Operating in adversity

Adversity isn’t welcomed, but if we are forced to recognise it we can use it to our advantage.

I was thinking about this recently after one tech leader commented to me that the Covid pandemic has forced them to always have backup plans. What was once sometimes deprioritised is now seen as essential. And I recalled that a couple of years ago, when I noted that a friend was starting their business at the start of a pandemic and a period of huge uncertainty, they said “I’ve found that companies formed in tough times are much more resilient.”

As happened, a short time later I came across two articles saying something similar. Marty Cagan wrote that operting in good times can mask the weaknesses of a product. Ron Miller, in TechCrunch, similarly wrote that a recession shows who has a robust business and who doesn’t.

But we don’t have to wait for problems to happen before we learn how to respond to them. Netflix created Chaos Monkey, designed to disrupt their services, and so force engineers to build more resilient systems. When that kind of chaos happens for real they will be able to handle it with ease. This is an example of designing risk out of the system. Similarly, I’ve found that companies which subject themselves to security audits force themselves to work to higher standards. The audit isn’t just shining a light on their reality, it’s forcing them to improve their reality before the light gets switched on.

Operating in adversity teaches us valuable lessons, but we don’t always need to wait for the adversity to hit.