too big to flex: resilience thinking about collapse

flex tree

Ever since E.F. Schumacher, we've polished this sense of the ugliness of BIG...with good reason.

Now, with national looting by corporations "too big to fail", we 'get' that size matters.

And, from a resilience perspective, we see that big versus small invokes "the difference between brittle and graceful failure", says Jamais Cascio (via fastcompany).

Says Cascio, "Resilience implies both strength and flexibility; a resilient structure would bend, but would be hard to break. Resilient flexibility means avoiding situations where components of a system are 'too big to fail'--that is, where the failure of a single part can bring the whole thing crashing down."

The alternative, says Cascio, comes from the combination of:

"The result is a system that can more effectively respond to rapid changes in conditions, and including the unexpected loss of components."

So, why is resilience thinking so much more important now? Says Cascio:

"Pandemics, resource collapse, even radically disruptive technologies all have the potential to cause global shake-ups on the scale of what we see today... and we may see all of these, and more, over the next 20 to 30 years."

According to Cascio, two factors stand out as core assumptions of a resilience approach:

These may seem like common-sense notions, says Cascio, but "today's global systems work best when everything's running smoothly and predictably."

"Resilient systems are optimized for rough roads with sudden turns", concludes Cascio.

Bottom line: we're stuck with one human support system on this planet...and that's definitely 'too big to fail'.

Published by Ken on April 11th, 2009 tagged Island Vulnerabilities, Systems Thinking

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