Resilient Communities are the Foundations of a Resilient America.

Three [More] Things I Think I Think About Resilience

(with my continuing apologies to and appreciation of the MMQB)

I think I think 3-D and 4-D printing are going to have a transformative impact on our economy and its resilience.  I have long touted the Nucor model of manufacturing – being able to use the same plant to satisfy a variety of customers and their needs, and being able to switch over rapidly to do so.  3-D printing is a polar opposite of traditional parts manufacturing.  Traditionally, widgets have been produced subtractively – by stamping them out from sheets of metal, or by using molds and then trimming off mold marks and other scurf.  3-D printing uses a computer model to produce parts additively, adding layers of material on top of one another to produce the part.  Less waste, higher quality, and the promise of being able to replace a variety of specialty machines with one printer.  A shop can change from producing a specialty part for one customer to producing a different part for another customer simply by changing the computer model

4-D printing uses materials that transform under some condition to form the 3-D part (think of a self-folding box, for example).  Still in the research phase, within a decade we are likely to begin seeing adaptive infrastructure – for example bridges that respond to strain or weather.  Taken together, these technologies are tremendously empowering for the “little guys.”  Sure, the cost of the machines is high (but it’s coming down), but these technologies allow entrepreneurs to go into all kinds of niche markets that were closed to them before.  They also enable entrepreneurs to develop and bring to market new products faster and cheaper.

I think I think that the Superstorm Research Laboratory’s A Tale of Two Sandys provides a stark reminder that our society is Coming Apart.  To quote from their White Paper,

  • There have been two different ways of understanding and responding to the crises of Hurricane Sandy. One tends to see Sandy-related crises as problems following directly from storm conditions and to approach response efforts as means to restore the pre-storm status quo. The second sees Sandy as exacerbating a chronic crisis characterized by poverty, low and precarious employment, and a lack of access to resources such as transportation, healthcare, and education. We call this the Two Sandy phenomenon.
  • While some groups portrayed elements of both Sandys, proponents for each group are mainly divided among elite, powerful actors, and residents, community-based groups, and owner-operated businesses on the ground.
  • Top-down, elite aid is characterized by finite programs with deadlines, while grassroots and community aid often takes a longer view.

Not stated in the report, but certainly implied, is the reality that the elite more and more know less and less about how the rest of us live.

I think I think we don’t appreciate enough the relationship between failure and resilience.  Failures are markers and agents of change.  A businessman whose business is failing finds new customers for his business, and discovers that he can make new products.  A social entrepreneur develops a plan for helping people only to discover that her original assumptions were flawed.  She transforms the plan into something better and finds that her new model is now sustainable.  A saloon burns down and soon we have sprinklers in public buildings.  Might we be better off to begin to question whether any enterprise is too big to fail?  Perhaps the phoenix is the proper emblem of resilience.