Resiliency and Business Schools and Recession 101

…Western civilization must withdraw from its efforts at dominion over the Earth. This will be one of the most severe disciplines in the future, for the Western addiction to economic dominance is even more powerful than the drive toward political dominance. — Thomas Berry, The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future.

It is interesting to compare these words from Thomas Berry, essentially on the resilience of Western economic dominance, with these on social systems / ecological resilience from the book, Panarchy: Understanding Transformation in Human and Natural systems.

“For a time, at least, the Soviet Union was an immensely resilient ‘dictatorship of the bureaucracy’…. Its very resilience preserved a maladaptive system. What this suggests for social systems, as well as ecological ones, is that resilience is not an ideal in itself… Resilience can be the enemy of adaptive change…. (Emphasis added)
The challenge, rather, is to conserve the ability to adapt to change, to be able to respond in a flexible way to uncertainty and surprises. And even to create the kind of surprises that open opportunity.”

These two frames on resilience, the first from a philosopher and the later from the ecological reference book on resilience, are worth keeping in mind when reading a recent Wall Street Journal article on the rise in attention being given to resilience in business schools.

Recession 101: Courses for a Crisis – “Addressing prolonged uncertainty is another hot topic. Leading a Resilient Organization, a new course being offered at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School next fall aims to help participants analyze their own organization, as well as develop a culture of leaders in a challenging environment. Kathy Pearson, a Wharton adjunct operations professor, has been involved with executive education at the school for 12 years. She says the demand for courses like this is unprecedented. ‘What’s different now is that companies are absolutely failing,’ she says.” (Emphasis added)

This failing of business and of the economy as we know it offers us a great opportunity: it is to recognize that not all resilience is created equal. Business and Life itself now invite us to seek the resilience that is not simply reiterative, not simply repetitive of a thinking that sustains an ultimately unsustainable economy.
The real questions and opportunities now have to do with how we move forward toward thrivability in meaningful and substantive ways; there is no going back. Moving toward a ‘green economy’, toward triple bottom line accounting…these are vital and generally recognized forward moving steps, even though not yet widely implemented. Business schools can teach these ‘models of resilience’ from textbooks….
What is more vital and challenging for the schools and businesses to address is resilience from the perspective of Rumi, recognizing that there are Two Kinds of Resilience, a domesticated variety and a wild variety. And it is the wild within that is calling to us now.
It is that wildness within, that very wildness within that is not separate from the birthing of the cosmos itself, it is that capacity for spontaneous and creative regeneration we now require. When the system you are in is collapasing, it is not simply resiliency that you need… but the remembering of your wild resiliency, your love of Life, that you require.
What kind of resilience is your business school teaching? What kind of resilience is your business nurturing? What is it that wakes you in the night? Rumi, perhaps?

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