• Beyond Resilience: Visionary Adaptation

    by  • April 4, 2009 • The Global Picture • 12 Comments

    I think I’ve made what I’m driving at a bit clearer in my own head by drawing some diagrams.

    Visionary Adaptation

    Click the image for a PDF which builds out the model.

    What it comes down to is four models of change, which are:

    The Resilience Model:
    Normal State -> Crisis -> Resilience -> Normal State

    Successful Adaptation Model:
    Normal State -> Adaptation -> Improved State

    The Revolutionary Model:
    Normal State -> Crisis* -> Revolutionary Change -> Unthinkable Improved State

    *Note that the crisis could include a failure to adapt in the Adaptation model.

    Finally, the Pathological Resilience Model:
    Normal State -> Failure to Adapt -> Crisis -> Resilience -> Normal State

    What I’m pointing at is that there’s an executive function in response to crisis: restore things to pre-crisis conditions using resilience models, or implement revolutionary change. Right now, what I’m not seeing in the dialogues about resilience that I’ve been exposed to is a clear discourse about resilience as an *alternative* to revolutionary change. I want to see a discourse about knowing when to make systems resilient and when to prime them for revolution.

    I’m calling this “visionary adaptation” for the moment, but that’s just a hook to hang a hat on.

    Florida’s most vulnerable coastline and tropical storms is really the key model for me here: the more resilient those who live there become, the more they’re going to tend to choose to live in a place which is extremely crisis-prone rather than moving to safety. Revolutionary change is move to a safer place. Resilience is about gearing up to survive the storms.

    We need a dialogue about where resilience fits into the spectrum of response, and how it fits into system level problems where the drivers for the crisis are not external but internal. I’m going to leave this to sit for a while now, but if you have any thoughts, ideas or feedback on the model, please let me know.

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    About

    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.

    http://hexayurt.com/plan

    12 Responses to Beyond Resilience: Visionary Adaptation

    1. April 5, 2009 at 12:58 am

      My first thought is of previous conversations about organisational blindspots, which addresses what I’ve taken to calling unspeakable truths. These reflect cognitive biases which then define what is unthinkable. This is where framing becomes really crucial. Leaders & policymakers achieve their positions in part due to their allegiance to a set of frames which they use to help them navigate to their positions. Unfortunately those frames are the very same things that can make it difficult for them to make adaptive or revolutionary decisions, as those decisions require “out of the box (frame) thinking” that goes against everything they’ve learnt. Their intuition tells them that out of frame ideas don’t make sense and aren’t viable.

      Addressing the Visionary Adaptation models more directly, should the question “What Decides?” be “Who Decides?”.

      Seems the issue at deepest level is cognitive. Mindful people are much more responsive to what is actually happening & aware of the frames that may be restricting their options, opening them up to the sort of breakthrough thinking that enables revolutionary change. We need to become a mindful society & we should especially insist on mindful leaders.

    2. April 5, 2009 at 1:08 am

      Yeah, I’ve been learning that trying to make a living by parking a tank in govt. scale organizational blind spots is not a good way to make a living ;-)

      One interesting thing about this is that there’s variety about the scale at which the adaptive/resilient/revolutionary decision is made: sometimes it’s up to the individuals involved, sometimes the state, sometimes other entities, sometimes a blend where the state shapes the cost landscape for various options. I feel like that is the critical pivot in nearly all of these systemic problems.

    3. April 5, 2009 at 5:39 am

      Vinay,

      Thanks for clearly showing the value of vision-centered adapation, rather than reactionary resilience.

      As the Buddhist saying goes, “to get to the far shore, you need to come from it.”

      Two overall comments/suggestions –

      1. Visionary Adapation as a title may not be the best way to have your meme spread. Many people may discount the value of vision as their rising pain puts a premium on finding near-term, “practical” solution: hence the appeal of “resilience.” My guess is your vision-centered meme will spread more widely if it is branded as the core element of a new “Resilience Plus” package.

      2. I’m hopeful that your Visionary Adaptation concepts can interact with and enrich the following:

      - Koester’s ideas of holons: http://www.panarchy.org/koestler/holon.1969.html

      - The Viable System Model: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viable_System_Model

      - speculations on a triadic form of consilience in evolution, which you’ll find in thumbnail at section 10.3 at http://tinyurl.com/transpecies .

      Look forward to continuing to follow your postings here and on Twitter!

      Mark Frazier
      Openworld, Inc.
      “Awakening assets for good”
      http://www.openworld.com
      Twitter: @openworld

    4. April 5, 2009 at 6:16 am

      Vinay,

      Great to see your focus on the value of vision-centered adapation, in contrast to reaction-driven resilience.

      As the Buddhist saying goes, “to get to the far shore, you need to come from it.”

