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    F R O M T H E H A R V A R D B U S I N E S S R E V I E W

    A R T I C L E

    How Resilience Worksby Diane L. Coutu

    New sections to

    guide you through

    the article:

    The Idea in Brief

    The Idea at Work

    Exploring Further. . .

    P R O D U C T N U M B E R 1 7 0 9

    Facing disaster,

    some companies snap.

    Others snap back.

  • T H E I D E A

    Just one day after Hurricane Andrew devastated southeast Florida in 1992, UPS wasdelivering packages to customers in the areaeven those living in cars because their homeswere destroyed.

    How did UPS manage this feat amid suchchaos? It had resiliencethe ability to bendand bounce back from hardship.

    Like creativity, resilience is a human mystery.Well never fully understand it, but we canlearn itand we must. As Dean Becker, CEO of Adaptiv Learning Systems, said: More than education, . . . experience, [and] training, a persons level of resilience will determine whosucceeds and who fails. This maxim is true forindividuals and organizations.

    How Resilience Works

    The orie s posit that resilient people andorganizations possess three characteristics:

    Facing down realityResilient organizations have sober, almost pessimistic, views of those aspects of realitynecessary for survival. They regularly ask, Dowe truly understandand acceptthe realityof our situation? Staring down reality, thoughgrueling, enables organizations to train them-selves to survive before the fact.

    E X A M P L E :After the 1993 World Trade Center attack, MorganStanley realized that working in this symbol of U.S.commercial power made it vulnerable to terrorism.It launched a micro-level preparedness program,establishing fire drills and multiple recovery siteswhere employees could work if disaster struck. Itsclear-eyed view of reality (and good fortune to bein the second tower) paid off: On September 11,2001, Morgan Stanleys employees began evacuat-ing their south-tower offices immediately after thenorth tower was struck. The company lost only 7 ofits 2,700 WTC employees.

    Searching for meaningResilient companies call on enduring values to find meaning in hardshipto build bridgesbetween current difficulties and a better future.Those bridges make bearable even the mostpainful present.

    E X A M P L E :UPSs valuesexpressed in its Noble Purposehelped it rally after an agonizing strike in 1997.

    HBR OnPoint 2002 by Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

    CEO Mike Eskew said,It was a hugely difficulttime, like a family feud. [But] whatever side peoplewere on, they shared a common set of values.Those values . . . never change; they frame most of our important decisions.

    Shared values are more important for organi-zational resilience than a payroll filled withresilient individuals. If resilient employees areall interpreting reality differently, their deci-sions and actions may conflictthreateningtheir organizations survival.

    Ritualizing ingenuityInventive tinkerers, resilient organizations usewhatevers handy to overcome hardship. Theyimprovise solutions without obvious tools andimagine possibilities where others are con-founded. Though they often have strict rulesand regulations (thus appearing less creativethan other companies), their discipline actuallyincreases their resilience.

    E X A M P L E :UPS considers improvisation a core skill. The company empowers employees to do whateversnecessary to deliver packages on time. Says CEO Eskew,If that means they need to improvise,they improvise. Otherwise, we just couldnt dowhat we do every day. UPSs rules (e.g., driversalways put their keys in the same place) freeemployees to focus on the fixes necessary to function under extreme pressure, as they did after Hurricane Andrew.

    T H E I D E A A T W O R K

    I N B R I E F


  • hen I began my career injournalism I was a reporterat a national magazine in

    those days there was a man Ill callClaus Schmidt. He was in his mid-fifties,and to my impressionable eyes, he wasthe quintessential newsman: cynical attimes, but unrelentingly curious and fullof life, and often hilariously funny in asandpaper-dry kind of way. He churnedout hard-hitting cover stories and fea-tures with a speed and elegance I couldonly dream of. It always astounded methat he was never promoted to manag-ing editor.

    But people who knew Claus betterthan I did thought of him not just as agreat newsman but as a quintessentialsurvivor, someone who had endured inan environment often hostile to talent.He had lived through at least threemajor changes in the magazines lead-ership, losing most of his best friendsand colleagues on the way. At home, twoof his children succumbed to incurable

    illnesses, and a third was killed in a traf-fic accident. Despite all this or maybebecause of it he milled around thenewsroom day after day, mentoringthe cub reporters, talking about the nov-els he was writing always looking for-ward to what the future held for him.

