Be Resilient, Part II: How to Measure Agility

In the previous post, I measured resilience by the amount of effort required to perturb a system. In this page I will discuss a related element, agility, which is shown by systems that do not experience perturbation in spite of risk factors. For instance, an economy that is extremely dependent to variation in the flow of capital would be a capital-wise non resilient economy. A person who is extremely dependent on nurse for support would be labor-wise a non resilient person. A household that required their home not to be destroyed by a hurricane would be land-wise a non-resilient home.

Yet each of these resilience-challenged entities express agility if they continue successful operation in spite of a perturbation. If the economy keeps humming, if the patient stays alive, if the home does flood in spite of storms, all of them demonstrate agility.

Given that, I will use the following definition

agility, n:
the capacity to enforce the presence or flow of land, labor, or capital such that system perturbations do not result in system transformations

Agility can thus be seen as a form of power over circumstances. A capital-dependent economy can have agility through contracts or a powerful friends (a pillaging army). A labor-dependent patient can have agility through contracts or powerful friends (mafia buddies). A land-dependent family have have agility through contracts or powerful friends (guys strong enough to lift sandbags).

It follows that agility is by nature a social phenomenon that is dependent on the quality of the relationships between an entity and others.

A nation suffering an oil-shock that responds by successfully occupying the striking oil fields, however, would demonstrate agility. (Of course, if that nation occupies the oil wells clumsily and stupidly such that the system changes from one state to another, then no agility is demonstrated).

To measure agility, we take the minimum amount of capital, land, or labor that is required to enforce the flow or presence of the perturbing fluctuation in capital, land, or labor from the amount possessed. For instance, a house during Katrina would not have agility, because it is impossible to trade labor or capital to make up for the fluctuation in land. We might approximate this from a pattern of responses to perturbations. If a patient has experienced a number of nursing strikes, for instance, but has maintained care for himself, then he has a historic record of agility.

Of course, one can have agility but not resiliency, though that is a post for another time…

Be Resilient, a tdaxp series
1. How to Measure Resilience
2. How to Measure Agility
3. How to Measure Resiliency
4. The Importance of Measurement

2 thoughts on “Be Resilient, Part II: How to Measure Agility”

  1. “agility is by nature a social phenomenon”

    I am thinking this over.

    Agility seems to include qualitative things like elasticity, negative feedback loops, adaptability, substitution opportunities, governing systems, leadership…

    It does seem to cover alot of the intangibles, especially human capital, human systems, human networks.

    Would a time-based measurement for agility be in order: a sort of time-to-restore-normalcy metric for each resilience factor?

    I think: “the minimum amount of capital, land, or labor that is required to enforce the flow or presence of the perturbing fluctuation in capital, land, or labor from the amount possessed” sounds more like the cost of agility.

    The efficiency might be something like:

    resilience-agility-control-goodness = 1 /
    (normalcy-restore-cost X time-to-restore-normalcy)

    The longer it takes to return to normalcy, the smaller the value.

    The more it costs, the smaller the value.

    A calculation like this would allow decision makers compare different resiliency controls against each other.

  2. Purpleslog,

    Hmmm… I think that an agile organization would be flexible enough to avoid the perturbation. al Qaeda kept stepping up their attacks, for instance, because their goal was a perturbation, and it was only with 9/11 that they were able to find our agile-weak-spot in terms of magnitude.

    I do like the idea of time as a factor, though, and wrote it into Part III

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