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Critical capacities for navigating in turbulent times


Resilience is the ability to recover after being knocked off balance, knocked down or knocked out. But it not only applies to catastrophic trauma. It also applies to overcoming a wide range of personal, organizational and cultural changes that you didn’t adequately anticipate and prepare for.

If you’ve ever been to a site along a river bank where whitewater enthusiasts launch their kayaks, you might notice that when they first get into the water, they’ll deliberately flip themselves over. It helps them get acclimated by actually experiencing what could happen if they suddenly hit turbulence so strong it turns them upside down. Organizations can adopt that idea by introducing the practice of scenario planning. Something as simple as a tabletop simulation is a good example of an inexpensive yet powerful tool you can use to better prepare for the unexpected.

Achieving resilience means knowing who knows what, making and communicating the right decisions, and taking the right actions. A lot of dots need to be reconnected when the underlying pattern changes.

Actions to take

To have the greatest effect, the above three capacities should be applied at the personal, organizational and systemic levels.

By personal turbulence we mean changes that affect your life directly, including health, financial or career challenges. Turbulence can bring up feelings of fear and confusion, which can cloud your decision-making. Learning to manage your own psychology helps you embrace even the deepest systemic changes.

Organizationally, turbulence requires rapid adjustments and adaptations. It impacts how different roles work together. Make sure you’re clear about your role and how it might need to change. Are you the skipper, navigator, lookout, engineer or passenger? What is your backup role?

Communication is the glue that holds your organization together. Take a look at the close verbal and nonverbal communication among team members in competitive sports, especially at the championship level. Contrast that with the gross miscommunication that often occurs among various government agencies during a crisis.

When faced with systemic-level turbulence, it often feels like there is little you can do, especially when calm waters suddenly turn into whitecaps. Living through times of rapidly-unfolding systemic transformation will challenge what you think you already know. In preparing for such times, think about how the old rules might no longer apply and how you might create new rules on the fly.

Navigating in turbulent times need not be frightening—it can actually be thrilling. Pay close attention to the early warning signals (foresight). Be ready to adjust, adapt and even change the rules (agility). Above all, be prepared to quickly bounce back (resilience). Enhancing those three capacities will greatly improve your chances of riding out any rapids you may encounter, no matter how severe. 

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