    Why do some people suffer real hard-ships and not falter? Claus Schmidtcould have reacted very differently.Weve all seen that happen: One per-son cannot seem to get the confidenceback after a layoff; another, persistentlydepressed, takes a few years off fromlife after her divorce. The question wewould all like answered is, Why? Whatexactly is that quality of resilience thatcarries people through life?

    Its a question that has fascinated meever since I first learned of the Holo-caust survivors in elementary school.In college, and later in my studies asan affiliate scholar at the Boston Psy-choanalytic Society and Institute, I re-turned to the subject. For the past sev-

    eral months, however, I have looked onit with a new urgency, for it seems to methat the terrorism, war, and recession ofrecent months have made understand-ing resilience more important than ever.I have considered both the nature ofindividual resilience and what makessome organizations as a whole more re-silient than others. Why do some peopleand some companies buckle under pres-sure? And what makes others bend andultimately bounce back?

    My exploration has taught me muchabout resilience, although its a subjectnone of us will ever understand fully.Indeed, resilience is one of the greatpuzzles of human nature, like creativityor the religious instinct. But in siftingthrough psychological research and inreflecting on the many stories of re-silience Ive heard, I have seen a littlemore deeply into the hearts and mindsof people like Claus Schmidt and, indoing so, looked more deeply into thehuman psyche as well.

    Copyright 2002 by Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

    H B R at L a r g e

    Confronted with lifes hardships,

    some people snap, and others snap back.

    by Diane L. Coutu





  • The Buzz About Resilience

    Resilience is a hot topic in businessthese days. Not long ago, I was talking toa senior partner at a respected consult-ing firm about how to land the very bestMBAs the name of the game in thatparticular industry. The partner, DanielSavageau (not his real name), ticked offa long list of qualities his firm soughtin its hires: intelligence, ambition, in-tegrity, analytic ability, and so on.Whatabout resilience? I asked. Well, thatsvery popular right now,he said.Its thenew buzzword. Candidates even tell ustheyre resilient; they volunteer the in-formation. But frankly, theyre just tooyoung to know that about themselves.Resilience is something you realize youhave after the fact.

    But if you could, would you test forit?I asked.Does it matter in business?

    Savageau paused. Hes a man in hislate forties and a success personallyand professionally. Yet it hadnt beena smooth ride to the top. Hed startedhis life as a poor French Canadian inWoonsocket, Rhode Island, and had losthis father at six. He lucked into a foot-ball scholarship but was kicked out ofBoston University twice for drinking. Heturned his life around in his twenties,married, divorced, remarried, and raisedfive children. Along the way, he madeand lost two fortunes before helping tofound the consulting firm he now runs.Yes, it does matter, he said at last. Infact, it probably matters more than anyof the usual things we look for. In thecourse of reporting this article, I heardthe same assertion time and again. AsDean Becker, the president and CEO ofAdaptiv Learning Systems, a four-year-old company in King of Prussia, Penn-sylvania, that develops and delivers pro-grams about resilience training, puts it:More than education, more than expe-rience, more than training, a personslevel of resilience will determine whosucceeds and who fails. Thats true inthe cancer ward, its true in the Olym-pics, and its true in the boardroom.

    Academic research into resiliencestarted about 40 years ago with pio-neering studies by Norman Garmezy,

    now a professor emeritus at the Uni-versity of Minnesota in Minneapolis.After studying why many children ofschizophrenic parents did not sufferpsychological illness as a result of grow-ing up with them, he concluded thata certain quality of resilience played agreater role in mental health than any-one had previously suspected.

    Today, theories abound about whatmakes resilience. Looking at Holocaustvictims, Maurice Vanderpol, a formerpresident of the Boston PsychoanalyticSociety and Institute, found that manyof the healthy survivors of concentra-tion camps had what he calls a plasticshield.The shield was comprised of sev-eral factors, including a sense of humor.Often the humor was black, but none-theless it provided a critical sense of per-spective. Other core characteristics thathelped included the ability to form at-tachments to others and the possessionof an inner psychological space that pro-tected the survivors from the intrusionsof abusive others. Research about othergroups uncovered different qualities as-sociated with resilience. The Search In-stitute, a Minneapolis-based nonprofitorganization that focuses on resilienceand youth, found that the more resilientkids have an uncanny ability to getadults to help them out. Still other re-search showed that resilient inner-cityyouth often have talents such as athleticabilities that attract others to them.

