Resilience is defined as the capacity of a system to tolerate disturbances without collapsing into a qualitatively different state so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedback” (Brian Walker).

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The greater the resilience is in a particular system the more it can resist large or prolonged disturbances.  If resilience is low or weakened, then smaller or briefer disturbances can push the system into a different state, where its dynamics change.  Disturbances such as outside disorder (environment) the system has to cope with and the internal state of the system itself.

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Once resilience is overwhelmed (resiliency threshold will be crossed) system enters a new state, restoration to original sate will be complex, expensive, and sometimes even impossible.

Research suggests that to restore some systems to their previous state requires a return to environmental conditions and the same function, structure (resources) , identity, and feedback well before the collapse.   This can be seen why after prolonged economic crisis; growth has difficulty absorbing the unemployed labor force.

Where resilience is overwhelmed system may also reach extinction rather than a new state. Example:  Maya, the Romans, and Kodak.

Resilience threshold and resilience state are essential part of the system and fundamental with respect to system transformation and adaptability.  Organization can exploit resilience by influencing resilience of competitor organization (outside disorder), and shift management focus from growth and efficiency to adaptability, reducing rigidity and fragility.

Transformation Initiatives are then closely associated  learning, self-organization and ensuring  that a set of management functions and their interrelationship are in place to  avoids possibility of undesirable situations where system cannot recover or leads to inferior system state.

Key consideration with respect to resilience:

Resilience  Management

Resilience is fundamental to long term sustainability and viability. Resilience state shifts occur when systems experience changes in their internal dynamics that push the system into a new state.  From a Cybernetics Management perspective the key is to manage resilience effectively by understanding, internal dynamics, resilience threshold, low and high resilience applicable for adaptation. Resilience management entails clear understanding of:

  • Understanding mechanism that act upon resilience:
    • Cumulative changes in systemic properties (environmental changes, viability, crumbling paradigms) that leads to a gradual loss of resilience.
    • An intense shock (earthquake, banking system, economic sanctions, Brit Exit from EU) that drastically changes the system state.
  • Systemic Variables that have quantities that change “quickly” in response to feedback from model dynamics

Resilience State

The ball represents the current position of the system (system state), the system state can either be disturbed by change in variables or parameters:


Disturbances can cause System state to shift and either remain within resilience threshold or its resilience threshold is overwhelmed  (resilience tipping point) moving to a new resilience threshold as shown in (a) which has totally different  function, structure, identity, and feedback. System sate can either be superior or inferior to previous system state: all depending on the resilience threshold.

Resilience Stability Landscape

Resilience landscape can be influenced internally (management abilities, historical resilience behavior, systemic potential) and externally ecosystem conditions (environment, business competition).


Figure A: Mechanisms driving resilience shifts can be depicted using “stability landscapes”: valleys represent stability domains, or basins of attraction, in which a system, represented by the ball, is kept by internal feedback mechanisms; b) cumulative changes in system variables can lead to a gradual loss of resilience, here represented by changes in the depth of the valley that becomes shallower up to a point where even a small disturbance can push the system into a new basin of attraction, under a different threshold; c) an intense shock can also push the system into a new resilience threshold.

When a system shifts into a new reliance threshold, it reaches and is kept in a new state by internal feedback dynamics characteristic of that resilience threshold (figure B). This makes the recovery to the previous regime very difficult, especially when lag effects in the system’s response hinder its recovery.

In some cases resilience threshold shifts are mediated by tipping points , that is, a non-linear evolution of the system, where an additional small change causes the passing of a threshold and leads to an abrupt change (relatively to the baseline system dynamics). These tipping-point dynamics result from reinforcing feedbacks that amplify the impacts of the drivers of change.

High-Low Resilience

Resilience threshold can be of either of low resilience or high resilience.  From a systemic perspective they can be seen as negative or positive from systemic perspective: the key aspect is to understand within the adaptive cycle the ideal resilience needed.


High resilience provides low stability and facilitates the move to a system state that is part of a different threshold.  Less disturbance (internally or externally controlled or externally)  is needed to push the system into a new resilience.

How fast and large are Resilience Threshold shifts?

Critical consideration; slow variables determine  the resilience of a system. The temporal and spatial dynamics of threshold shifts depend on the main processes causing feedbacks that affect variables of the system:

  • Slow variables

Factors that slowly in response long-term processes and that constrain response of fast variables. Measurement of slow variables often require techniques that differ from those used to measure fast variables

  • Fast variables

Factors that change rapidly and that are mostly easily measured by managers. Rhey are often focal variable for managers.

They are difficult to ascertain loss of resilience due to high variability. Fast variables are generally those of concern to systemic situation, like crop production, Sales and gdp.

Is it possible to reverse Resilience Threshold shifts?

Sometimes it is possible to restore a degraded system into its former state, but it is often difficult, slow and expensive. Hence, threshold shifts are of major policy relevance and justify a precautionary approach to reduce the causes of resilience loss but also a proactive approach to enhance systems resilience.

Today, the main drivers of environmental change are land-use change, climate change, pollution, over-exploitation and invasive species. The threat posed by these drivers is aggravated by their cumulative effects but also by the possibility of interactions between the effects.

How can we prevent Resilience threshold shifts?

Preventing a pending threshold shift requires addressing the various pressures impacting a system at the scales in which they act, global (external to internal)  to local.

  • Control local pressures to increase the resilience to global scale drivers. Global scale dynamics are difficult to predict and manage and reaching international consensus is often challenging, therefore, controlling local pressures, which are more amenable to management, is essential.
  • Improve the adaptive capacity of social systems. Informed, flexible and inclusive decision-making is needed to react timely to system feedbacks. This requires knowledge sharing, learning from past experiences, and the ability to move from business-as-usual unsustainable pathways to innovative forms of human-nature interaction.
  •  Improve knowledge on threshold shifts. This should be an overarching goal, including scientific research continued development of threshold shift databases, technology development, and educational outreach.