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The Day After: Resilience

July 6, 2020

We continue with our ‘Words of the Day After’ series with an emphasis on: Resilience

On 25 March 2020, we launched operation “Resilience” to “contribute to the commitment against the spread of Covid-19”: aid and support for the population, support for public services in the fields of health, logistics and protection.

While the term “resilience” is a known one, its popularisation and its use in everyday language are fairly recent. Therefore, it is interesting to look at the origins of this term to understand its meaning and attempt to form a definition, albeit a complex task, as over 200 definitions have been identified by the academic Serban Ionescu[1].

Etymologically, “resilience” comes from Latin resilire, which means to jump back.

Initially, the word “resilience” is used in physics to characterise the energy absorbed by a body during distortion. “Resilience” has long been a concept reserved for psychology and psychoanalysis and related to individuals.

In France, neurologist and psychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik popularised this term in the 1990s and defined it as “the ability to live, succeed, and grow, despite adversery conditions”. This ability is specific to each individual, depending on their personal construction related to their family environment, their network and their socio-professional situation. Some people will develop protectiveness, others will develop vulnerability. This is what makes each individual more or less resilient.

Resilience in a collective approach is more recent. In 2008, the White Paper on Defence and National Security (LBDSN) presented it as “the desire and the ability of a society and authorities to resist the consequences of a major attack or catastrophe, then to quickly restore their ability to operate normally, or at least in an acceptable manner. Not only does it concern public authorities, but economic actors and civil society as a whole”.[2]

Looking into the deeper meaning of the term “resilience” and its evolution gives us a few keys for considering “The Days After” and building a “resilient” society to deal with crises and difficulties.

Resilience is an iterative process in perpetual adaptation around the three phases of preparation, reaction and recovery.

Today, it is too late or too early to deal with preparation. For nearly two months we have been in and we are still in the reaction phase. French society, as a whole, is dealing with a variety of shocks. Unlike other crises, where the shocks are often strong but limited in time, such as during an earthquake, here they are still very strong, but also very long, as reflected by the plateau of hospitalisations we have seen in recent weeks. In addition, we already know that the shocks will multiply; that an economic shock will follow the health shock. This reaction, or “dealing with” phase, will probably be longer than usual. To get past the reaction phase, the key  lies with the individual and collective commitment of each of us, as well as trust.

Being resilient means being able to anticipate. And while we are still in the reaction phase, we already need to be thinking about the recovery phase. It is essential, in order for us to be ready when the day comes, to be able to start again as soon as the opportunity arises. It is also a way to help us overcome the acute phase of the crisis by thinking of better days to come. This recovery phase should last and comprise several sequences.

First, a gradual return to activity, often in a downgraded mode; then, gradual upscaling to make up for lost time and to handle the most critical subjects; lastly, the necessity to consider “The Day After” and to make lasting changes and transform our organisations, the ways we work to build truly resilient ecosystems. In this phase of profound transformation, digital technologies will play a key role.

It is at this point that it will be necessary to think of the preparation phase, drawing lessons from the crisis that we are currently experiencing in order to maximise our strengths and reduce our weaknesses.

Resilience is a process in perpetual evolution, the purpose of which is to make us more adaptable, more agile, so that we can respond to an increasingly uncertain and unstable environment.

Being resilient is not having an answer to everything. It’s giving ourselves the skills to be able to deal with anything.


[1] Serban Ionescu, Traité de résilience assistée, Presses universitaires de France, 2011
[2] AA-IHEDN, “Résilience d’une Nation, y’a-t-il une place pour le citoyen dans la sécurité de notre pays ?”, 2017


Arnaud Flanquart

Director – Citizen Services

Capgemini Invent