    Many of the early theories about re-silience stressed the role of genetics.Some people are just born resilient, sothe arguments went. Theres some truthto that, of course, but an increasing bodyof empirical evidence shows that re-siliencewhether in children, survivorsof concentration camps, or businessesback from the brink can be learned.For example, George Vaillant, the direc-tor of the Study of Adult Developmentat Harvard Medical School in Boston,observes that within various groupsstudied during a 60-year period, somepeople became markedly more resilientover their lifetimes. Other psychologistsclaim that unresilient people more eas-ily develop resiliency skills than thosewith head starts.

    Most of the resilience theories I en-countered in my research make goodcommon sense. But I also observed thatalmost all the theories overlap in threeways. Resilient people, they posit, pos-sess three characteristics: a staunch ac-ceptance of reality; a deep belief, oftenbuttressed by strongly held values, thatlife is meaningful; and an uncanny abil-ity to improvise. You can bounce backfrom hardship with just one or two ofthese qualities, but you will only be trulyresilient with all three. These three char-acteristics hold true for resilient organi-zations as well. Lets take a look at eachof them in turn.

    Facing Down Reality

    A common belief about resilience is thatit stems from an optimistic nature.Thatstrue but only as long as such optimismdoesnt distort your sense of reality.In extremely adverse situations, rose-colored thinking can actually spell di-saster. This point was made poignantlyto me by management researcher andwriter Jim Collins, who happened uponthis concept while researching Goodto Great, his book on how companiestransform themselves out of mediocrity.Collins had a hunch (an exactly wronghunch) that resilient companies werefilled with optimistic people. He triedout that idea on Admiral Jim Stockdale,who was held prisoner and tortured bythe Vietcong for eight years.

    Collins recalls: I asked Stockdale:Who didnt make it out of the camps?And he said, Oh, thats easy. It was theoptimists. They were the ones who saidwe were going to be out by Christmas.And then they said wed be out by Easterand then out by Fourth of July and outby Thanksgiving, and then it was Christ-mas again. Then Stockdale turned tome and said, You know, I think they alldied of broken hearts.

    In the business world, Collins foundthe same unblinking attitude shared byexecutives at all the most successfulcompanies he studied. Like Stockdale,resilient people have very sober anddown-to-earth views of those parts ofreality that matter for survival. Thatsnot to say that optimism doesnt have its

    may 2002

    How Resi l ience Works H B R AT L A R G E


  • place: In turning around a demoralizedsales force, for instance, conjuring asense of possibility can be a very pow-erful tool. But for bigger challenges, acool, almost pessimistic, sense of realityis far more important.

    Perhaps youre asking yourself, DoI truly understandand acceptthe real-ity of my situation? Does my organiza-tion?Those are good questions, partic-ularly because research suggests mostpeople slip into denial as a coping mech-anism. Facing reality, really facing it, isgrueling work. Indeed, it can be un-pleasant and often emotionally wrench-ing. Consider the following story of or-ganizational resilience, and see what itmeans to confront reality.

    Prior to September 11, 2001, MorganStanley, the famous investment bank,was the largest tenant in the World TradeCenter. The company had some 2,700employees working in the south tower

    on 22 floors between the 43rd and the74th. On that horrible day, the first planehit the north tower at 8:46 am, and Mor-gan Stanley started evacuating just oneminute later, at 8:47 am. When the sec-ond plane crashed into the south tower15 minutes after that, Morgan Stanleysoffices were largely empty. All told, thecompany lost only seven employees de-spite receiving an almost direct hit.

    Of course, the organization was justplain lucky to be in the second tower.Cantor Fitzgerald, whose offices werehit in the first attack, couldnt have doneanything to save its employees. Still, itwas Morgan Stanleys hard-nosed real-ism that enabled the company to bene-fit from its luck. Soon after the 1993 at-tack on the World Trade Center, seniormanagement recognized that workingin such a symbolic center of U.S. com-

    mercial power made the company vul-nerable to attention from terrorists andpossible attack.

