My friend Jamais Cascio, a prominent futurist, has done some very interesting thinking on how resilience to shocks will shape how our global economy is configured (putting it on equal par with efficiency, etc.). I tend to see the this new configuration as something that can only be done with the viral propagation of resilient communities (that eventually dot the landscape with sufficient density to protect the whole). In contrast, I think he implies that resilience could be grafted onto our existing global system with some minor design rework. Regardless, we both are working on the same thing: cracking the hard nut of issues that are at the core of what it takes to thrive in the future.
He starts his analysis with a great definition of resilience (from an article in Fast Company):
Resilience means the capacity of an entity--such as a person, an institution, or a system--to withstand sudden, unexpected shocks, and (ideally) to be capable of recovering quickly afterwards. Resilience implies both strength and flexibility; a resilient structure would bend, but would be hard to break.
- Resilient flexibility means avoiding situations where components of a system are "too big to fail"--that is, where the failure of a single part can bring the whole thing crashing down. The alternative comes from the combination of diversity (lots of different parts), collaboration (able to work together), and decentralization (organized from the bottom-up). The result is a system that can more effectively respond to rapid changes in conditions, and including the unexpected loss of components.
- The recognition that failure happens is the other intrinsic part of a resilience approach. Mistakes, malice, pure coincidence--there's no way to rule out all possible ways in which a given system can stumble. The goal, therefore, should be to make failures easy to spot through widespread adoption of transparency through a "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow" embrace of openness, and to give the system enough redundancy and slack that it's possible to absorb the failures that get through. If you know that you can't rule out failure, you need to be able to "fail gracefully," in the language of design.
What does this all look like for everyday people? For most of us, it's actually not far off from how we lived a generation ago. We still shop for goods, although the brands are more numerous and there are far fewer "big players" -- and those that emerge tend not to last long. People still go to work, although more and more of us engage in micro-production of goods and intellectual content. And people still lose their jobs and suffer personal economic problems... but, again, there's far less risk of economic catastrophe.... It generates less wealth than traditional capitalism would, at least when it was working well, but is far less prone to wild swings, and has an inherent safety net (what designers call "graceful failure") to cushion downturns.