Every company wants not only to endure a crisis but to rise out of it stronger than before; in other words, to be resilient. The question is, how do they get there? What does ‘ambidexterity’ mean in this context? And what is the impact of the so-called ‘bounce forward’ effect? As part of her research work, innovation expert Marion A Weissenberger-Eibl searches for the answers.
As told to André Boße
Resilience in its most literal sense is the ability to ‘bounce back’ to a previous condition after a problem or an interruption, much like a Weeble toy that always rights itself when pushed over. For a company, it describes the ability to prosper over the long term and get itself back on course time and again, regardless of the direction in which it gets bent or pulled.
Resilience is an evolving concept. The goal is no longer to restore the status quo following a shock event; today it’s more about companies adapting themselves to change. Change has become constant in our volatile, uncertain, complex and equivocal world. That in turn puts environmental conditions and stakeholder demands in a constant state of flux. Today when we speak of resilience, we’re no longer talking about ‘bouncing back’ to the prior state of things, but ‘bouncing forward’.
So how does that work? Take a look at the character traits of resilient people: their capability to rigorously analyze problems and easily control emotions and impulses. Furthermore, they are convinced they can change things through their own actions. Add to that attributes such as realistic optimism, empathy and goal-orientation. While these are traits that cannot be transferred to an organization, they can nevertheless help us recognize what distinguishes a resilient company.
Prof Dr Marion A Weissenberger-Eibl is Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI and holds the Chair for Innovation and Technology Management at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany.
Grappling with resilience as an organization is also a question of attitude. The company is working on scenarios that it is not sure will ever occur, and that cost resources. At first glance, efficiency and resilience appear to be natural opponents. And yet, developing resilience into a core organizational trait is an important step in strategic planning. After all, resilience leads to better risk management, and that in turn supports the long-term success of the company.
Crises primarily impact the people who work in an organization. For this reason, cultivating resilience requires a corporate culture that takes the needs of employees seriously, but at the same time encourages exploring a common path out of the difficult situation. This type of corporate culture promotes solidarity and creates a positive narrative for the future. In this respect – and studies have proven it – small-to-medium enterprises can be more resilient than large companies, because they benefit from the experience of having made the right decisions during phases of uncertainty.
“Crisis primarily impact the people who work in an organization.”
For companies, it’s absolutely worth exploiting these advantages and further investing in resilience. A key word here is ambidexterity: we can see it on the one hand as the ability of companies to exploit known potential, for example by efficiently enhancing existing processes and products. On the other hand, ambidextrous companies are also in a position to develop disruptive innovations or explore new potential.
Ambidextrous companies are skilled at both methods. They not only respond appropriately to drastic changes, shocks and crises, but also possess the capability – with the help of resilience’s ‘bounce forward’ effect – to take a step ahead.