    With this grim realization, MorganStanley launched a program of pre-paredness at the micro level. Few com-panies take their fire drills seriously. Notso Morgan Stanley, whose VP of securityfor the Individual Investor Group, RickRescorla, brought a military disciplineto the job. Rescorla, himself a highly re-silient, decorated Vietnam vet, madesure that people were fully drilled aboutwhat to do in a catastrophe. When di-saster struck on September 11, Rescorlawas on a bullhorn telling Morgan Stanleyemployees to stay calm and follow theirwell-practiced drill, even though somebuilding supervisors were telling oc-cupants that all was well. Sadly, Res-corla himself, whose life story has beenwidely covered in recent months, wasone of the seven who didnt make it out.

    When youre in financial serviceswhere so much depends on technology,contingency planning is a major partof your business, says President andCOO Robert G. Scott. But Morgan Stan-ley was prepared for the very toughestreality. It had not just one, but three, re-covery sites where employees could con-gregate and business could take place ifwork locales were ever disrupted.Mul-tiple backup sites seemed like an incred-ible extravagance on September 10,con-cedes Scott.But on September 12, theyseemed like genius.

    Maybe it was genius; it was undoubt-edly resilience at work. The fact is, whenwe truly stare down reality, we prepareourselves to act in ways that allow us toendure and survive extraordinary hard-ship. We train ourselves how to survivebefore the fact.

    The Search for Meaning

    The ability to see reality is closely linkedto the second building block of resil-ience, the propensity to make meaningof terrible times. We all know peoplewho, under duress, throw up their handsand cry,How can this be happening tome? Such people see themselves asvictims, and living through hardshipcarries no lessons for them. But resilientpeople devise constructs about their suf-fering to create some sort of meaningfor themselves and others.

    I have a friend Ill call Jackie Oiseauxwho suffered repeated psychoses overa ten-year period due to an undiag-nosed bipolar disorder. Today, she holdsdown a big job in one of the top pub-lishing companies in the country, hasa family, and is a prominent memberof her church community. When peo-ple ask her how she bounced back fromher crises, she runs her hands throughher hair. People sometimes say, Whyme?But Ive always said,Why not me?True, I lost many things during my ill-ness,she says,but I found many more incredible friends who saw me throughthe bleakest times and who will givemeaning to my life forever.

    This dynamic of meaning making is,most researchers agree, the way resilientpeople build bridges from present-dayhardships to a fuller, better constructedfuture. Those bridges make the presentmanageable, for lack of a better word,removing the sense that the present isoverwhelming. This concept was beau-tifully articulated by Viktor E. Frankl, anAustrian psychiatrist and an Auschwitzsurvivor. In the midst of staggering suf-fering, Frankl invented meaning ther-apy, a humanistic therapy techniquethat helps individuals make the kindsof decisions that will create significancein their lives.

    In his book Mans Search for Meaning,Frankl described the pivotal moment inthe camp when he developed meaningtherapy. He was on his way to work oneday, worrying whether he should trade

    harvard business review

    H B R AT L A R G E How Resi l ience Works

    Diane L. Coutu is a senior editor at HBRspecializing in psychology and business.

    More than education, more than experience,

    more than training, a persons level of resilience will

    determine who succeeds and who fails. Thats true

    in the cancer ward, its true in the Olympics, and

    its true in the boardroom.


  • his last cigarette for a bowl of soup. Hewondered how he was going to workwith a new foreman whom he knew tobe particularly sadistic. Suddenly, hewas disgusted by just how trivial andmeaningless his life had become. He re-alized that to survive, he had to findsome purpose. Frankl did so by imagin-ing himself giving a lecture after thewar on the psychology of the concen-tration camp, to help outsiders under-stand what he had been through. Al-though he wasnt even sure he wouldsurvive, Frankl created some concretegoals for himself. In doing so, he suc-ceeded in rising above the sufferings ofthe moment. As he put it in his book:We must never forget that we may alsofind meaning in life even when con-fronted with a hopeless situation, whenfacing a fate that cannot be changed.

