Most industries suggest a certain level of resilience and innovation. It is important to get through challenging times to keep a company going, and “innovate or die” has long been a mantra of the business world. While these concepts – or in some cases, buzzwords – come up in various lines of work, they seem to take on a deep meaning in emergency preparedness and response roles. Being resilient is a matter of life and death sometimes, and because no two events are ever the same, this profession demands ever-changing solutions to increasingly complex problems.
These two concepts – resilience and innovation – hold the key to making emergency preparedness and response professionals more effective, efficient, and ultimately successful. When leaders possess a high level of resilience and a high propensity to innovate, the communities they serve are more likely to overcome obstacles with more tenacity and unique solutions. To quantify these observations and make resilience and innovation measurable qualities that professionals could learn to strengthen, Epicenter Innovation launched a research project.
Defining “Resilience” and “Innovation”
Understanding the meaning of each term is critical before understanding the link between these two concepts. Resilience allows individuals to endure and overcome challenging circumstances. A high level of resilience serves a person well in various cases. However, it is imperative to strengthen a person’s resilience threshold in extreme environmental and emotional circumstances, such as during emergencies and disasters. The first step to make the goal of growing one’s resilience actionable was to figure out how to measure the trait in an individual. Research shows that many factors indicate an individual’s capability in this area. For example, assessing one’s personality, preferences, social resources, spirituality, and attitudes toward adversity are critical for measuring resilience levels. Examining these areas provides a comprehensive assessment that reflects the overall ability of an individual to navigate hardship and arrive at positive outcomes.
Though resilience levels vary from person to person, it is a character trait. One person can be more resilient or less resilient than others, but it is an innate quality of that individual. To innovate, however, is a choice. Anyone at any time can choose to approach a problem more innovatively. As with resilience, one’s propensity to innovate is measurable, with a similar set of factors to determine one’s level of innovative tendencies. Collectively analyzing an individual’s personality, motivation, knowledge base, behavior, emotions, and mood states provides a matrix to determine how creative someone is likely to be. These factors directly impact an individual’s capacity to conceive and articulate fresh concepts effectively enough to be embraced by those around them.
Resilience & Innovation: The Link
After defining and measuring resilience and innovation separately, the project’s next step was to compare the two as measurable traits that a person can possess. The project analyzed behaviors or characteristics that made one person’s resilience and propensity to innovate higher than another’s. After reviewing years of literature and conducting interviews with experts in the field, Epicenter Innovation determined that about fifty traits can be measured to determine one’s resilience and propensity to innovate.
Measuring all these traits is essential in determining an individual’s resilience and innovation levels. Ultimately, measuring these traits is a complicated process that requires the simplification of complex data into digestible results. Among all the traits and behaviors that play a role in this process, one factor stands out above the rest for both multifaceted concepts: an individual’s openness to experience.
Openness to experience is one of the five factors in the Five-Factor Model of personality, a framework that explores “five broad trait dimensions or domains…extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism…and openness to experience.” If measured effectively and accurately, a person’s openness to experience is the most critical factor when assessing both resilience and innovation potential. An individual measuring a high openness-to-experience level correlates to a high resilience level. In other words, those open to new experiences have a greater chance of showing flexibility around coping with change and uncertainty. Similarly, being open to new experiences encourages creativity and the ability to solve problems in unorthodox ways. This openness to change leads to an inquisitive attitude essential in developing innovative solutions and alternative approaches. As such, those willing to push their comfort zones are more attuned to advance beyond traditional modes of thinking and remain at the vanguard of development.
This factor is the crucial link between resilience and innovation. While the research for this project focused on measuring the presence of these two constructs in individuals, the motivation to conduct the research came from years of experience in emergency management. This field requires resilience and demands innovative approaches to constantly changing circumstances. Definitively determining the inherent connection between these two factors offers some critical insights into where the future of emergency preparedness and response roles – from individuals to small teams to entire agencies – lies.
Personal Resilience & New Solutions for Stronger Communities
This research suggests that a human-centered approach to emergency preparedness and response will yield more effective results when trying to build more resilient communities. Strengthening communities through planning processes and trainings are valuable and worthwhile. However, if the people at the helm do not understand their own levels of resilience and innovation, community response will not run as effectively or efficiently.
Increasing community resilience starts with increasing personal resilience. Leaders with high openness to experience approach problems with empathy, strategy, and ingenuity. They are more likely to collaborate with their internal teams and listen to their communities’ concerns. They also might be more likely to go through several cycles of trial and error to find a solution that makes the most sense for the scenario. Increasing an individual’s resilience and propensity to innovate can help communication effectiveness and community resilience and response.
Emergency preparedness and response professionals face particular challenges when handling stress and pressure simply because of the nature of the work. Growing resilient communities must begin with a willingness to explore new and novel solutions, and that process starts with the individual. Whether working on an incident management team, with a large government agency, or in an office of one, every professional brings their own set of unique traits and strengths to the table. Measuring an individual’s resilience and propensity to innovate is vital to building stronger and more effective emergency preparedness and response professionals. Building these leaders is the key to building stronger communities.
Nia D’Emilio is the learning and events coordinator for Epicenter Innovation. Before working in emergency management, she worked in the theater community in Chicago (Illinois) before moving to Los Angeles (California) to work in the film industry. She holds a B.A. in Religion from Denison University and an M.S. in Leadership for Creative Enterprises from Northwestern University.
Christopher Tarantino has almost 15 years of experience in emergency response/management. He has acted in various positions across the public and private sectors, including roles at the volunteer, local, county, state, and federal levels. As the founder and chief executive officer of Epicenter Innovation, he leads a team specializing in training, exercises, and support services for public safety and emergency management professionals. In addition to his full-time role with Epicenter, he is also an instructor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Master Exercise Practitioner Program (MEPP). He previously served as a digital communications specialist within FEMA External Affairs. He has trained thousands of emergency management professionals in 38 different states in the U.S. and frequently speaks across North America on disaster response, emerging technology, and crisis communications.