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« How big is critical mass? | Main | Competence vs. possibility »

In search of resilience

Most of the time, we build our jobs and our organizations and our lives around today, assuming that tomorrow will be a lot like now. Resilience, the ability to shift and respond to change, comes way down the list of the things we often consider.

And yet... A crazy world is certain to get crazier. The industrial economy is fading, and steady jobs with it. The financial markets will inevitably get more volatile. The Earth is warming, ever faster, and the rate and commercial impact of natural disasters around the world is on an exponential growth curve.

Hence the need for resilience, for the ability to survive and thrive in the face of change.

A non-resilient hospital in New York City closed for months because the designers failed to design for a flood. A career as a travel agent ends when, fairly suddenly, people don't need travel agents any longer. A retirement is wiped out because the sole asset in the nest egg is no longer worth what it was.

The choice is to build something that's perfect for today, or to build something that lasts. Because perfect for today no longer means perfect forever.

Here are four approaches to resilience, in ascending order, from brave to stupid:

  • Don't need it
  • Invest in a network
  • Create backups
  • Build a moat

Don't need it is the shortcut to living in crazy times. If you don't have an office, it won't flood. If you have sixteen clients, losing one won't wipe you out.* If your cost of living is low, it's far less exposed to a loss in income. If there are no stairs in your house, a broken hip doesn't mean you have to move. Intentionally stripping away dependencies on things you can no longer depend on is the single best preparation to change.

Invest in a network. When your neighbor can lend you what you need, it's far easier to survive losing what you've got. Cities and villages and tribes with thriving, interconnected neighborhoods find that the way they mesh resources and people, combined with mutual generosity, makes them more able to withstand unexpected change. And yes, the word is 'invest', because the connection economy thrives on generosity, not need.

Create backups. Not just your data (you do have a copy of your data in two or three places, don't you?) but anything that's essential to your career, your family or your existence. A friend with a nut allergy kept a spare epipen at our houseā€”the cost of a second one was small compared to the cost of being without.

Build a moat is the silly one, the expensive Maginot-line of last resort. Build a moat is the mindset of some preppers, with isolated castles that are stocked to overflowing with enough goods to survive any disaster**. Except, of course, they're not. Because they can't think of everything. No one can.

We're tempted to isolate ourselves from change, by building a conceptual or physical moat around our version of the future. Better, I think, to realize that volatility is the new normal.

Putting all your eggs in one basket and watching the basket really carefully isn't nearly as effective as the other alternatives. Not when the world gets crazy.

**Robin Chase describes a friend who said, "My dad had one job his whole life, I'll have seven, and my kids will have seven jobs at the same time."

**and not just preppers, but corporations that act like them

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