Bend Without Breaking: The Practice of Resilience
Imagine building two model bridges with popsicle sticks: the first bridge you’ve glued together at every joint, but for the second bridge, you’ve notched the ends of the sticks and lashed the joints together with rubber bands. Now imagine grasping the ends of these bridges and twisting to simulate an earthquake. Which one breaks first? Resilience is the second bridge: strength through flexibility.
It’s the same with bodies. I’m nursing a running injury because, though I was putting the miles in, I wasn’t spending enough time stretching. Things got out of whack, and next thing I knew, I had tendonitis in one ankle. Resilience is thinking ahead and investing in preventive measures (stretching) even when you don’t feel like you need to.
If we were to think about resilience as an equation, it would be strength (s) plus flexibility (f) equals resilience (r)
Writing this, as I am, in the middle of the year 2020, I don’t need to paint a picture for anybody in the travel industry of what happens when there’s a massive shock to the system. It’s been a rough road, and there are plenty of bumps ahead. Recovery—in whatever form it takes—will come in fits and starts.
And yet, before—and after—the COVID-19 pandemic, other things can upend a visitor economy: Earthquakes. Wildfires. Economic recessions. Political or funding changes. Climate change. The list goes on. Resilience is a capability destinations have always needed, and it’s one they will always need. Today’s crisis is just (hopefully) the biggest reminder you’ll get in your lifetime.
You want some resilience? Sorry, but you can’t buy resilience at the store. You’ll have to build it yourself.
How? Like yoga, medicine, or piano, resilience is a practice. It’s a journey, not a destination. It’s the way you are, and what you become, not a thing you do once and check the box.
A couple of years ago, I dug into the literature around resilience—both for individuals and for organizations—and four practices came up repeatedly in my reading. I summarize them like this:
- Face Reality
- Find Meaning
- Assume Positive Intent
- Embrace Failure
Each of these has a “doing” side and a “being” side. For instance, facing reality means using data ruthlessly (doing) but it also means taking on the internal work of overcoming your biases (being). If we think about each of these four practices of resilience having a doing and a being side, we might diagram them as a system like this:
In short, here’s what the four practices look like:
Face Reality: Surround yourself with people who tell you the truth. Use data ruthlessly. Overcome your own biases and look for the truth in the information. Then act on it.
Find Meaning: Take the time to foster a practice of mindfulness and gratitude, whether religious or secular. Set a meaningful north star for your organization and your team. Show them how what you do matters.
Assume Positive Intent: Look for good intentions and you will find them. Avoid falling into paranoia or suspicion.
Embrace Failure: Improvise more. Find ways to practice failure and learn to not only accept it, but to see it as integral to growth. Reward reasonable risk-taking. Actively learn from setbacks.
So how do you bake resilience into an organization? Well, you follow the four practices first and foremost. But you also need to weave this thinking into your planning—and the practices will show up in varying amounts. Your marketing plan, for example, might need a lot more of “embrace failure” than your destination stewardship plan will. Your strategic plan probably needs a big helping of “facing reality”, but also needs a pretty good-sized heap of “find meaning”—that’s where your vision and your values come in. Plan actions that deliberately engage these practices, then execute them faithfully.
Resilience won’t come overnight. In a sense, you’ll never even arrive at resilience. But if you can make the four practices a habit and bake those ideas into your planning, your resilience journey will leave you with both the strength and the flexibility to take on nearly anything at any time.