March 27, 2015

Building resilience: what organisations can learn from social ecologists

I have been blessed with a very diverse network, which includes among others many renowned thinkers and scientists in the field of social-ecological systems.  I am therefore exposed to thinking that I would otherwise not gain easy access to.  Most of my work happens in the corporate world (although I do get to play with scientists and conservationists every now and again!) and I have always felt that there are many learnings from the social ecological world that is very relevant to other sectors.  Especially now that more and more ecological metaphors are being used to describe organisations, as opposed to the mechanical metaphors that still permeate business models and thinking.

Resilience has long been an area of interest in social ecological sciences - they define a resilience approach as a sustainable focus on building capacity to deal with unexpected change.  As the world seems to be becoming more volatile and disruptions occur more frequently, this has also been a growing concern in the business world.  I thought I'd spend a couple of posts discussing some of the well-researched insights into building resilience coming from the social ecological sciences that I think has application and value in business.

In the book "Principles for Building Resilience: Sustaining Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological Systems" published by Cambridge University press (2014) a set of seven principles are considered crucial for building resilience in social ecological systems.  These are:

1. Maintain diversity and redundancy

2. Manage connectivity

3. Manage slow variables and feedbacks

4. Foster Complex Adaptive Systems thinking

5. Encourage learning

6. Broaden participation

7. Promote polycentric governance systems

I think even at first glance their application in the business world is obvious.  Over the next few posts I will explore if and how these same principles apply to building resilience in modern organisations.

I would love to hear your initial thoughts on these as well!

(To find out more about complexity & social ecological systems, download and read these two articles I co-authored with a couple of heavy hitting scientists)

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