If you wish to mingle with the great and the good, and by the way have access to a Gulfstream V and a $40,000 entry fee, you could have spent the past few days listening to the international business and intellectual nobility dilate on the theme “resilient dynamism”. You know, of course, what that means, otherwise you wouldn’t have received one of those gold platted invitations in the first place.

Every so often, a new idea, or at least a slogan that sounds like it contains an idea, takes center stage. Resilience seems to be the new thing to talk about. And it is even better if you can make that resilience dynamic at your next public policy cocktail party.

As the gatekeepers of global power fire up their Gulfstreams and return to their nations’ capitols and financial centers, rest assured that resilience has long since replaced bygone slogans of the past, slogans such as regime change, nation building, and the global village. Surely the next several issues of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and dozens of think tank journals will enlighten us all on the gospel of resilience and its impact on our planet for decades to come.

In the meantime, we can suppose it has something to do with its predecessor buzzword “sustainability” or survivability or recovery from disaster or some such. We the hoi poloi will be informed in due course, when our betters deem it fit to fill us in on emerging trends and tides.

But for the Davos masters who imagine themselves to be more creative than they are, they are well behind the times (and not for the first time). Awaiting other nominees for the Resilience Oscar, mine is Dr. Steve Flynn, Ph.D., former Coast Guard commander, Northeastern University professor, and, most importantly, author of Rebuilding the Resilient Nation (2006). That puts Steve Flynn a good seven years ahead of the Davos secret society.

Steve’s concept was insightful, imaginative, even brilliant, and it had to do with homeland security. He knew something about that before almost all others as a senior advisor to the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century (sometimes called Hart-Rudman). He was early among those warning of domestic terrorist attacks, including nuclear weapons shipped cross country on railroad cars, and soon came up with the novel notion that the way to deter such attacks was to make them irrelevant. That is to say, if a society, in this case, American society, has built into its critical infrastructure—transportation, communications, finance, and energy—on line back-up systems ready to take over if others are destroyed, it makes an attack on those systems less attractive and less productive.

Shut down a power grid, air traffic control system, bank transfer system, or phone network, and another one pops up. Expensive, but effective. Emergency home generators and survival supplies in basements and backpacks do not deter terrorists, but they offer some personal insurance.

So, the many times you hear the t.v. talking heads and read the predictable opinion writers on the new theme of resilience, think to yourself, I know who’s idea that was. Steve Flynn.

6 Responses to “The Wizard of Oz Who Invented Resilience”

  1. Edward Says:

    Gary,

    The merit that you offer Stephen Flynn is justified in more ways than one, not the least being that he openly recognizes that “resilience” has a cost that, like any insurance, can best be seen as both a source of justified ‘peace of mind’ as well as a mitigating factor when problems do arise – whether they are anticipated or not.

    I agree with your dispute with the ‘fetishization’ of these notions as though they are profit-centers in a business plan; in fact, I would suggest that “dynamic resilience” is a product of a mindset that interprets Schumpeter’s “Creative Destruction” as applying to natural disasters and political conflict as well as to economic competition and technological innovation.

    I understand the popular sense that one should “never let a crisis go to waste”… but this blog post on Davos affirms your notion (as I interpret it) that “dynamic resilience” is an oxymoron (at best)…

    http://www.qfinance.com/blogs/anthony-harrington/2013/01/29/world-economic-forum-davos-2013-dynamic

    … and with turns of a phrase such as “Things is [sic] grim, but grim can be good.”, what can one say?

  2. Rick Wayne Says:

    So is a pivot to resilience in economic matters an implicit admission that good outcomes are no longer attainable? In one sense, building resilient systems is a worthy goal, but bringing the idea front and center seems awfully pessimistic. Makes sense for designing infrastructure, or planning security strategy. Not so much as an overarching goal.

  3. Kevin Ready Says:

    Gary,

    Been a long time, hope all is well.

    Do you know that the United States Seal that you display on your website and which is used by your Facebook posts is flipped backwards? The eagle is supposed to face the other way, arrows in other claw and your “e pluribus unum” is flipped. I suppose it could be a message, like the US flag being flown upside down, but that seems unlike you.

    Kevin Ready

  4. Gary Hart Says:

    Responses: To Edward, “dynamic resilience” sounds to me like one of those elite conference buzz phrases that means whatever the Davos types think it means. I just wanted Dr. Flynn to get credit for the concept along time before the nomes of Davos. To Mr. Wayne, I think when the concept of relience is used, at least in the age of terrorism, it is meant to reduce the attractiveness of attacks on critical infrastructure. And yes, Kevin, it has been a long time. Although a technological primitive, I’ll get help to correct the Great Seal, though maybe inadvertantly I did mean it as the Republic in distress.

  5. Gary Hart Says:

    Gnomes of Davos, that is. Actually not a bad description, even if I did invent it

  6. Edward Says:

    Gary,

    I thought I’d indicate, with all due respect, that I discovered in a spontaneous search that you apparently were proceeded in your identification of the “gnomes of Davos” by another writer after the 2012 session:

    http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/resurgence/2012/257-258/health1.htm

    Interestingly, the intent is the similar that I had hoped to highlight: the usurpation of “public health” by private interests in the same sense that I feel “dynamic resilience” is embraced by financial industries… and this excerpt says it perfectly in both cases:

    “‘Our position is that partnership isn’t the right word. It implies trust and respect,’ said —- —-, who has helped run the campaign against the marketing of baby formula for the last 30 years. ‘The allegiance of the food companies is to create profits. Their voluntary commitments are only good for as long as they want to keep them,’ she said.” (just replace “baby formula” with “consumerism” and “food companies” with “investment banks”…)

    But I understand and agree with your response… especially since I have been thinking about Flynn’s vision and believe it’s valuable to leave “dynamic” alongside “resilience” if the goal is adaptable robustness and that it’s just the ulterior motives of the “gnomes” that are dubious.

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