How to Build Business Resilience

Man who lost job sitting on stairs

Jazz and plane crashes: Only the adaptable survive

TIffany and I recently had the privilege of joining today’s top marketing and sales professionals at Inbound 2017.

And you know what surprised me?

The thought that today’s top dogs aren’t necessarily going to be around next year.

Technology, competition, strategies, the economy, super volcanos …

There are a lot of variables beyond our control that will impact which faces will be there to speak and learn next year. It’s the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.

So how are we, 8 Signal, going to ensure we stay sharp and adaptable, and stay in the game? How can you set your business up to endure the unknown and weather ambiguity?

Resilience starts with a plane crash

Remember that time your plane crashed in the Andes and you had to survive on nothing more than your ingenuity?


Well maybe that hasn’t happened to you, but according to the latest in survival psychology, there is no difference between the way someone responds in a major disaster like a plane crash and the way you and I respond to a crisis in the boardroom.

According to Inbound speaker Jonathan David Lewis of McKee Wallwork + Co, 8 Signal (and your El Paso or Las Cruces business) needs to get a better understanding of survival psychology if we want to build business resilience that stands the test of time and unpredictability.

An uncomfortable theory

Lewis says that Dr. John Leach, a survival psychologist, has a 10-80-10 theory … which basically means that 90% of us are not prepared for disruption — be it a plane crash or a sudden change in our work environment.

He has found that only 10% of us are prepared to address a crisis on our feet.

That leaves 80% of us functionally paralyzed (breathing in burning smoke in our plane seats while the prepared unbuckle and scramble), and 10% of us in uncontrolled panic.

Which group would you be in?

Most people would say they’re in the prepared group. But that math just doesn’t add up, does it?

So what can we do to get out of that paralyzed or panicked percent, and know with certainty that we will handle a crisis (or a slick competitor, technological advance, plane crash, or super volcano) with business resilience?

Well, we can start by thinking of business like jazz, rather than a classical musical composition.

Business resilience is like jazz

You know why a lot of people don’t get jazz music?

For all the complexities, talent, and time it takes to make jazz music, part of its charm is that it’s not structured in a way our pattern-loving minds can predict and sign off on.

I love how Mike Hobart describes it in this BBC article:

“Here, the musicians were in charge, making it up as they went along. Later, I understood that this was improvisation: the great collective aesthetic of jazz that creates order on the move … It poses questions about order and chaos and structure and chance, yet the way that jazz musicians improvise remains a mystery to many people, even though improvisation is the basis of human conversation. No one sits down for a pint in the pub with a friend and reads from a script.”

  • Creating order on the move
  • Embracing chaos and chance
  • Improvising as the conversation changes
  • Ditching the script

These actions are pretty counterintuitive to the average businessperson.

Much like the common reaction to jazz music, we may look over these with a squirm and brush them off as “not our business style.”

But when we bring survival psychology and jazz music together, not only do we get a really weird image, we get a recipe for business resilience!

By embracing the adaptive principles of jazz, we can make sure that when disaster strikes, we’re not left in the panicking percentage.

The recipe for a business that stays in business

Takeaway #1: Winners embrace uncertainty

I like awkward embraces as much as the next person, but this one really got to me.

I’d describe myself as paranoid of becoming old hat — yesterday’s winner. I’m terrified of getting stuck and ceasing to evolve. Terrified of some amorphous “next big thing” that’s coming to replace us.

But if I can develop the habit of not simply dealing with ambiguity, uncertainty, and uncharted waters, but actually greeting them a welcoming hug, I have the freedom to freestyle a bit and stay relevant in our field.

Takeaway #2: Flexibility beats efficiency

Picture a classically trained orchestra conductor (top down manager) making the transition to a jazz ensemble.

Though the process of multiple performers using their skills in an infinitely more flexible way to create art will probably give that poor conductor a bulging forehead vein, it will also give the former conductor a far more sustainable and adaptable team.

An orchestra will break down if that conductor isn’t the sole dictator of direction, but a jazz ensemble revels in the ambiguity of their art and creates a living, evolving piece of art.

Takeaway #3: Connection diffuses decay

You remember, of course, the second law of thermodynamics: a natural tendency of an isolated system to degenerate into a more disordered state.


Isolated systems decay at a faster rate. So though we need to embrace some chaos and uncertainty, we can’t make the most of it if we’re not making meaningful connections.

This applies to us personally, and within our organizations.

How can you create when you never recharge on a vacation? Or miss every opportunity to bask without any agenda in the greatness of the people in your life?

We need to start making room for connection by hiring it, encouraging it, and documenting it.

The future belongs to jazz, not the orchestra

Are you looking for ways to embrace whatever changes are ahead in your field?

We would love to help you build a plan based on business resilience. Call us at (915) 585-1919 or fill out the online form to schedule a free 2-hour session with our marketing experts.