How resilience works

by Diane L. Coutu
Harvard Business Review ()


Why do some people bounce back from life's hardships while others despair? HBR senior editor Diane Coutu looks at the nature of individual and organizational resilience, issues that have gained special urgency in light of the recent terrorist attacks, war, and recession. In the business arena, resilience has found its way onto the list of qualities sought in employees. As one of Coutu's interviewees puts it, "More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person's level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails." Theories abound about what produces resilience, but three fundamental characteristics seem to set resilient people and companies apart from others. One or two of these qualities make it possible to bounce back from hardship, but true resilience requires all three. The first characteristic is the capacity to accept and face down reality. In looking hard at reality, we prepare ourselves to act in ways that allow us to endure and survive hardships: We train ourselves how to survive before we ever have to do so. Second, resilient people and organizations possess an ability to find meaning in some aspects of life. And values are just as important as meaning; value systems at resilient companies change very little over the long haul and are used as scaffolding in times of trouble. The third building block of resilience is the ability to improvise. Within an arena of personal capabilities or company rules, the ability to solve problems without the usual or obvious tools is a great strength.

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