Are You Robust or Resilient?

Greece may default on its debt today (Wednesday).  This has put the global financial system on the edge of another meltdown.  This is yet another unfortunate reminder that an economic depression and political instability are real and tangible threats.

So, this is probably a good time to take a moment to think about your strategies for dealing with an increasingly uncertain future.  Ask yourself this question:  are you robust or resilient?

To make this easier, let’s start with a fun example.  In the second installment of the excellent Terminator movie series, Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast as a robot called a Terminator.  This robot was what we could call a robust system.  A robust system is able to absorb a terrific amount of damage before it fails.

In the movie, the Terminator faced off against a new superior series of robot, the liquid metal T-1000.  In contrast to Arnold’s robust robot, the liquid metal T-1000 was a resilient system.  This meant that if the T-1000 was blown apart, the parts could and would quickly reassemble themselves back into a fully functional version of itself.


What happened during the fight?  The T-1000 inflicted terrible damage on Arnold’s robot.  He continually lost parts whenever the damage he absorbed exceeded his structural robustness.   He looked pretty ragged by the end.   In contrast, the T-1000 was able to handle all of the damage inflicted without even a suffering a blemish (except at the dramatically contrived ending).  Why?  Because the T-1000 was designed to be resilient.

So, how does this apply to you?  The way I see it, you have two strategic options for dealing with an uncertain future.  You can choose to be either:

  1. robust or
  2. resilient.

A robust strategy means that you will continually make investments and decisions that reinforce your current position.  Take steps that make yourself impervious to damage.   What do you do?  You stockpile.  You armor yourself.  You hedge and invest in safety.  You run and hide.

Resilience means you focus on investments that provide you with an ability to adapt.  To change based on the what the situation becomes.  What do you do?  You build systems that produce food, energy, water, and products.  You build networks and communities.  You invest in the future.

What do I recommend?

Everyone needs robustness in the short term, to handle fast moving shocks.  However, robustness is not a long term strategy.  The only long term strategy is resilience.  A resilience that invests in the ability to change and adapt.  To meet threats and exploit opportunities that we haven’t or can’t specifically anticipate.

Let me know what you think.

Your constantly adapting to new circumstance analyst,

John Robb

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  • Marcus Wynne

    Well said, John, and, I think, self-evident to any reasonable and educated person at this point. You must have a robust plan/system to deal with short-term. And I take your point that we must invest in resilient methods. The challenge, as I see it, is how to create resilient systems/methods that will survive a full on crisis and be able to produce during and after.

    For instance, just today:

    The Greek gov’t is about to default, causing a systemic ripple throughout the world-wide financial machine.

    The US is preparing to intervene in Syria and Iran.

    Israel and Iran are about to go for it.

    There’s a major uptick in seismic activity along the New Madrid, with all of the precursors indicating significant shift.

    There are numerous stacked CMEs inbound from the sun, including one from a X5+ event that’s not too far short of the Carrington Event, oft cited as a technology killer were it to happen today.

    So, with all of that in mind, how do we create resilient systems that are sufficiently robust to get through the initial chaos of any *one* of those, or a combination thereof?

    Mind you, I have no answers. I tend to be biased in favor of widespread education in skills and utilizing scavenged/found materials and power sources, the kind of education that occurs in MakerSpaces and other places where people actually get their hands dirty.

    There’s an exercise I do with people I consult with on personal preparedness. I ask questions, since the brain likes to seek answers:

    If you could no longer obtain food from local groceries, and you were limited to what, where and who you could find within one day’s walk of your current residence, what/where/who would you do or go to?

    If all the major hospitals were closed, who in your network has medical training and/or access to medical supplies?

    If you needed to secure your residence from looting or fire, who/what/where would you go to get help for that?

    The idea is to install a problem-solving cognitive strategy…because if they can think that through, they have already identified possible sources for longer term, more resilient structures.

    The resilience is, in my opinion, not coming from pre-thinking solutions that involve a presupposition of resources that may not exist, but instead from relearning problem solving strategies and installing the necessary knowledge (in whatever form) to improvise and create before, during and after any event requiring the robustness you refer to.

    The robustness comes from connection. No one gets through it alone. And that connection builds the structure for longer term resilience.

    My two cents worth for the day. Thanks, John.

    cheers, m

    • johnrobb

      Thanks Marcus. JR

  • Corey

    I think this is superbly realistic. I was feeling awkward about making my way into a new career that pays much better, and I thought… this isn’t the type of wealth I want to gain. I want to build a resilient community and use alt currencies, developing long-term strategies to thrive. But right now I need to survive in the old system.

    So this post takes a load off my mind. Thanks again, John!

    • johnrobb

      Corey, My pleasure. It’s a process. JR

  • Ted

    What’s your opinion of CSAs in terms of contributing to one’s resilience?

    • johnrobb

      Two thumbs up! Variants of that approach can be used in lots of different areas.

  • Danny

    Introducing the missing but essential element in this article.

    Chapter 4. Thales’ Secret, or The Intelligence of