Resilient Business - Surviving the 21st Century


All around there is talk of innovation, collaboration, intra/entrepreneurialism, agility, decentralisation of power, digitalisation, the VUCA world. I see all of this as part of a wider desire of organizations to become what I would call ‘resilient’ in the face of massive and unrelenting environmental change. In simple terms, let us define a resilient business as an organisation that is able to continuously evolve with the environment; thereby experiencing sustainability and success.  

In my experience, becoming a resilient business means growing capabilities in three broad areas as shown below. I would argue that the main success factor being the human aspects shown at the bottom.

Resilient Business (1).png

Let us go more deeply into the three parts of this resilience journey.


There are plenty of concepts out there of how to encourage and manage the innovation process.  The Lean Startup phenomenon appears to be spreading through large organizations; many companies have access to rapid prototyping labs; some organizations have internal Venture Capital markets and idea pitch processes.  Some have incubators or are part of an incubation ecosystem. Some have centralised idea databases. Most of these ideas are out there and easy to copy, test and improve.

But what about the behaviours needed to really live in an innovative, entrepreneurial way?


There are plenty of emerging digital concepts and tool kits out there.  Enterprise social media is becoming more widespread allowing people to connect and form networks outside of the traditionally defined hierarchy.  Massive data and analysis tools can be made available at every desk. Just 5 years ago the idea that anyone in your organization could develop an app seemed absurd: now it’s a real possibility.  Marketplace platforms for internal resource sharing are growing in popularity. Many traditional organizations are experimenting with chat (e.g. Slack, Mattermost, Yammer) as opposed to emails. I’m aware of at least 1 very traditional organisation switching from Microsoft to Google Suite in order to have true collaborative documents and cloud capabilities.   

Once again, take up of new tools and platforms may require deeper behavioural change and flexibility, especially as the tools may change regularly as testing and learning goes on.

Evolutionary and Human Centric

So the world is changing: what about you and your colleagues?  To fully capitalise on the possibilities of innovation and digitalisation, It seems obvious to me that different human skills are required.  

Ultimately, if you want your business to be able to adapt to continuous change, you and your colleagues need to be able to live in a state of continuous change.  This may appear frightening at first: perhaps all ideas of stability are going to disappear? Will it be chaotic? Who will you be in such a place?

What behavioural characteristics are we talking about here?  Organisations adapting the the emerging world need leaders and colleagues to be more open, collaborative, able to quickly iterate on things, be flexible on ownership, willing to try with unfinished ideas, willing to build peer networks across boundaries, even to break rules sometimes, willing to face tough feedback, willing to fail or pivot, willing to ask the crowd for help, willing to be very transparent on intent and the current true state of things, and willing to experience all the less positive emotions that can go along with all of this (as well as the positive ones of course).  And crucially always willing to stop and honestly reflect on the real state of things.

These individual behavioural capacities in the face of difficulty and continuous reflection of what could be improved are what I would call personal resilience.  

Organizational resilience is a function of the widespread growth of personal resilience.  Why? because the organisation is an abstract idea that is co-constructed by individual relationships and collective behaviours.  A group behaviour is only what the people in the group express.

The development of personal resilience has an interesting by-product; it’s contagious.  The more people step into it, the more they help others by creating a different environment around them.

Organizational resilience also requires that all systems, tools, processes and relationships (individual and collective) need to be open for continuous scrutiny,  improvement and co-creation by the people who live them everyday: this is the ‘iterative nature of everything’.

And all of this needs to permeate through the whole organisation.  This is not something that the staff should do, while traditional management roles, power structures and systems remain untouched.  How can you expect someone to experiment and perhaps fail, if he gets a poor performance review as a results of an outdated and inflexible objective setting philosophy managed by someone who is protecting their own bonus?  

There is one core belief that must be understood before going further: all humans are capable of incredible resilience, flexibility and creativity. The point is to reconnect to those inherent human capacities. This reconnection is a journey going deeply into what prevents people from already being their most resilient selves. Be warned: this journey is not necessarily light, fluffy and happy all of the time.

Developing Personal Resilience is not something that can be demanded and argued for through logic and reasoning.  It is a change movement of profound personal impact.

Asking your colleagues to become resilient and then telling them why they should do it, is not going to cut it.  Something else is required.

In next week’s article we will go further into an alternative way to invite personal, collective and hence business resilience