Resilience: Transformability

The capacity to create a fundamentally new system when ecological, economic, or social, political conditions, crumbling industry paradigms (Kodak film) conditions make the existing system untenable (Paradigm Shift). At times or organizations may find themselves trapped in an undesirable basin with low system performance that is becoming so wide, and so deep, that movement to a new basin or sufficient reconfiguration of the existing basin becomes extremely difficult. At some point, it may prove necessary to configure an entirely new stability landscape—one defined by new state variables, or the old state variables supplemented by new ones. The capacity to create such a new stability landscape is known as transformability—the capacity to create untried beginnings from which to evolve a new way of living when existing ecological, economic, or system structures become untenable. New variables are introduced or allowed to emerge.


The changes cascade through and may transform the whole panarchy with all its constituent adaptive cycles. There are many examples of systems becoming locked in and unable to transform until it is too late (collapse, extinction) ; the wrong ‘of what to what’. Knowing if, when, and how to initiate transformative change, before it is too late to escape a seriously undesirable and deepening basin of attraction, is at the heart of transformability.

A tension will exist between maintaining the resilience of a desired current configuration in the face of known (and some unknown) shocks, and simultaneously building a capacity for transformability (paradigm shift), should it be needed.

It is nevertheless likely that there is overlap in the attributes that promote adaptability and transformability. In addition to such common attributes (e.g., diverse and high levels of natural and built capital), attributes required for transformability will emphasize novelty, diversity, and organization in human capital—diversity of functional types (kinds of education, expertise, and occupations); trust, strengths, and variety in institutions; speeds and kinds of cross-scale communication, both within the panarchy and between other systems elsewhere.