Can we talk about the R word? (resilience)

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Simon Bird

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Our word, resilience, come from the Latin verb for “to leap back”.

This sounds familiar – and when you ask people to talk about how they see resilience, they often talk about ‘bounce backability’. The implication being that after any experience, a good degree of resilience allows us to ‘bounce back’ to how we were before – as if it hadn’t happened.

I am hearing stories from people about organisations keen to ‘snap back’ to how things were before – and this would be a mistake. But even more so when you apply that idea to people.

Think of an elastic band – and how you might have stretched it once upon a time – and how it apparently snaps back to its original shape. All looks good. But under a microscope, you might see very tiny breaks or tears and the internal structure might be compromised. Though of course it will continue to be useful to bundle papers together – and it still looks like an elastic band.

Now think about you. Or maybe someone else if that’s easier. And how you might have been stretched or stressed or pushed or squeezed in your life – or during this pandemic. And how you’ve apparently ‘snapped back’ into shape and carried on. But every time this happens, there will be some kind of mark left behind on you. Most of the time we are able to carry on – or so it seems to everyone else anyway, and we absorb the knocks. But what if you were under the microscope? What would we see?

Don’t get me wrong. Our accumulation of knocks and journeys over speedbumps isn’t necessarily ‘a bad thing’. What it means is that everyone will be a little bit different – or perhaps very different – now, in a way you – and organisations – might not be able to see at this stage in the pandemic. On the surface, people may look like nothing’s changed and so the temptation for organisations is to carry on and pretend nothing happened.

Resilience is also about acknowledging, learning from and accepting tough experience. So perhaps rather than ‘bouncing back’ – we should be talking about bouncing to some where else….using the insights we’ve gained, the lessons we’ve learned and if we’re lucky, the wisdom we’ve been left with.

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