      Two overall comments/suggestions –

      1. Visionary Adapation as a title may not be the best way to have your meme spread. Many people may discount the value of vision as their rising pain puts a premium on finding near-term, “practical” solution: hence the appeal of “resilience.” My guess is your vision-centered meme will spread more widely if it is branded as the core element of a new “Resilience Plus” or similarly-retitled package.

      2. Your visionary adaptation model may well enrich the following:

      - Koestler’s ideas on holons: http://www.panarchy.org/koestler/holon.1969.html

      - The Viable System Model: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viable_System_Model

      - speculations on a triadic dynamic of consilience in evolution, which you’ll find in thumbnail at section 10.3 at http://tinyurl.com/transpecies .

      Look forward to next postings here and on Twitter…

      Mark Frazier
      Openworld, Inc.
      “Awakening assets for good”
      http://www.openworld.com
      Twitter: @openworld

    5. April 5, 2009 at 6:30 am

      Vinay, these are thought-provoking questions, and I’m taken with the paradox you seem to have been chewing over in your twitter feed — that resilience may inhibit necessary change.

      Dmitry Orlov’s recent Long Now talk (“Social Collapse Best Practices”) http://is.gd/jOkx argued that Russia, used to dysfunction, adapted well to social collapse, but that the US will not. He says, in effect, that badly run systems have less far to fall when they fail, while an ostensibly tight civilisational ship is more capable of failing catastrophically.

    6. April 5, 2009 at 8:54 am

      Stuart, yes, I’m very impressed with Orlov, although I think that the unitary political powerbase in the USSR was part of why the FAIL! was so hard. Diversity of structures, as seen in the west, might be better in a crisis.

      I wonder if IFTF would host a round table online about this stuff.

    7. April 5, 2009 at 8:21 pm

      Don’t know if this is necessarily relevant, but the ‘Pathological Resilience model’ reminds me of some things Derrida wrote on societal autoimmunity – which I originally encountered in Philosophy In a Time of Terror (especially p.94 onwards).

      Could this be another model of resiliance, in which resiliance proves to be a negative or destructive force?

      Underneath the piles of discourse and poetic language, we’re left with a situation best expressed in a diverging cobweb model, in which a systemic (and “rational”) attempt to re-establish the normal state results in increasing extremes of reaction, with the system inadvertantly turning on itself.

    8. April 9, 2009 at 8:05 pm

      For me, resilience and abundance go together. I think of creating a system that has many characteristics, including resilience against shocks. Part of achieving that is through abundance – having a bigger buffer in how much you, your land and your systems produce.

      So, am thinking about this entirely differently from you?

      In terms of how we present things, Mark Frazier makes a good comment on your previous post, “The idea of resilience is catching because people are looking for practical ways to survive and surmount the growing stresses.”

      Which doesn’t negate the need to talk about the revolutionary nature of the changes we need.

      Another thought: “Revolutionary” is the means, “resilience” is one of the ends.

    9. April 9, 2009 at 8:12 pm

      I think that we have two needs: resilience to get us through unavoidable hardships, and _good strategy_ to get avoid as many hardships and own goals as possible.

      Right now, I think that a lot of the cry for resilience is very rational: our civilization is hitting the wall in several areas. But what isn’t happening – yet – is a concerted cry for _better strategy._

      We’ve just sat here for 30 years watching ecological collapse and global bankruptcy unfold around us as our leaders fiddled and covered up.

    10. April 16, 2009 at 8:57 am

      http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/2009/04/benjamin-h-bratton-postopolis-la.html

      Firstly, that of using subtraction as a design principle rather than addition (a theme that LA is well-placed to explore, having both an over-abundance of macro-scale infrastructure in the first place, which could be pared back in interesting fashion, as well as an endemic informal creativity at a micro-scale). This alongside an openness to accidents and informal improvisation (something I’ve explored over the years around the idea of adaptive design). Secondly, that we should “resist the recovery”, as ‘recovery’ necessarily implies going back to something, trying to recreate conditions which would then merely set us up for the fall again. So we need a new way of thinking about moving forward from this place, rather than looking backwards or thinking we are post- yet. Thirdly, that the political – including governance in all its forms – is something we cannot allow to simply disintegrate, but we must actively engage with, including (perhaps especially, though he didn’t emphasise this) from a design perspective.

    11. Susan Butler
      June 15, 2009 at 5:48 pm

      I see the beauty of resilience in its open endedness. When every need in the system has multiple ways to be fulfilled,and every element has multiple functions it performs, then, depending on the shock experienced, the whole system, a bit like a kaleidoscope, can creatively evolve towards a variety of directions, perhaps some of them revolutionary.
      This is the difference between a constructed system, which by its nature is a defined entity and thus closed (and somewhat brittle) however complex; and a holon, which is open, with an element of mystery –the unthinkable aspect mentioned in the model. We can design while consciously allowing scope for the unknown. Being holons ourselves, actually we cannot fail to do this, although we may lack awareness.

    12. January 22, 2010 at 9:46 am

      http://news.noahraford.com/?p=206

      “resilient, durable or agile”

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