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


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