develop extremely slowly for extremely long periods of time, but as one glides through the knee of the curve, events erupt at an increasingly furious pace. And that is what we will experience as we enter the twenty-first century.”  -via Ray Kurzweil Director of Engineering at Google and author of The Singularity Is Near

The future is not static…in fact, it is one of the greatest design challenges we face in today’s modern world.

And yet, what we often find is that we are ill-equipped for the future-casting necessary to better prepare ourselves for a world that has learned to accelerate the pace of our societal shifts. In most cases, we find that we are not hard-wired for the non-linear, ‘around the corner’ thinking required to deal with the explosive shifts we are witnessing across society’s digital landscape. In fact, we are hard-wired for a much more incremental, linear and predictable approach to change.

Which is leading to individual disconnects and an organizational decoupling.

As Moore’s Law and the Law of Accelerating Returns continues to play out, we become much more observant of the turbulent and exponential pace that is pushing greater levels of digital and technological disruption and transformation. As Kurzweil shares in the Law of Accelerating Returns which states that “fundamental measures of information technology follow predictable and exponential trajectories. The reality of information technology is it progresses exponentially. 30 steps linearly gets you to 30.  One, two, three, four, step 30 and you’re at 30. With exponential growth, it’s one, two, four, eight. Step 30, you’re at a billion.”

Which adds to the individual disconnects and organizational decoupling in today’s world. When our mindsets are linearly and incrementally-focused, when our mental models are entrenched in the past and we find ourselves unable to see the possibilities of the future, we struggle to comprehend and enable a mindset that allows us to move past current limitations that inhibit us from dealing more effectively with the sheer pace and explosive magnitude of exponential growth.

As Peter Diamondis shares, “As humans we are biased to think linearly. As entrepreneurs, we need to think exponentially.” Diamondis adds, “People need to understand how exponential technologies are impacting the business landscape. The need to do some future-casting and look at how industries are evolving and being transformed.”  

And not just business, but in education. Today’s educators must be much more aware of these exponential shifts and how they are disrupting the future of work and how that disruption has deep implications for the focus of education if we are to prepare more effectively for the future of our students.

However, it is not just individuals who are hard-wired to progress in more incremental, predictable and linear ways, it is also entrenched and ingrained in our leadership, organizations and systems. Which is leading to this decoupling between the digital and technological transformation taking place across the societal landscape and the speed at which our organizations are innovating and evolving into this much more unpredictable future.

So while this digital and technological transformation is shuttling forward at an often incomprehensible rate, many of our organizations remain buried in the stasis and status quo of linear reform efforts. 

Which is not to say that our organizations should or must move at the same turbulent pace of this transformational pace of change, however that is not to say that change isn’t necessary or needed. In fact, the current pace at which we are innovating our organizations forward is leading to this decoupling which is leading many of our current organizations into future irrelevance.

In many ways, we need leaders and organizations that can begin to incorporate a very different way of thinking. We need leaders and organizations that can begin to take on an exponential mindset. A mindset that allows them to not only move beyond linear ways of thinking and reacting, but can allow them to connect dots that move them forward in a much more innovative, agile, adaptive, and relevant manner, especially as the disruptive manner of change in today’s world levies itself down upon our organizational structures, processes and systems.

As Jason Silva shares, “exponential emerging technological change runs counter-intuitive to the way our linear brains make projections about change, and so we don’t realize how fast the future if coming.”

Be clear, this is not about change for change’s sake. This is not about engaging constant disruption. Rather, it is about engaging a mindset (exponential) that allows our individuals, leadership and organizations to comprehend and reflect upon the linear nature that holds us back from engaging greater visions and seeing the plethora of new possibilities that lay before us.

So I will leave you (for now), with these words to reflect upon from Ray Kurzweil…

“Intuition is linear, our imaginations are weak. Even the brightest of us only extrapolate from what we know now; for the most part, we’re afraid to really stretch.”