Andrew Zolli —
A Shift to Humility: Resilience and Expanding the Edge of Change

Disruption is around every corner by way of globally connected economies, inevitable superstorms, and technology’s endless reinvention. But most of us were born into a culture which aspired to solve all problems. How do we support people and create systems that know how to recover, persist, and even thrive in the face of change? Andrew Zolli introduces "resilience thinking," a new generation’s wisdom for a world of constant change.

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is curator and executive director of PopTech. He's the co-author of Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewZolli.

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Catch highlights of Krista's interview with Andrew Zolli about taking on society’s toughest problems and making ourselves more resilient. Also read his take on where you can find God.

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This is a wonderful topic. As the Director of an MBA in Sustainability, I would just add that we view sustainability and resilience as deeply connected. We teach our students to be sustainability champions by ensuring they can lead change with a focus on building more resilient systems.

Thanks for the show.

Hi Polly,
Just starting out w/UVM sustainability program, fondly remembering your help and guidance during my time at ANE, (EE) yo

ur teaching is far reaching, thanks val

I absolutely love this program, this particular one particularly. I am not a spiritual person, and don't interpret things that way usually ever, but I love the conversations between the interesting guests and equally interesting Krista. This program hasn't changed my core beliefs or approach to interpreting things, but has healthfully shaken them every time. Thanks for the great conversations.

The most eloquent / insightful interview on systems thinking and life - as we know it .. or don't know but are experiencing... Worth listening to again. Looking forward to the unedited version later today. Many thanks to Krista for identifying and interviewing this very large and very compassionate thinker.

Overall, I enjoyed your interview with Krista. However, one thing you said did bother me. I have a daughter that is currently serving our country in Afghanistan. She risks much and works hard to bring peace to the world. Her way might not be your way, but saying that the Department of Defense is the "Department that kills people and blows things up," is an insult to the people who are trying to make the world a more peaceful place. Your opinion is yours, but I wanted to let you know that I felt your description of the D.O.D. was shallow and it didn't fit with the rest of our interview.


Hi there - I appreciate this response. I wasn't trying to mis-characterize the D.O.D. I recognize how much we ask our military personnel to keep peace in the world: indeed, we dedicate a substantial portion of one of the chapters of our book to the story of an amazing place at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, called Red Team University, where the U.S. Army trains mid-level commanders to think broadly and differently about the complexities of the places in which they have to keep the peace, not make war. Moreover, the point I was making in the interview with Krista was that the military should be applauded for the degree to which it thinks about the long-term. In other word, I was praising the military by trying to contrast it to the terms in which most people think about it. I have nuanced view of the military - I'm sorry if I didn't communicate it clearly - Andrew Zolli

I have responded to three tornadoes and two hurricanes over the past year and a half as a member of an emergency response team. I had just returned home after my second stint out in Long Island continuing recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy when I heard this this program. Mr. Zolli's views on resiliency really struck home. His ideas reflect many of the conversations about societal structures and environmental adaptability I have encountered in all of the communities I have worked in. This is definitely something people are talking about at all levels - government, non-profit, and individual families - and a mindset shift that is beginning to be evident in a lot of the places I have been. I appreciate the big picture view and systematic thinking Mr. Zolli brings to the problems at hand, and listening to this program has helped me to reflect deeper on my own experiences and continue thinking about the future of the work programs like mine undertake. This is definitely a conversation that needs to be continued. I'm glad folks like him are pushing this line of thinking forward. I truly believe the well-being of both individuals and communities will rely on how well we can adapt in the coming years. Thank you!

Another intriguing and timely conversation! This interview, along with the ones featuring Brene’ Brown and Seth Godin, made me think about the work of Stanford researcher, Carol Dweck, on what she calls "Mindsets." For the last couple of decades he has been researching the difference between people who have "fixed mindsets" and "growth mindsets," the latter being essential to resilience, creativity and empathy. The good news is that these ways of viewing the world are not permanent and people who have a fixed mindset can learn to take on a growth mindset. Another researcher, Peter Johnston, has taken this construct and applied it to the language teachers use in their classrooms (which applies as well to the language parents use with their children, and managers with employees, etc.). It turns out that very simple changes in the way we frame our communication have profound effects on how people approach challenges, react to mistakes and failures, and understand themselves as lifelong learners and creators. I would love to hear Krista interview either of these people, and I would highly recommend their books to anyone who has also enjoyed the Zolli, Brown and Godin interviews (Mindset by Carol Dweck; Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston).

Seeing that title up there: "A SHIFT TO HUMILITY". What a thrill. Try to keep on in this direction.
Here's a reason why we should be very "humble and contrite" as they say in church. We're the richest country in the world. We use the most oil per capita. Oil burning is changing the world to disadvantage great numbers of the poor. Yet our leaders cannot risk changing. Be very humble. And please change.

It's interesting that this person, as many, were brought up Catholic. The general rule is that they wander away from the Church, and then discover a moral law that is standard Catholic teaching. For example, sustainability and resilience instead of perfecting a situation is a conclusion from the doctrine of original sin: this world is not perfectable. And the virtue of patience is the virtue of enduring discomfort and imperfection over time.