    Frankls theory underlies most re-silience coaching in business. Indeed, Iwas struck by how often businesspeoplereferred to his work. Resilience train-ing what we call hardiness is a wayfor us to help people construct mean-ing in their everyday lives,explains Sal-vatore R. Maddi, a University of Cali-fornia, Irvine psychology professor andthe director of the Hardiness Institutein Newport Beach, California. Whenpeople realize the power of resiliencetraining, they often say,Doc, is this whatpsychotherapy is? But psychotherapyis for people whose lives have fallenapart badly and need repair. We see ourwork as showing people life skills andattitudes. Maybe those things shouldbe taught at home,maybe they should betaught in schools, but theyre not. So weend up doing it in business.

    Yet the challenge confronting resil-ience trainers is often more difficult thanwe might imagine. Meaning can be elu-sive, and just because you found it oncedoesnt mean youll keep it or find itagain. Consider Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,who survived the war against the Nazis,imprisonment in the gulag, and cancer.Yet when he moved to a farm in peace-ful, safe Vermont, he could not copewith the infantile West.He was unableto discern any real meaning in what hefelt to be the destructive and irrespon-

    sible freedom of the West. Upset by hiscritics, he withdrew into his farmhouse,behind a locked fence, seldom to be seenin public. In 1994, a bitter man, Solzhe-nitsyn moved back to Russia.

    Since finding meaning in ones envi-ronment is such an important aspect ofresilience, it should come as no surprisethat the most successful organizationsand people possess strong value sys-tems. Strong values infuse an environ-ment with meaning because they offerways to interpret and shape events.While its popular these days to ridiculevalues, its surely no coincidence thatthe most resilient organization in theworld has been the Catholic Church,which has survived wars, corruption,and schism for more than 2,000 years,thanks largely to its immutable set ofvalues. Businesses that survive also havetheir creeds, which give them purposesbeyond just making money. Strikingly,many companies describe their valuesystems in religious terms. Pharmaceu-tical giant Johnson & Johnson, for in-stance, calls its value system, set out in adocument given to every new employeeat orientation, the Credo. Parcel com-pany UPS talks constantly about itsNoble Purpose.

    Value systems at resilient companieschange very little over the years and areused as scaffolding in times of trouble.UPS Chairman and CEO Mike Eskewbelieves that the Noble Purpose helpedthe company to rally after the agonizingstrike in 1997. Says Eskew: It was ahugely difficult time, like a family feud.Everyone had close friends on bothsides of the fence, and it was tough forus to pick sides. But what saved us wasour Noble Purpose. Whatever side peo-ple were on, they all shared a commonset of values. Those values are core to usand never change; they frame most ofour important decisions. Our strategyand our mission may change, but ourvalues never do.

    The religious connotations of wordslike credo, values, and noble pur-pose, however, should not be confusedwith the actual content of the values.Companies can hold ethically question-able values and still be very resilient.

    Consider Phillip Morris, which has dem-onstrated impressive resilience in theface of increasing unpopularity. As JimCollins points out,Phillip Morris has verystrong values, although we might notagree with themfor instance, the valueof adult choice. But theres no doubtthat Phillip Morris executives believestrongly in its values, and the strengthof their beliefs sets the company apartfrom most of the other tobacco compa-nies. In this context, it is worth notingthat resilience is neither ethically goodnor bad. It is merely the skill and thecapacity to be robust under conditionsof enormous stress and change. As Vik-tor Frankl wrote: On the average, onlythose prisoners could keep alive who,after years of trekking from camp tocamp, had lost all scruples in their fightfor existence; they were prepared to useevery means, honest and otherwise,even brutal, in order to save them-selves. We who have come backweknow: The best of us did not return.

    Values, positive or negative, are actu-ally more important for organizationalresilience than having resilient peopleon the payroll. If resilient employees areall interpreting reality in different ways,their decisions and actions may wellconflict, calling into doubt the survivalof their organization. And as the weak-ness of an organization becomes appar-ent, highly resilient individuals are morelikely to jettison the organization thanto imperil their own survival.

    Ritualized Ingenuity

    The third building block of resilience isthe ability to make do with whateveris at hand. Psychologists follow the leadof French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss in calling this skill bricolage.1 In-triguingly, the roots of that word areclosely tied to the concept of resilience,which literally means bouncing back.Says Levi-Strauss: In its old sense, theverb bricolerwas always used with ref-erence to some extraneous movement:a ball rebounding, a dog straying, or ahorse swerving from its direct course toavoid an obstacle.

