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Rethinking Resilience in Business

COVID-19 is forcing firms to reimagine resilience. Instead of trying to strengthen their ability to resist change, companies must learn how to adapt and adjust if they are to continue to exist as employers, value creators for shareholders, and trusted members (and servants) of communities around the world.

LONDON/GENEVA – COVID-19 is the biggest public-health crisis in a century and has caused the deepest economic recession of the modern era. The pandemic has revealed vulnerabilities in public-health systems and social safety nets around the world, brought vast inequalities to the surface, and demonstrated how major disruptions can snowball through interconnected systems. Clearly, our societies and economies are not nearly as resilient as we had believed.

One reason we have found it so difficult to react to COVID-19 is that we have vigorously removed “slack” from our systems. Businesses have become disciples of the gospel of efficiency and just-in-time production, fiscally stretched governments struggle to provide even basic services, and we have pushed natural systems to their limits. Now that a crisis has arrived, we see that what was perceived as excessive slack was necessary redundancy.

More crises await, from domino effects stemming from COVID-19, to the full impact of climate change and other disruptions of the natural systems on which we rely. Some crises will inevitably arrive as “black swans,” without warning, but many others will be what Michele Wucker calls “gray rhinos”: highly probable, high-impact threats that we know about but tend to ignore.

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