Mike Tyson knows a thing or two about the meaning of disruption when he says that “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”.
Something similar happened to this blog. I had planned to write consistently on a regular publishing schedule (writing after hours and weekends) and even accounting for a major (but happy) change of welcoming a new family member. I was ready. But the pandemic had turned everything upside-down. I was confronted with a sudden, unexpected disruption that my blogger persona was not prepared to deal with.
Strategic planning involves predicting the future. Unforeseen events are, by definition, excluded from any consideration. If those do happen, something else matters - the inherent ability to bounce back from a sudden change. This is called resilience.
In systems engineering, resilience is defined as
… an ability of the system to withstand a major disruption within acceptable degradation parameters and to recover within an acceptable time 1
Applying this definition to this blog, the service degradation (little to zero article output) and time to recover (months) were both not acceptable.
But like most people, I hold more than one role in life - I’m also an employee, parent, partner and so on. Since this blog doesn’t pay my bills, other services I provide were more important to maintain.
Most of the time, when we think about resilience, we are talking about dealing with a sudden disruption - a pandemic, hacker attack, a new competitor, key employees leaving a company and so on.
However, harder to handle is gradual change. Service degradation is a temporary measure to gain time for dealing with a problem. This won’t work if the underlying cause can not be fixed immediately and requires a long-term adjustment.
Skills that slowly become obsolete is a prevalent example. Companies can deal with a skill shortage by hiring workers with the right expertise. But there is a limitation to how quickly it is possible to find and integrate new employees.
Even more restricted are individuals. The worker that has been laid off and finds that their skills are not in demand anymore will need time to acquire new expertise.
A better strategy to deal with slow change is constant gradual adaptation. Companies can train their workers and implement a culture that encourages learning. Workers that keep updating their skills doing their day-to-day job stay employable.
That is not always easy to accomplish. The interest of companies is stability. If in-house technology is mastered and fulfils business needs, there is little incentive for stakeholders to change anything. No new investments will be made just for the sake of helping employees to update their skills.
Some companies understand this and allow employees to spend a certain amount of their time to pursue personal interests. This is a start but doesn’t help if no guidance is provided on how to spend the time wisely. Our education system does not prepare students for a world where constant learning is required. This problem is amplified when it is not clear what technologies will stay relevant.
It is therefore beneficial to invest time into acquiring skills that have a long half-life. The author of this post believes that blogging is such a skill. Writing regularly, and in front of an audience, is an exercise in thinking and clear communication. Those are true meta skills that are useful for most of current and future jobs.