    Bricolage in the modern sense can bedefined as a kind of inventiveness, an

    How Resi l ience Works H B R AT L A R G E

    may 2002 5

  • ability to improvise a solution to a prob-lem without proper or obvious tools ormaterials. Bricoleurs are always tinker-ing building radios from household ef-fects or fixing their own cars. They makethe most of what they have, putting ob-jects to unfamiliar uses. In the concen-tration camps, for example, resilient in-mates knew to pocket pieces of stringor wire whenever they found them. The

    string or wire might later become use-ful to fix a pair of shoes, perhaps, whichin freezing conditions might make thedifference between life and death.

    When situations unravel, bricoleursmuddle through, imagining possibilitieswhere others are confounded. I have twofriends, whom Ill call Paul Shields andMike Andrews, who were roommatesthroughout their college years. To noones surprise, when they graduated,they set up a business together, sellingeducational materials to schools, busi-nesses, and consulting firms. At first, thecompany was a great success, makingboth founders paper millionaires. Butthe recession of the early 1990s hit thecompany hard, and many core clientsfell away. At the same time, Paul experi-enced a bitter divorce and a depressionthat made it impossible for him to work.Mike offered to buy Paul out but was in-stead slapped with a lawsuit claimingthat Mike was trying to steal the busi-ness. At this point, a less resilient per-son might have just walked away fromthe mess. Not Mike. As the case woundthrough the courts,he kept the companygoing any way he could constantlymorphing the business until he found amodel that worked: going into joint ven-tures to sell English-language trainingmaterials to Russian and Chinese com-panies. Later, he branched off into pub-lishing newsletters for clients. At onepoint, he was even writing video scriptsfor his competitors. Thanks to all this

    bricolage, by the time the lawsuit wassettled in his favor, Mike had an entirelydifferent,and much more solid,businessthan the one he had started with.

    Bricolage can be practiced on a higherlevel as well. Richard Feynman, winnerof the 1965 Nobel Prize in physics, ex-emplified what I like to think of as in-tellectual bricolage. Out of pure curios-ity, Feynman made himself an expert on

    cracking safes, not only looking at themechanics of safecracking but also cob-bling together psychological insightsabout people who used safes and setthe locks. He cracked many of the safesat Los Alamos, for instance, becausehe guessed that theoretical physicistswould not set the locks with randomcode numbers they might forget butwould instead use a sequence withmathematical significance. It turnedout that the three safes containing allthe secrets to the atomic bomb were setto the same mathematical constant, e,whose first six digits are 2.71828.

    Resilient organizations are stuffedwith bricoleurs, though not all of them,of course, are Richard Feynmans. In-deed, companies that survive regard im-provisation as a core skill. Consider UPS,which empowers its drivers to do what-ever it takes to deliver packages on time.Says CEO Eskew: We tell our employeesto get the job done. If that means theyneed to improvise, they improvise. Oth-erwise we just couldnt do what we doevery day. Just think what can go wrong:a busted traffic light, a flat tire, a bridgewashed out. If a snowstorm hits Louis-ville tonight, a group of people will sittogether and discuss how to handle theproblem. Nobody tells them to do that.They come together because its ourtradition to do so.

    That tradition meant that the com-pany was delivering parcels in southeastFlorida just one day after Hurricane An-

    harvard business review

    H B R AT L A R G E How Resi l ience Works

    drew devastated the region in 1992, caus-ing billions of dollars in damage. Manypeople were living in their cars becausetheir homes had been destroyed, yetUPS drivers and managers sorted pack-ages at a diversion site and made deliv-eries even to those who were strandedin their cars. It was largely UPSs impro-visational skills that enabled it to keepfunctioning after the catastrophic hit.And the fact that the company contin-ued on gave others a sense of purpose ormeaning amid the chaos.

    Improvisation of the sort practiced byUPS, however, is a far cry from unbri-dled creativity. Indeed, much like themilitary, UPS lives on rules and regula-tions. As Eskew says: Drivers always puttheir keys in the same place. They closethe doors the same way. They wear theiruniforms the same way. We are a com-pany of precision. He believes that al-though they may seem stifling, UPSsrules were what allowed the companyto bounce back immediately after Hur-ricane Andrew, for they enabled peo-ple to focus on the one or two fixes theyneeded to make in order to keep going.

