The turkey’s resilience on Thanksgiving

There is another magic word in the enchanted world of project management: resilience. At least that’s my impression, based on the frequency of mentions in blogs like this one, specialist portals, articles and so on. Whether IPMA or PMI, the term appears everywhere as a key ability for leading projects, but also as a characteristic of projects. Wikipedia defines resilience as ” ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis.” Brief internet research shows that no cliché is omitted here and that there is no fun in buzzword bingo because someone can always call bingo too quickly.

You can make money out of it too. In this respect, the “Resilience Academy” takes the (resilient?) buzzword cake: “Agility and resilience are the future competences to make companies strong and successful in the VUCA world as well.“

Now the question arises, at least for me, what makes this characteristic so important all of a sudden? Were projects 10 years ago significantly less stressful? Have the demands on the people involved risen dramatically?  A recent study by IPMA, KPMG and AIPM points to increasing competitive pressure among companies. The wheel is turning faster and the demands for meeting deadlines are undoubtedly increasing (at least for non-public projects). The study therefore states the necessary focus on strategy-related and interpersonal leadership skills, i.e. more leadership and less methodological skills. But does this also mean a greater burden?

A study by GPM from 2014 shows that the number of days absent due to mental illness increased by 165% in the years 2010-2014. 25% of all respondents feel overstretched and 33% see themselves at their performance limits. And in order for the individual to increase his or her resilience, the “Big Five” countermeasures are also included: planning relaxing short breaks, doing sport regularly, sleeping sufficiently, not wanting to be perfect in everything, having enough fun (laughter).

Have we all of a sudden become wimps, or was it much easier in the past? Answer: Wrong question.

Instead, we should be asking whether a thicker skin helps at all and if so, in what cases?

And with this I come back to the title of the article. In his book “The Black Swan”, Nassim Taleb describes the tale of a turkey that experiences care at the beginning of its life. Each day this turkey experiences shelter, food and encouraging words and makes a fatal mistake: he draws conclusions about the future from the past, which is probably the case in most projects and initiatives.

Basically, there is nothing wrong with this, as long as we are not dealing with an environment that holds surprises for us that deviate from the rule. The engineers of the nuclear complex in Fukushima can tell you a thing or two about it – the height of the protective walls was based on the maximum wave heights measured in the past. Resilience is only ever as good as the assumption about the level of stress to be contained.

“Conclusive”, experience-based forecasts did not save the turkey. Its resilience competence only helped to a limited extent in the VUCA turkey world and randomness cannot be eliminated by trying to eliminate randomness! Randomness could not care less about our planning. Interestingly, however, studies already exist that examine the success of “resilient organisations”. Andreas G.M. Nachbagauer of the University of Applied Sciences BFI in Vienna summarises the situation thus: “No systematic connections between successful handling of the unexpected and features normally ascribed to resilient organizations …… were found.”

Original text: RGE
English translation: BCO

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