05. Proactive resilience: how to win a race that has no finish line


Listen to this episode about how the gig mindset strengthens resilience and builds readiness (13:00)


Horizon scanning and a focus on skills

A resilient person or organization can get through a crisis, but making it through once is not enough. being resilient is a state of readiness. A way of acting a way of thinking. It’s proactive, not reactive.

Individuals need to focus on developing  skills more than being satisfied with job titles: skills versus labels, as one person told me. Another talked to me about “personal future security”.

Organizations (as well as individuals) need to get good at horizon scanning: being aware of the external world around us.

This was studied by the British Standards Institution that we’ll refer to as BSI. They defined resilience as “a race that has no finish line”.

They asked executives to self assess their organization’s ability to scan the horizon and their organization’s ability to adapt. They asked the question in 2017, and again, in 2019.

What was really encouraging is that there was a huge shift in results to greater awareness and low performance.

All 16 elements are presented and compared. Over a thousand organizations were surveyed.

Rapid response to major events and crises is not yet common

Results from my research 2013 and 2018 in my research about organizations in the digital age were similar to what BSI uncovered. I asked more than 300 organizations around the world over four consecutive years (from 2013 through 2018) to state their agreement or disagreement with this statement: “Our organization can respond rapidly to major events or transitions such as market changes, competition, economy, downturns, environmental or disaster events”.

The answers were not encouraging. Only 25% agreed or strongly agreed in 2013 and then only  another 10 percentage by 2018.

Here’s an article I wrote about proactive resilience comparing my research and that of BSI.

Four keys to proactive resilience through a gig mindset work culture

  • Reverse leadership: possibly the key to all the rest
  • Decentralization: based on freedom within a framework
  • Improvisation: using what’s available in real time to solve a problem
  • Learning fast: enabling people to take charge of their development

All four will be developed in future episodes.

Improvisation is frequently confused with innovation, but they are very different as I explain in this episode. The subject of improvisation has fascinated academics for years. The gig mindset is highly conducive to improvisation  but there are few published cases today. It is developing as a field of study. I have included a list of works in the appendix “About Improvisation” in my book The Gig Mindset Advantage.

Here are some papers and research about improvisation.

  • 2003. “Organizational Improvisation: What, When, How and Why,” an article written by Miguel Pina e Cunha, João Vieira da Cunha, and Ken Kamoche and published in International Journal of Management Reviews, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 299–341 is a detailed overview of the research carried out as of that time.
  • 2009. Making Sense of the Organization, vol 2: The Impermanent Organization, by Karl E. Weick, John Wiley & Sons.
  • 2012. Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz, by Frank J. Barrett, Harvard Business Review Press.
  • 2019. “Improvisation in the Learning Organization: A Defense of the Infra-Ordinary.” Miguel Pina e Cunha and Stewart Clegg go into the everyday dimension of improvisation in their article.

Thinking about resilience when there is no crisis is a sign of proactive resilience

D. Christopher Kayes says, “Thinking about resilience, when there isn’t a catastrophe going on is one of the hallmarks of a resilient organization. It’s not only about responding to problems, but also about how to get ahead of them.”

First published May 1st, 2021


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