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The Alchemy of Leadership Blog

Complexity Builds Resilience

Over the last few years ‘resilience’ has become a bit of a hot topic.  We’re told that leaders and businesses should work to become more resilient.  Schools strive to help their pupils learn how to bounce back.  The Government in Scotland even has a Resilience Advisory Board guiding a Resilience Committee which meets in a Resilience Room.

In the natural world, the most resilient ecosystems are the complex ones, containing many different types of organism.  This means that, if one type of organism comes under stress, there are many alternatives to fall back on.  It’s one reason the Woodland Trust, of which I’m a Trustee, is keen on using trees and woods to create ‘resilient landscapes’ across the UK.  Monoculture fields of wheat – or serried ranks of conifers, for that matter – are vulnerable to shocks such as disease or climate change.

A lack of complexity is a big reason the USSR economy collapsed.  Their enormous monoculture industries and factories could not cope with new technologies, new customer expectations, new ways of working, and so on.  When change came along, they had no alternatives to fall back on.

So, what does this mean for you?  If you have a range of activities and interests in your life, it can help you be more resilient.  If your work is your sole focus, you’re more vulnerable to inevitable setbacks.  They say “your family is more important than your work.”  It’s more important than you realise, even if – particularly if – you’re a high-flyer.

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© Patrick Macdonald 2015

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