Resilience: why things bounce back

Given the volatile world we live in, and education is no exception, this book helps us to understand why things can fall apart and how to build better organisations, systems and leaders so that we are less vulnerable to forces beyond our control.

Bouncing Back: Written by two New Yorkers, Zolli is a renowned expert on innovation and resilience and Healy is a journalist and writer, Resilience presents us with some eye-popping examples of how and why some organisations and communities fall apart in the face of disruption, while others can successfully weather storms and bounce back when faced with extraordinary change and challenge. Zolli and Healy scan the globe for powerful examples to illustrate their view that resilience is an idea whose time has come, with stories ranging from the world banking meltdown and its aftermath, to the ‘war on terror’ and the collapse of village communities in Bangladesh.

Resilience: Why things bounce back.

What is it? We may wonder what this has got to do with an education system and its schools. A lot! I frequently hear the word ‘resilience’ when I meet school leaders and I often see ‘resilience’ mentioned in school vision statements and strategic plans. For example, ‘our students are encouraged to be resilient learners’, or ‘our school will be resilient so that we embrace change’. When I ask what does ‘resilience’ actually mean in those contexts, the fog quickly sets in. Zolli and Healy’s definition of resilience, as “the ability of people, communities and systems to maintain their core purpose and integrity amid unforeseen shocks and surprises”, could help school leaders to get a better grip on this elusive concept and especially in readiness for surviving the next disruptive wave of change to come through the school gate.

Shock Absorbers: Convincingly, the authors argue that leaders usually “navigate in a dense fog” when faced with turbulence and disruption, not being able to understand the complete picture of connections, dependencies and relationships or their ‘situational awareness’. Resilience rests in leaders ensuring that their organisations have the right kind of structures, processes and practices in place, and to keep these dynamic and adaptable for acting like shock absorbers in times of surprise and change.

Strategies: Zolli and Healy present a variety of fascinating strategies for how organisations and communities (think schools) can become more resilient. ‘Cognitive diversity’, for example, promotes different thinking in teams, which produces safer decisions and confronts the dangers of groupthink and confirmation bias before they harden. Otherwise, there is a team tendency to favour information that confirms its assumptions or hypotheses, whether they are actually true or not. ‘Swarming’ is a system-of-systems, where an organisation (think school) is highly decentralised so there’s high capacity and autonomy at multiple levels to respond to change and innovation, like a swarm of bees converging. ‘Social resilience’ is the adaptive capacity of a whole community (think schools again) to sense a problem and act in a collective way rather than an intervention that’s imposed from above (think principal or senior leadership team). Wrong interventions imposed from above can have terrible consequences, while collective interventions have the power to be transformative and right for community resilience.

School Connections: As an insight into what resilience is, why it’s important and how it works, the book sheds a lot of light for leaders. Explaining resilience building strategies throughout, the authors help us to think deeply about just how resilient a school, the teachers and students might be in these testing times. While the book covers a wide range of world examples, it’s up to school leaders themselves to connect these lessons on resilience with how a school can bounce back in the face of disruption.

Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy (2012). Resilience: why things bounce back. Headline Publishing: London.

Below are 2 links to get you started:

1. 'Resilience' author Andrew Zolli briefly outlines the emerging themes of resilience to inspire leaders.

2. Steven Hansen of the Resilience Institute explains 'the death spiral' and 'bounceback' as ways to think about 'how you are travelling' to open our minds to think and act much better.

#resilience #smarttools #buildbetterorganisations #systems #schoolleaders #AndrewZolli

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