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Resiliency and Future Proofing

The next few months of posts will all link together with a common theme. I have been working on this for a while and have a lot to share. I will connect some different topics -- resilience, emergency management, risk estimation, situational awareness, project management, and productivity, among others. The goal for all of this is to increase your personal resilience, reduce your vulnerabilities, and improve your ability to handle whatever challenges you may face in the future.

Let's start with a quote from one of my favorite management gurus, Peter Drucker.

Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.

We can't predict the future, but we can prepare ourselves for it. And if we prepare well, we can be ready for multiple futures. Whether it be a hurricane, a blackout, or a zombie apocalypse, you can't go wrong with some extra food, fuel, and water, along with the necessities to make wherever you hole up support you. The key thing you need is the right attitude, and that is going to be where we spend a lot of our time over the next several blogs.

If you are not going through a stressful time at the moment, good for you. But, I know that in the past you have dealt with challenges and unfortunately, you will again. I was inspired to pull all of this together because of how many people I know who are going through tough times. These can be as difficult as health or financial problems, either your own or of a loved one. It could be trying to figure out your future path or bouncing back from a career setback. While sometimes we get help from others, especially when the problem is visible and widespread, in the end we know that it's our personal ability to get better that ultimately is going to get you through this. I want to help you improve your skills and ability to get up no matter what knocks you down.

Each September the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sponsors emergency preparedness month. If you go to https://www.ready.gov/ , the first thing you will see is "Plan ahead for disasters." Pretty in-your-face. There is a lot that's useful in the emergency preparedness framework and we will discuss it next blog. For now, go ahead and set aside 72 hours worth of food and water and other supplies; maybe even toss an spare blanket and some walking shoes in your car.

One thing FEMA has focused on, especially since Hurricane Katrina, is the idea of community resilience. Both preparation and response to any problem start at the local level, so the idea behind resilience is to have a plan and being ready to act on that plan. For our purposes, I am going to define resilience as the ability to resist bad things that may happen, or when they do overcome us, to quickly bounce back.

I also like the Scout motto, Be Prepared. Rather than focus only on what might go wrong, I see this as focusing on the entire spectrum. Being Prepared includes having the right training, tools, and especially attitude to enjoy the good things in life too. And just in case something does go wrong -- being prepared covers that too. In future posts, we will discuss some ways that you can better prepare and to develop some new skills and confidence along the way.

In the world of technology, there is a concept called future-proofing. In a nutshell, it is a design focus on trying to ensure that technology (phones, computers, networks, etc.) won't become obsolete. It's a cool idea, but in practice has not been very successful. Truly future-proofing technology would require that it be infinitely adaptable to changes that are not even foreseen. Our pace of change is simply too rapid to ensure future proofing of our technology.

Humans, on the other hand, have infinite adaptability built into the core of our beings. We can think our way around and out of problems and inconveniences. Whether it be air conditioning, medical advancements, worldwide communications, travel to other planets, or food safety -- humans have figured it out. When faced with terrible challenges like hurricanes, tsunamis, and other disasters, we find a way to pick ourselves up and move forward. It's not always easy, but to a great degree, we have (so far) demonstrated that we are future-proofed.

One final area of focus – knowing what is going on around you. A key to resilience is to move quickly based on changes in our environment. In the DC area, any glimmer of a prediction of snow causes a run on the groceries for milk, toilet paper, bread, and beer. Before a hurricane, authorities often recommend or demand an evacuation. During times of economic uncertainty, we see warnings to have a cushion of savings to cover expenses. And we know that eating right and getting enough sleep and exercise will help us reduce or protect against stress in our lives. Scanning your environment and understanding the risks will take you a long way to being resilient. It's a basic tenet of planning as well.

We will use the following framework for this whole series – Goal, Plan, and Act (GPA). Your goal is what you are trying to achieve – in this case, improving your resilience and ability to handle the challenges you will face. Your plan is where you actually think about things ahead of time and make sure you have the tools and training you need to get to the third step. The third step is where you actually take action -- testing out your plan, making your moves, and getting back on your feet.

Without action, a plan is just an idea. You can't just plan to deal with a crisis or rebound -- you have to actually go ahead and do it. Time for another Drucker quote:

Many brilliant people believe that ideas move mountains. But bulldozers move mountains: ideas show where the bulldozers should go to work.

Because this is all about action, each post is going to include homework. I am going to do it and hope you will do too. Please feel free to reach out to me at tom@thomasmstrong.com to discuss what you are doing or to share your thoughts on this topic.

Resiliency homework:

  1. Check out Ready.gov for some simple things you can do to prepare for potential emergencies. Then go ahead and do one or more of those things.

  2. Choose one thing you can do to improve your personal ability to bounce back – go to bed 30 minutes earlier, take a short walk every night, do some pushups, . . . Stick with it every day until the next post.

Now, go make it happen -- Tom