Kuper’s Turbulence

Roland Kupers (Ed.) Turbulence: A Corporate Perspective on Collaborating for Resilience Amsterdam University Press 2014

The Resilience Action Initiative is a multi-corporate initiative aimed a improving overall resilience in the face of turbulence. This book is their taking stock. It commends the work of the Santa Fe institute, and regards turbulence as being driven by tight coupling and tight demands (e.g. water shortages, climate change). Resilience is defined in terms of the ability to survive, adapt and grow in the face of change and uncertainty. Resilience can be in the face of specific threats (such as superstorms) or ‘generic resilience’, in the face of unknowns and even unknowables (‘unknown unknowns’). (23)

There is a balance to be struck between the optimisation of efficiency and resilience, and between resilience on different scales. (39) There are typically three to 5 key factors (‘the ‘law of one hand’) and multiple possible equilibria. Too many feedback-loops tend to destabilise. Sometimes one wishes to reduce resilience in order to facilitate a transformation.

‘Foresight capacity’ is needed. This may involve scenario planning. (61) Collaboration is also typically vital, with distributed governance on different levels, but with clear responsibilities. (67)

A resilient organisation will often need to change very significantly. What matter is the preservation of ‘identity’. (131) Besides identifying the 3-5 controlling variables, the main thing is to avoid unwanted ‘states’ (132).


The book describes the Nexus! game, which is intended to illustrate its findings. I played a fore-shortened version of this at the Shell ‘Powering Progress Together’ 2014 Conference, Rotterdam. In this case the key material factors were given to us (water, power, food, money) while one (relationship between countries) was not so explicit, but was recognized by the players. In our game one team did make a strong case for collaboration, but another rejected it, and even ‘played dirty’.

The team that I was in achieved the unwanted state of almost running out of money despite collaborating with the ‘good’ team. I am not sure that we would have done any better had we followed the guidance in this book.

One of the issues that lost us some time was a difference of opinion about what constituted ‘good’ behaviours.

  • Should countries specialize in the areas that they were most suited to (e.g. power, food) and then trade, or should they build up a maximum organic capability and then use their excess for trade?
  • Should cities be located where there was most spare land, or distributed evenly? (Only cities generate money.)
  • What are the appropriate norms for the distribution of water? (Teams could compete to control water.)

The game was good in getting us to an appreciation of these issues, but I do not feel that the book’s guidance helps to resolve them. My own view is that it is helpful to think in terms of regulatory cycles and dependencies. If food production is spread around then its dependencies are more numerous but less serious than if production is all in one country. A potential self-supporting cycle in which a country can sustain a city by itself (barring pestilence etc.) would be less dependent than one which depended on other countries. In the game there we no obvious actual cycles, since no-one kept track of which resources went where, but thinking in terms of potential resource cycles and patterns of trading and collaboration, and in ways of influencing them, seemed helpful. Thus, it seems to be patterns that matter if one is to avoid bad ‘states’. But maybe a patterns at one level are states at another?

Dave Marsay











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