Resiliency is not a long-term strategy
Have you ever felt like in recent years, you couldn’t catch a break? It’s been a back-to-back-to-back crisis with the pandemic, Covid recession, the Russia-Ukraine war, inflation, etc. This phenomenon dubbed as “permacrisis” has been crowned word of the year in 2022. Andre Spicer wrote an enlightening article about it in The Guardian. He cites Koselleck, a German historian, who claims that permacrisis has actually been ongoing for 230 years. Furthermore, there are over 200 kinds of crises we can go through. Since that study was done in the 1970s, there are probably even more now.
Moreover, businesses have been adjusting to crises since the pandemic hit in 2020. It has been taking quite a toll on employees. What I’ve been reading from consultancies like McKinsey is to focus on building resiliency against further global shocks. And when businesses tighten budgets and increase pressure, it’s employees who bear the brunt of the weight. But how long can we be expected stay resilient sustainably? It feels like we are always waiting for that sigh of relief that never comes.
As a Filipino, I am sick and tired of being told to be resilient. Especially when the media romanticizes stories of resiliency after climate disasters. It takes the spotlight away from the difficult hard truth conversations that need to be taken about government incompetence, time wasted and lessons not learned. The same goes with business as an overreliance on resiliency can lead to a lack of critical self-reflection and a perpetuation of unhealthy patterns.
To heavily lean on resiliency is to continue bracing ourselves for the worst. It’s reactionary strategy that avoids us really tackling the root causes of the problems. It’s pessimistically giving up and saying it’s too complex. We are accepting that the systems that are supposed to protect us have failed. It’s easy to look at the following graphic and feel overwhelmed.
Why attempt to untangle this Gordian knot when we can with less risk, continue to work in our own siloes? And who can blame us when a lot of these problems are not even our fault. Still, this is the kind of world we inherited. This is an elephant to eat one bite at a time. It will involve cross-functional collaboration because everything is connected. This is something that neither tech nor design alone can solve. Because we will work with more people from different backgrounds, diversity and inclusion initiatives should be taken more seriously. A lot of our issues right now are geopolitical based. I truly believe that if we are less ignorant about other cultures and their histories, we would be kinder to each other. We would learn how to communicate and to collaborate better.
With the next big green transformation happening, education and training on sustainable and circular design should also continue to be prioritized. And as AI tools continue to be developed, we should not ignore the societal implications of using this technology and that means looking at subjects like philosophy. New multidisciplinary fields will be developed to tackle the complex issues of the world. These can come from the academe, from innovation labs and startups, grass-roots initiatives and communities or forward thinking leaders from government and industry.
Contrary to popular belief, creativity does not always flourish in times of crisis. It is the management’s agenda right now to find the balance between well-being and pressure. Spicer continues in his article, “The challenge our leaders face during times of overwhelming crisis is to avoid letting us plunge into the bracing ocean of change alone, to see if we sink or swim. Nor should they tell us things are fine, encouraging us to hide our heads in the sand. Instead, during moments of significant crisis, the best leaders are able to create some sense of certainty and a shared fate amid the seas of change. This means people won’t feel an overwhelming sense of threat. It also means people do not feel alone. When we feel some certainty and common identity, we are more likely to be able to summon the creativity, ingenuity and energy needed to change things.”
Resiliency is not a bad thing per se but it should not be relied upon on its own or given too much emphasis. In addition to resiliency, companies should make employees feel like they have agency. It enables people to feel empowered and proactive. Leaders should inspire and give out the message that people are not alone rather than instill fear. This year, I don’t want to play in victim mode. I hope to be like a main character, designing a world that we deserve.