Resilience Rides the Waves of Disruption


Now that “disruption” is a business catch phrase, is “resilience” an equally common term in your professional vocabulary? It’s a word that deserves a prominent place in every management team’s playbook.

A global biological disaster was unique in our current experience. It introduced the idea that disruption is more like a wave than a precipice. A new threat is building in the wake of every previous challenge. Resilience, or learning to surf those breakers, must be a priority on the business agenda.

We were living in the midst of cultural, technological, and economic instability long before the pandemic. But absorbing that reality was difficult until nature clarified our understanding.

Learn Through Challenge

Resilience goes beyond successfully recovering from a setback. Yes, it involves assessing the situation and addressing problems. But, it also means using the disruption to identify opportunities for innovation and growth and applying lessons learned to develop future initiatives.

Entrepreneurs are especially adept at finding the sweet spot in chaos. Kevin Hostutler, President, CEO and Co-Founder of ACGI Software, told me this story about how disruption pointed him in an important new direction early in his career.

“In the mid-1990’s the transition to client/server computing or networked PCs began,” Kevin recalls. “Microsoft revolutionized the software industry, and I was laid off.  Although the firm that I worked for was one of the leading providers of association software, when the company saw the investment in resources and time that was needed to switch to the new technology, they decided to stop production.

“On Friday the 13th of September 1996, my co-workers and I were called into a conference room and handed pink slips. My wife was expecting our third child in three years. The hardest thing I had to do was go home and tell her that I had no practical means to support our family.

“Then, my customers started calling. My business partner, Dan Kasprow, and I had been working on some large project implementations. Those clients hadn’t gone live yet, and they needed our help. Necessity is the mother of invention. It took Dan and me eight days to incorporate. A week later, we were open for business.”

Read more of Kevin’s story in our Book “Association 4.0: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Risk, Courage, and Transformation.

Be a Skeptic

View future forecasts with a dose of skepticism.

Resilience asks you to identify possibilities, but it also requires adopting flexible approaches to strategy and viewing your future projections with a dose of skepticism. This shift in perspective can be difficult for older associations steeped in traditional thinking.

Risk and resilience experts predict that volatility will be the new normal. In this uncertain climate, forecasts are unreliable. Using scenarios and interdependencies for planning is a better option.

Over the last two years, I’ve written several posts about the value of using scenario planning for decision-making in a crisis. But scenarios are also a tool that can be used to evaluate longer-term initiatives.

Scenario planning helps you to see around the corners, and to imagine what might lie ahead. It promotes adaptability—or the willingness to pivot when plans are derailed by the unexpected. The goal is to develop short, mid, and long-range strategies with flexibility baked into the design.

Sharon Rice, .orgSource’s Managing Director of Business Strategy, explains the process like this: “Scenario planning fills you with information and an understanding of the possibilities. It gives you some control when the external environment is rapidly changing, and people are looking to you for leadership. Understanding the potential futures steers decision-making away from reaction and towards positive action.”

Scenario planning aids in exploring these six core questions:

  1. Why are we engaged in planning now?
  2. What factors are driving uncertainty and how impactful could they be?
  3. What are the potential short, mid, and long-term impacts?
  4. What are the possible scenarios we are facing?
  5. What key indicators will show that we are moving closer to a scenario?
  6. What will the operating strategy be for each scenario?


To hear Sharon describe the approach to each of these questions, listen to her webinar.

Build Competencies

Scenario planning and other decision-making frameworks are tools for managing uncertainty. But, according to Sharon, leadership is the bottom line. CEOs must be role models for their teams. In the past, resilience, like culture building, may have been viewed as a “soft” skill because the qualities that are involved don’t directly impact the bottom line.

Connecting with diverse groups and people creates nuanced vision.

An open mind and the ability to connect and collaborate with diverse groups and people (especially those who don’t share your point of view) creates the nuanced vision needed to imagine multiple outcomes. Leaders who successfully manage change focus on building these competencies:

  • Emotional intelligence—Self-awareness and an understanding of your personal strengths and weaknesses along with the ability to empathize and inspire colleagues to action
  • Utilizing feedback—Soliciting input from others to assess whether your perceptions about yourself and your performance are accurate.
  • Cultivating continuous learning—Identifying what you don’t know and striving to fill the knowledge gaps.
  • Tolerating failure—Being brave enough to risk failure and optimistic enough to bounce back and continue experimenting.
  • Living the mission—Elevating your organization’s mission and allowing it to drive and sustain employee enthusiasm and loyalty
  • Building relationships—Creating partnerships that expand your horizons and provide strength in shifting circumstances


Connect Across Your Community

I’m reprinting a story from my last post because it is a perfect example of resilience in action and the value of building coalitions. Kristine Hillmer, President and CEO at the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, described this experience to our audience at .orgCommunity’s recent leadership ColLAB event.

“I’ve always understood the importance of relationships,” Kristine advised. “But COVID reinforced that lesson. Here’s an example from my experience. Pre-COVID, we had a program called the Milwaukee Kitchen Cabinet. The goals were to talk about the great things that restaurants do in their communities. And, through those stories, to develop relationships with the media and elected officials in that market. We leveraged our connections during COVID by organizing a weekly call to convene the key players. When the Public Health Department was looking at how to reopen safely, they had a sounding board, and we were able to collaborate to develop successful solutions. This exchange of ideas is a powerful partnership for everyone involved.

“On the other hand, in Madison, where we didn’t have a Kitchen Cabinet, collaboration on reopening was much more challenging. There was no working partnership with industry and public health. That hammered home the connection between relationship building and trust.

“Today, in Milwaukee, the group has gone on to consider public safety, another issue that’s critical for restaurants. I never imagined that as the President of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, I would be on a first-name basis with the Milwaukee Police Department Chief, the Milwaukee Fire Department chiefs, and public health officials. The relationships built pre and during the pandemic have strengthened and solidified those partnerships.”

Kristine’s network will undoubtedly continue to benefit her members’ positions in the marketplace in unexpected ways. Building partnerships before you know exactly how or why you will need them is the essence of preparing for unexpected challenges.

When you understand how to use foresight effectively, you make resilience an important word in your vocabulary and give your organization the ability to successfully surf disruption.


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