Resilience vs Robustness

An Oak that grew on the bank of a river was uprooted by a severe gale of wind, and thrown across the stream. It fell among some Reeds growing by the water, and said to them, "How is it that you, who are so frail and slender, have managed to weather the storm, whereas I, with all my strength, have been torn up by the roots and hurled into the river?"

"You were stubborn," came the reply, "and fought against the storm, which proved stronger than you: but we bow and yield to every breeze, and thus the gale passed harmlessly over our heads."

-- Aesop, The Oak and the Reeds

A couple of years ago I posted a summary argument about why KM is important. It holds up surprisingly well despite the evolution in my thinking about the topic.

In that posting I quite deliberately avoided the use of 'tacit' and 'explicit' knowledge because I don't see the distinction as relevant, strategically at least. Instead, I focused on the idea of adaptability and resilience which shifts the KM discussion towards a risk- and opportunity-based framework.

A few times on actKM I've raised the idea that organisations are constantly trading off robustness against resilience.

A pure "robust" system is highly process-based, engineered to return to the status quo regardless of what gets thrown at it. The problem is that a robust system (by definition) is designed to operate the same way in the face of change. Any breakdown of a robust system is likely to be a catastrophic failure.

By contrast, a pure "resilient" system is flexible enough to change to deal with almost any unexpected internal or external pressures. It is not formless but by being so sensitive to pressure it's state at any given moment is very hard to predict.

For most organisations, the balance lies between these two extremes. But determining the ideal balance is a key strategic decision and a difficult one. KM can have a key advisory role here and I think we (as a professional) should be ready to provide that input when called.

Update: This March 2012 post from John Robb on resilient versus robust strategies is a nice supplement to this post.

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Amy96 (not verified) — Thu, 10/10/2013 - 20:55

I was in search of an article which could clear my doubts on Knowledge Management and I am happy that I found this post. It was very interesting to read about Resilience Vs Robustness. It was very informative. Thanks a lot for the share.

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