    Eskews opinion is echoed by Karl E.Weick, a professor of organizationalbehavior at the University of MichiganBusiness School in Ann Arbor and oneof the most respected thinkers on orga-nizational psychology. There is goodevidence that when people are put un-der pressure, they regress to their mosthabituated ways of responding, Weickhas written. What we do not expectunder life-threatening pressure is cre-ativity. In other words, the rules andregulations that make some companiesappear less creative may actually makethem more resilient in times of realturbulence.

    Claus Schmidt, the newsman I men-tioned earlier, died about five years ago,but Im not sure I could have inter-viewed him about his own resilienceeven if he were alive. It would have feltstrange, I think, to ask him, Claus, didyou really face down reality? Did youmake meaning out of your hardships?Did you improvise your recovery aftereach professional and personal disas-

    Resilience is neither ethically good nor bad. It is

    merely the skill and the capacity to be robust under

    conditions of enormous stress and change.


  • ter? He may not have been able to an-swer. In my experience, resilient peopledont often describe themselves thatway. They shrug off their survival storiesand very often assign them to luck.

    Obviously, luck does have a lot to dowith surviving. It was luck that MorganStanley was situated in the south towerand could put its preparedness training

    to work. But being lucky is not the sameas being resilient. Resilience is a reflex,a way of facing and understanding theworld, that is deeply etched into a per-sons mind and soul.Resilient people andcompanies face reality with staunchness,make meaning of hardship instead ofcrying out in despair, and improvise so-lutions from thin air. Others do not. This

    is the nature of resilience, and we willnever completely understand it.

    1. See, e.g., Karl E. Weick, The Collapse of Sense-making in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disas-ter,Administrative Science Quarterly, December 1993.

    Product no. 1709To place an order, call 1-800-988-0886.To further explore the topic of this article,go to

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    How Resi l ience Works H B R AT L A R G E



    Reinvention with Respect: An Interviewwith Jim Kelly of UPS by Julia Kirby (Harvard Business Review, November 2001,Product no. 9365)UPSs resilience has enabled it to reinventitself repeatedly in response to profoundchanges in its industry. For example, whereasthe company originally relied on replication(taking successful package delivery processesfurther and further afield until it achievedglobal reach), it now also emphasizes innova-tion. Its new mission is to enable global commerce by moving information andmoney, as well as packages.

    Kelly describes six reinvention principles,including keep your core business strongwhile developing new businesses, be a loyalemployer, and identify and nurture whatsbest about your culture.

    Leading in Times of Trauma by Jane E. Dutton, Peter J. Frost, Monica C. Worline,Jacoba M. Lilius, and Jason M. Kanov(Harvard Business Review, January 2002,Product no. 8563)The authors add compassionate responseto the list of ingredients that make up organi-zational resilienceadapting, and evenexcelling, during the most difficult times. By demonstrating your own compassion after a traumatic event, you help employeesmake sense of the event, support one another,and heal.

    Dutton et al. stress that openly expressingyour own feelings about a traumatic event

    as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani did after theSeptember 11 terrorist attackshelps yourpeople find meaning amid chaos. Remindpeople of your companys values, tooyoullhelp them stay focused on their larger pur-pose. To inspire action amid agony, modelsupportive behaviors youd like others todemonstrate, and use your influence andexisting systems to mobilize resources.

    In Praise of Middle Managers by QuyNguyen Huy (Harvard Business Review,September 2001, Product no. 7680)Often unfairly bad-mouthed as inflexible andunimaginative, middle managers actually playa central role in strengthening their organiza-tions resilience. Two levels below CEO andone level above line workers, theyre well posi-tioned to know how to get things done, com-municate calmly, and balance radical changewith reassuring continuity.

    During difficult times, they serve a particu-larly essential role as therapists, keeping anxious employees productive by addressingemotional needs, preventing alienation andchaos, and providing one-on-one problemsolving and support. For example, in onecompany facing relocation, a middle managerpersuaded the firm to pay for employee visitsto the new site months in advance, andarranged for a welcoming committee to helpemployees find needed resources in their newcommunity.

    How Resilience WorksE X P L O R I N G F U R T H E R . . .

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