Resilience Enablers: Learning

By Jenny Campbell|February 22, 2017|Uncategorized|

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To be resilient is about adapting successfully to change. Adaptability doesn’t happen without learning.

We have to unlearn the stuff that doesn’t help any more. We have to learn new ways of being and thinking. We have to learn from others. This is true as much for individuals as it is for teams, as it is for the whole organisation.

If we don’t learn, we will continue to do the same things, and get the same results. If we are creating results that are mediocre, we’ll get mediocrity. If we are creating results that are failing, we’ll get failure. If we create poor relationships for ourselves, without learning we will continue to do the same with any new ones. Even past performance doesn’t make for a happy future – we are often caught in traps from the past.

Organisationally, Gary Hamel[1] and Liisa Valikangas[2]  defined resilience in 2003 as a capacity to undergo deep change without or prior to a crisis. In 2010 Valikangas  listed the issue of ‘Fallen Eagles’ – expired rules that are no longer fit for purpose. They make kind of scary reading since so many of them are practiced still today :

  • Planning is sufficient preparation for the future. What about unpredictable events?
  • Good strategy is key to success. Most organisations linger in transition between old strategy that doesn’t work and the new one which is yet to be fully implemented.
  • People behave rationally. Example: we easily rush to imitate, even if what we copy is nuts!
  • Copying best practices cannot be argued against. Copying new isn’t possible when the old processes and habits still reside inside.
  • It is best to wait until change is absolutely necessary to save cost. Think this one is self-evident!
  • The art of management is about executing against pre-established goals and optimising performance. We are seeing the drive for innovation as new means of creating value, not just being even more efficient.

At the highest level of resilience, we have to learn emergently. Those operating in Breakthrough resilience learn in the moment. They are not caught up by a rule-book, not scared to give themselves time to sense what they are experiencing and change their plans accordingly. At the same time, they can notice what’s going on and stand firm in their planned path. Both are valid, and the options are explicitly examined and re-decided on an ongoing basis. Resilient people interrupt old patterns and old habits where they don’t serve their purpose any longer.

Emergent learning takes being able to be present to what is around us right now. Being mindful. Allowing yourself to ‘be’ more. Being with all our previous past experiences, and taking that into the moment right now, and as such leading us towards a different future. It’s what Otto Scharmer from MIT in his U Process might describe as ‘connecting with our emergent future.’

All of resilience development is underpinned by both the capacity for and the quality of our learning.  Here are some questions for you to consider for yourself, your team, your organisation:

  • Do you know your own learning preferences?
  • Do you know where your learning skills are strong and where you are not strong?
  • Who dominates the learning spaces you have?
  • What happens to your learning under stress?
  • How is it to set time aside to review and reflect well?
  • Do you have learning buddies that can walk alongside you so you don’t get stuck in a rut?
  • Is your learning at the end of the programme/project, or do you adopt an ongoing learning strategy? What are the implications?
  • What processes do you adopt to foster learning – in you, in others?
  • What’s your energy like? Energy is a precursor to learning
  • What’s your ‘being’ like? How able are you to ‘be’ in the moment, and not be caught up in racing to the next thing?
  • How do you learn into the future? How much do you engage with your imagination in this?
  • How can learning help you in your purpose?

The Resilience Engine has been researching resilience since 2007. We have deep experience in helping individuals, teams and organisations get better at learning. Get in touch if you are interested in what resilience can do for you or your organisations.

Jenny Campbell,
Senior Executive Coach and Resilience Researcher



[1] Gary Hamel, one of the most influential thinkers in the business world today.
[2] Liisa Valikangas : Professor of Innovation Management, Aalto University School of Economics, Finland
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