Does Resilience Depend on Autonomy or Adaptation?

Resilience is an important quality to have in business, and in life. It is the quality of being able to bounce back and to ride out turbulent times.

But is business resilience dependent on your autonomy? Do you have to be in totally in control to be resilient?

The thing about autonomy is that it’s a myth, but it’s an attractive one. If you’re in the driving seat, then things can’t get too far out of control before you impose some degree of order on them.

But the autonomist’s beliefs are potentially dangerous, because they don’t reflect the real world.

Resilience depends, instead, on adaptability and an acceptance that there are things we cannot change.

Testing Times for Resilience

Covid-19 has emerged as the ultimate business disrupter, on a huge scale, and it continues to impact on daily life.

The pandemic has left the motivational ideas and themes which typically occupy social media and marketing channels looking flimsy and fragile.

Concepts such as taking control of your own destiny and making good things happen through sheer belief have come up against the unstoppable force of Covid-19.

If you want one, notorious, example, take a look at Donald Trump.

What happens if you discover that autonomous choice is a fiction and free will a fantasy?

You like to think you’re in control, but you’re not. We’re all buffeted about and led by forces which we can respond to, but rarely direct.

The problem with approaching your business as if you can master total control of it is that it sets the bar impossibly high. You are unlikely to meet these expectations. Even in normal circumstances.

But in the current climate, demanding so much of yourself in the face of truly uncontrollable events could be catastrophic to your wellbeing.

Why Autonomy is a Myth

The idea of personal autonomy is a powerfully attractive one. You think in terms of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, of standing on your own two feet.

The myth of autonomy is that:

  • It’s desirable, and
  • Achievable.

If you’re an autonomist, you think you can interact with others solely on your terms. You that you’re in control of your choices, directing your own free will.

What underpins this view is that you make these choices rationally, in complete isolation from your environment.

But in fact, we base a great many of our choices on irrational impulses and unconscious desires.

Lots of factors influence our decision-making, from habits to social and peer pressures, and choosing the path of least resistance. Many of these factors influence decision-making on a subconscious level.

You are not separate from the environment you inhabit. As a biological being, your environment will influence your decisions and actions.

If you’ve started your own business, did you do it without an external economy, customers or infrastructure? You didn’t generate the human capital that keeps your business running.

Why, then, would you want to be autonomous?

It comes back to a sense of exerting control. Many people go into business for themselves because they want to feel like they’re controlling their own destinies.

And the clichéd rhetoric of business supports this:

  • Push the envelope
  • Take it to the next level
  • It’s a win-win situation
  • Let’s blue-sky this
  • Step up to the plate.

If autonomy is a fiction you have chosen to live by, how does this fit in with the actual experience of business under conditions that are, at best, uncertain?

Surviving in the Real World

The decisions we make that we think are autonomous help shape the narratives of our lives.

This is true in business, and it’s reflected in the words and phrases businesses and brands choose to use when facing challenges:

  • Pivot
  • Redeploy
  • Innovate
  • Strategise.

But real business resilience isn’t dependent on convincing yourself that you’re still control.

What it requires is an acceptance that some things you can’t change, some things you just have to live with, and some you must adapt to.

It’s also about your openness to accepting support. And, where you can, giving support to others.

Can You Cooperate to Compete?

You could approach business like a predator or a survivalist, looking out for number one and treating everyone else as either competition or a stepping stone to success.

But is business such a zero-sum game? Might it be possible to cooperate and collaborate to better achieve your goals?

Look at LinkedIn as an example. The people who gain the most from it, and have the metrics to prove it, are those who engage with others. They don’t preach, and they don’t go for an aggressive sales pitch.

If you express a genuine willingness to help people, you can win work, just as you might respond positively to someone who seemed to be offering you something which would support you.

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