Fernando Fischmann

Innovation: The Flip Side of Resilience

24 September, 2014 / Articles

Resilience was a hot topic at last week’s O’Reilly Velocity conference, and the topic was hottest during the keynote and subsequent interview by David Woods, Professor of Cognitive Systems Engineering and Human Systems Integration at The Ohio State University. As an expert in Resilience Engineering, Professor Woods has consulted on catastrophic failures and resilience for organizations ranging from NASA to emergency rooms. For Velocity’s performance engineering audience, his take on engineering adaptive systems to be resilient provided refreshing insight into the complex problems facing technologists today.

My interest in Woods’s talk, however, centered on how his research on adaptive organizations aligned so well with my thoughts on business agility and innovation. In fact, we share the core proposition that organizations are complex adaptive systems – systems that consist of both human and technology subsystems. Furthermore, resilience is a property of such systems – what we call an emergent property.

“Today, failure is due to brittle systems, but we still try to analyze them as if it was a component failure – usually a human,” Woods explains. “‘It was human error!’ No, that’s a component-level analysis missing how a complex and adaptive system behaves.” Such component-level analyses never solve the problems of complex system failures, because the interconnections between the component systems lead to emergent behaviors. “These systems have creeping complexity, and that means there’s more and more interdependencies,” Woods said. “A greater web of interconnections.”




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