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Think piece

Resilient mindsets — for a whole of society approach to Resilience

Personal Resilience is a mindset — a complex mix of values, attitudes, beliefs and self-stories which enable a person to ‘lean in’ to risk, uncertainty, challenge, crisis and even trauma, to adapt and change and emerge from the experience stronger and wiser.

Resilient people are purposeful — both personally and professionally. They know themselves and their values, they are self-aware and self-led and they adapt and navigate towards a goal that matters to them. They are curious and creative, they don’t just accumulate data and information, they make meaning out of it and explore alternative viewpoints and solutions. They listen, they collaborate, and they trust. They have a potent blend of humility and perseverance that powers their process. They don’t live in silos — they zoom in and zoom out in order to see the big picture as well as the detail– the end-to-end journey. In short, they are effective lifelong learners — who know whyhow and when they need to acquire new skills to achieve their goals. They embody self-leadership, learning relationships and complex problem solving.

The big design fault in our national infrastructure system is, not that that we don’t know what is needed, but that most of our formal education and training systems don’t produce these qualities as learning outcomes in their graduands. They are perfectly designed to get the results they get — which is successive generations of people who have expert knowledge in a particular domain, who have learned how to pass the test but are not systems thinkers, complex problem solvers or team players. We have known this for years but now the young people are telling us for themselves. Check out the Izzy, Youth MP for Wigan’s recent speech in parliament about how the education system is failing to produce these wider student outcomes.

Governments and global agencies around the world have identified lists of ‘future skills’ that are defined as essential for the world of work, for effective citizenship, for sustainable growth, for the planet and for the wellbeing of society. But, until these ‘future skills’ and the values, attitudes, beliefs and self-stories that fuel them are integrated into how we design learning experiences for education and training — measured, valued and accredited — we are unlikely to see any change. They will remain as they are now — the icing on the cake when what we really need is a different sort of cake. If we are to achieve a whole of society approach to national resilience, then we also have to have a ‘whole of the person’ approach to education, training and learning.

A missing link in traditional approaches to resilience is the crucial relationship between the personal and the public. We want behaviour change at scale in relation to climate change, we want to upskill professionals to think outside the box and transform the way we do things, but we forget that nobody changes their behaviour unless they have a reason to do so — a purpose that matters to them. It is people at every level who design, build, implement, maintain, develop, decommission and renew our social, technical and political infrastructure systems.

This really is a wicked problem — with no simple solution. We know how to design learning experiences for inside out change — we know how to assess and accredit the development of self-leadership, learning relationships and complex problem solving. It’s just very hard to actually do it. There are some great initiatives out there — check out Skills Development Scotland’s approach to the assessment and accreditation of meta competencies, or the Skills Builders approach to employability skills. The trouble is we face a paradigm challenge — markets tend towards conformity, individualism and competition, whereas resilient eco systems tend towards diversity, collaboration and shared purpose.

If we apply systems thinking to the challenge of equipping people with future skills and competencies for a resilient society, then the we have to think both inside out and outside in. How can we, on the one hand, develop regulatory frameworks that incentivise and reward learning professionals for facilitating, assessing and accrediting these wider outcomes? And how can we do so within the stranglehold of our current assessment framework which we know actually depresses motivation for learning, encourages fixed mindsets and performance anxiety. We need to learn to measure what matters and exploit the potential of the digital to enhance and scale such wholistic measurement models and use them to create robust accreditation frameworks.

And from the inside out, we need to develop a new breed of learning professional, capable of coaching-for-learning for resilient mindsets from cradle to grave — both inside and outside of our formal education systems. And we need to continue to demonstrate the impact of resilient mindsets on mental-health, well-being, engagement and performance. I’m not suggesting that we abandon the value of expertise in a narrow discipline or domain — it is necessary but no longer sufficient and not a vantage point for system leadership.

We can integrate the most sophisticated data sets for better decision making, we can nudge, push and pull communities and businesses, we can come up with robust digital solutions to intractable problems but unless people are equipped to make sense of such data and align their unique contributions to a shared purpose, transformational change is impossible. A system that depends on external control is simply not sustainable.

Ruth Crick, February 2023