The Pros And Cons Of Resilience

If the Coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that life IS change.

If that’s true, how does planning work if you could be deeply affected by the next Black Swan?

I firmly believe that there are two ways in which to run your life and business. You can either:

  • Plan everything out to the Nth degree, and hope nothing upsets your plan (what most people and companies do)
  • Expect that something will happen to ruin what you are doing, and be able to bounce back (what very few people and companies do)

A lot of people believe in the “plan it all out” strategy. The problem is that life does not work that way. Life is change, and no matter how you plan, inevitably, something will happen that you cannot plan for. And in that case, all of your planning will be for nothing.

I first came across this concept in a now-defunct magazine (called Forbes ASAP), and it was all about leading tech thought and investment, etc. The article was called “How the West Kicked Butt.”

The author postulated that the reason the West Coast (specifically the San Francisco Bay Area) was getting magnitudes more investment than the East Coast (described as surrounding MIT at the time, but now reflects most of the highly populated northeast, including New York, Boston, and DC) was the “style” of the place, as opposed to the ideas coming out of that place. The author suggested that the difference was between planning vs. resilience – and used the weather and earthquakes as the metaphor.

For example, on the East Coast, you predict that you are probably in for bad weather during the upcoming winter. So you prepare for it: buy warm clothes, get snow tires for your car, etc. You have some idea of what is going to happen, so you plan your life. So planning is a big deal on the East Coast. The better your plan, the better you can deal with this known quantity: likely bad weather.

On the West Coast, on the other hand, you have no idea when a devastating earthquake may occur. You cannot plan for it. You can prepare in case one occurs, but you can’t plan for when it happens. So what is a big deal on the West Coast? Bouncing back from disaster: or resilience. The ability to claw back from bad things that happen. That’s more important than planning on the West Coast.

Why is resilience better than planning? Simple. Life is change. Planning fails when change happens, but resilience shines when change happens. The resilient person and company come out of unexpected change better off than the planning person or company.

While the article was focused on business and investment: it determined that venture investors would prefer to invest in companies that could survive sudden adverse conditions. But it applies across the board – since we can’t foresee every eventuality, we need to be ready to bounce back when one hits.

Life is like that too. Being able to survive sudden adverse conditions is much more critical to survival than planning out every step—case in point, this pandemic.

So to all of those people who plan out their lives to the Nth degree, I say:

RELAX. Sure, make a plan, but don’t go overboard. Life will get in the way. That’s its job. Instead, focus on being able to bounce back from adversity. Move on quickly. Get ready to hit the ground running as fast as you can.

Like in the game of craps. You just move on to the next shooter when you throw a bad roll. You don’t sit there and focus on that guy who just lost you $1200.

Just move on to the next win.