Organizational Elasticity

October 06, 2021
By Steve Astle
Illustrated concept of resilience with related words and figures engaging in supportive activities.

At our annual all-agency meeting in September, my colleagues and I discussed the qualities that have enabled our business to thrive during this exceptionally challenging period. The word that kept coming up – resilience – seems, in the last year, to have achieved buzzword status. This, of course, is a dubious distinction, since resilience connotes a very powerful and relevant idea: that individuals and organizations are capable of recovering quickly from a setback.

To refresh our thinking about resilience, we substituted a synonym: elasticity. Our colleague, John Onoda, led a discussion in which he conjured up images that represent this quality – images ranging from Hollywood characters (Indiana Jones, Scarlett O’Hara) to political figures (Winston Churchill) to the unflappable dogs going viral on TikTok for forging ahead cheerfully despite having lost limbs or facing other hardships.

 

"Resilience connotes a very powerful and relevant idea: that individuals and organizations are capable of recovering quickly from a setback."

 

John also reminded us that, regardless of our heritage or ethnicity, we’re all descended from people who have, in one generation or another, survived tremendous hardship. It’s therefore instructive to study our family histories for examples of elasticity. When we did this, we discovered a few common elements:

  • A strong work ethic. Hard work can be an expression of PTSD; it can also be an antidote to it.
  • Cultural context. Recognizing oneself and one’s circumstances as parts of a larger network and a larger narrative – one that has persisted through good times and bad – can provide valuable perspective and inspiration when they’re needed most.
  • The drive to continue learning and growing. Resilient people retain a sense of control over their own destiny even as control is taken away from them.
  • The courage to adapt to new circumstances. Stability and predictability are beautiful illusions; those who lean into change will not only survive, but will develop an experience that only increases in value as advances in biotechnology, artificial intelligence and digital transformation overtake the world as we’ve known it.

My colleagues and I recognize that, individually and as a company, we’re among the lucky ones. These continue to be extremely unsettling times, and as we carry out work that we find useful and meaningful, we’re grateful for the example of others as sources of inspiration and elasticity.