Resilience systems are highly attuned to learning.  In nature, species and ecosystems evolve with information and feedback. In human organizations and communities, resilience is linked to their ability to seek out information, curate it, and make meaning out of feedback. All of these actions work together to trigger the next evolution of their systems.

In nature, resilience and evolution are linked. As ecosystems evolve from Type 1 ecologies to Type 3 ecologies, they become more resilient and less fragile. Adapting to changing conditions in a dynamic environment is essential to a system’s evolution and our own evolution and resilience.

Simply put, learning is critical to the adaptation process.

Let’s start with ourselves.

All living systems scale. What helps make a larger system, organization, and community become more resilient also works for us personally.  So, how does our ability to learn individually help us to be more resilient? I invite you to reflect on a challenge you have had in the past.

  • How did you face and overcome that challenge?
  • Per the definition of resilience, what did you need to learn in order to absorb this disruption (challenge) and maintain function?

In my life, there have always been challenges and events that have disrupted how I lived, thought about the world, and built lasting relationships with others. Each of these events has triggered a reflective learning practice in me. I not only ask questions,  I try to find deeper questions that aren’t easily answered. The deeper questions invite me to live with the question longer and help me avoid seeking an easier,  short-term answer.

This learning practice is what helps me become more personally resistant. When I keep bumping into blocks that irritate me, I see the blocks as feedback from the system that I need to pay attention to. The lesson could be “slow down” if the traffic is messing with my ability to arrive on time for an appointment. Or the lesson might be, “I keep creating more work for myself when I am not fully present.”

Now, I ask, what am I supposed to learn from this experience? And I take that lesson into my future practice. Sometimes I need to learn the lesson multiple times before it fully integrates into my life.

Bring me an active learner and the possibilities are endless.

Organizationally I love working with people who are active learners! When a team is made up of active learners, the team is more vibrant, engaged, adaptive, and innovative. When an organization has a culture of active learning, it creates an environment where reflection, learning, and insight contribute to the adaptive capacity and resilience of the organization.

A simple takeaway from this blog is to examine your hiring, performance review, and promotion criteria for your organization or team members. We usually focus on education and experience in our hiring decisions. Each organization also adds additional criteria, like values fit, alignment with mission etc. But when we understand that learning and resilience are linked, adding the criteria of active learner to the hiring process can significantly increase our organization’s resilience over time.

During an interview I like to ask the question “Can you share something you have learned over the past year?” If the person struggles to come up with an example, it tells you that they don’t have a learning practice integrated into their work. If they  struggle to identify which of the many things they have learned in the past year they want to share, that says you are in the presence of a person who has a well developed learning practice.

From evaluation to learning practice.

Our performance reviews are frames from an evaluation perspective. If we wanted to strengthen our active learning culture because it would help us organizationally become more resilient. We might consider reframing our performance review within a learning practice framework. Questions like: What have you learned this year about your work? What have you learned about what is changing in your work, organization, and external environment? How has what you learned shifted your practice? What experiments did you try this year and what did you learn from them?

What questions can you come up with that could nurture a culture of individual and collective learning?