Saturday, 24 March 2012

"Be prepared"

We're thinking a lot about resilience at the moment (what it is, what it is not, how it is useful for thinking about design and training). A couple of years ago, I went climbing on Lundy. Beautiful place, highly recommended, though prone to being wet. Lundy doesn't have a climbing equipment shop, so it's important that you have everything with you. And because most of the climbing is on sea cliffs, if you drop anything you're unlikely to be able to retrieve it. So take spares: that's recognising a generic vulnerability, and planning a generic solution. In particular, I had the foresight to take a spare belay plate (essential for keeping your partner safe while climbing). This is an anticipatory approach to resilience for the "known unknowns": first recognise a vulnerability, and then act to reduce the vulnerability.

It happened: when I was half way up the Devil's Slide, my partner pulled the rope hard just as I was removing it from the belay plate, and I lost my grip... and watched the belay plate bounce down the rock to a watery grave in the sea 30m below. That's OK: I had a spare. Except that I didn't: the spare was in my rucksack at the top of the cliff. Fortunately, though, I had knowledge: I knew how to belay using an Italian Hitch knot, so I could improvise with other equipment I was carrying and keep us safe for the rest of the climb. This is a different kind of resilience: having a repertoire of skills that can be brought to bear in unforeseen circumstances, and having generic tools (like bits of string, penknives, and the like) that can be appropriated to fit unexpected needs.

This is a "boy scout" approach to resilience: for the "unknown unknowns" that cannot be anticipated, it's a case of having skills that can be brought to bear to deal with the unforeseen situation, and tools that can be used in ways that they might not have been designed for.

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