Resilience and Black Swans

I am mesmerized by Black Swans. We must live day to day, year to year, gettin’ on with getting’ on. Surprises aplenty are not so few and not so far between—and we’ve mostly learned how to cope and at least muddle through.

In fact, we can’t live life, personal or professional, awaiting a Black Swan to alight on our pond. Still, one may-probably will do so—and our response-behavior will, as Mr Taleb claims, determine our life’s course.

Well if we can’t plan for it, and we can’t let it distract us 24 hours a day every day, what can we do?

Beats me, is mostly my response.

But I have fallen deeply in love with a word that may be of use … Resilience.

To deal with the absurdly unlikely, we can find resilient people and shape our organization to be more or less able to respond to a knockout blow—right out of left field.

Below (and in a Special Presentation attached), you’ll find some musings (exactly the right word) on the idea of resilience. These are raw, “key words” really, meant to do no more than get you moving on this topic—which I heartily suggest.

Possible Attributes of Resilient People:

Inner calm (Buddhist-like?); think Tiger Woods
High self-knowledge (“comfortable in own skin”)
Breadth of experience—drove a cab, worked construction, ran Alaska tours … not just a variety of assignments in a traditional career progression.
Sense of, “Ah, my moment” (e.g., Giuliani)
Lover of modestly controlled chaos (bored amidst calm—e.g., FDR)
Reach out effortlessly to a wide variety of people (in general and on the fly)
Bizarrely energetic
Known for integrity, in the sense of “straight shooter”
Hires resilient people per se in key positions! (All senior leadership roles?)
Sense of humor
Empathy (“I feel your pain”)
“Cruelty” (Must make tough decisions instantaneously, without looking back; not “confident,” but overwhelming sense of urgency to press ahead)
Decisive, but not rigid
Strong individual, equally strong team player
Understands the chain of command—and evades it as necessary
Comfortable being challenged by thinkers, but a strong “doer” bias overall
A person of Hope (religious or “religious-like”?)

Not necessarily: ex-college quarterback with a history of comebacks (Why: All within the rules, within the context of that which has been practiced)

Better(??): Ocean sailboat racer; ER doc; public health doc; astronaut; combat experience; hostage negotiator; survived in hopeless circumstances through guile and grit; seeks “independent duty”

Tests: Have the lights “unexpectedly” go out during an employment interview, followed by fire alarm, etc; focus on resilience per se in reference checks

Possible Attributes of Resilient Organizations:

Hire resilient folks at all levels and in all functions—explicit about so doing
Promote resilience—explicit about so doing
Decentralization!!!!!!!!! (organization structure, physical configuration, systems)
Shadow “emergency organization”—ready to roll
Very serious “War gaming” (better than nothing—unless it leads to false confidence)
Culture of (1) self-starting, (2) caring and respect, (3) Execution is Priority #1, (4) Accountability-responsibility—100% of folks
Culture of Resilience (as de jure explicit “plank” of organizational values set)
Talk it up!! (but in terms of “growth opportunity”—not fear mongering)
MBWA—e.g., great, intimate communication all the time about everything
Transparency (all in the know, none in the dark)
Financial padding
Excellent equipment (But …)
Training >>>>> Equipment
Ability to get by for (quite) a while without IS-IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Test whole org in uncomfortable situations
Promote an unusually high share of mavericks
Diversity per se!!!!!!!!!!!

Tom Peters posted this on May 19, 2008, in Talent.
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