Maybe the non-Catholic language is more appealing or understandable. I find the Church's teaching more direct and powerful, and complete. Maybe one day Krista's excellent show will have a major Catholic thinker to interview.

"Poptech” pretty much says it all. As substantial as pop-psychology and a perfect fit in this radio show's relentless smarmy smorgasbord of interchangeable and substitutable pop-philosophy/religiosity/spirituality. "The catalyst and curator in the emerging resilience thinking" turns out to be a self-promoter of a pop-sociology slogan not meriting so little as a Wikipedia entry as doesn't the author.

Why does Zolli merit an hour on this radio show? Two thirds of the way through this smug mutual confirmation-bias love-fest with the host, he delivers the On Being money shot - where religious faith is finally consecrated:

"This is one reason why some researchers postulate that systems of faith have been so resilient themselves in human history, and so prevalent, so sticky. Not because the individual content of the beliefs or any particular belief about, within those cosmologies is strictly true or not. But because believing in those kinds of things are the very kinds of things that confer psychological resilience upon us."

Actually, from talking snake to resurrected and ascended virgin birthed son of a deity to winged horse, none of the foundational beliefs of religions are true. Believing those things sprang from the human need for explanations back in the bronze through the dark ages, certainty in those explanations in the absence of knowledge and consolation in the face of suffering. These beliefs can now only persist where ignorance -in the West most of it willful- bars access to the enlightenment that science and philosophy has long offered.

The "psychological resilience" these beliefs confer is complacency and fatalism: Climate change? Not true or not human caused or anyway it's the will of our god; nothing we can or should do about it. And if worse does come to worse, presto! Zola’s "resilience thinking" to the rescue at the last minute. So let's carry on burning the fossil fuel candle at both ends.

Andrew, your check from the fossil fuel lobby should be in the mail. Krista your faith fetish received that shot in the arm you so fervently seek. What's not to like.

Hi Genevieve,

In the spirit of speaking across divisions, let me set aside your ad-hominem attacks, and simply address what might be the two substantive critiques you put forth:

First, about whether or not religious faith bolsters resilience. There *are* independent, academic researchers who have found that holding a personal spiritual or religious belief system confers benefits to those that hold such beliefs. Specifically, let me direct you toward the work of Prof. Kenneth Pargament of Bowling Green University - for example, "God help me: (I): Religious coping efforts as predictors of the outcomes to significant negative life events", American Journal of Community Psychology, December 1990, Volume 18, Issue 6, pp 793-824. It's just one of *many* studies on this subject worth examining, critiquing and making your own mind up about. But they do exist.

Second, you suggest that if we focus on adaptation, rather than mitigation, it will breed complacency. I appreciate this concern, but it is exactly the opposite of my point, made elsewhere in this show and beyond, namely: it's precisely because we've *already* been complacent and ignored past risks, that we must now be resilient, whether we like it or not -- because the consequences of climate change and other aspects of our human footprint are already upon us.

I hope you find the above helpful and/or clarifying, and sorry to hear the interview elicited such a vituperative response from you.

yours respectfully,
Andrew Zolli

Hi Folks,

I am a software artist. I have a new piece that offers to the website visitor a list of everything we need to know to save the world. Each item on the list is about thirty words long. This piece does, as you may imagine, use considerable self-deprecating humor but it is a serious effort. It is also certainly a work in process.

Well anyway, I have listened to this interview with Andrew Zolli five times and from it added item # 14 to my list of "everything we need to know to save the world". Here's how I worded it:

"There is a torrent now of change. But the heroic mode of life - knowing the world is true, knowing you can help, letting difficulties teach you - that can give us work and love and joy."

The art piece is called "Otto Says" and it is here:

By the way, item # 13 on my list is from Rebecca Solnit's article "Too Soon To Tell". It is closely in harmony with Andew Zolli. It's here:

Thanks to all,
Stone Riley
Main website:

With help from typically incisive Krista Tippett questioning, Zolli has done an excellent job of making a complex concept relevant and accessible. Another thoughtful commentator on resilience is Limits to Growth (and successor volumes) co-author Dennis Meadows, winner of the Japan for Sustainability prize and the Club of Rome Lifetime Achievement Award. My recent co-authored article, in the September issue of Solutions Journal, "The Improbable Resilience of Singapore" might also be of interest.

I do not think that the word "equilibrium" should have been a part of your conversation. It implies that we are no longer applying stresses to the system. The truth is that we are continually increasing the stresses that we are applying to the environment. The status quo is growth. Equilibrium comes when the system reacts to the stress and reaches a steady state.

Every complex system has a point of failure.

Think about a shower with a partially clogged drain. Turn on the water, and the level will rise until the head in the shower overcomes the resistance to flow and the inflow and outflow match. Turn up the water (apply a stress), and the water finds a new level (equilibrium). If you continually increase the inflow, the water will overflow - the system fails.

Resilience is like putting a catch pan outside the shower. It will fill and then overflow too.

Avoiding the failure (keeping the kitchen downstairs from being flooded) requires stopping the increases. You might not have to turn the water off, but you have to reach a steady state.

Resilience is only possible if you also address sustainability.


Andrew, you've articulated an enticing North Star here for the disparate conversations that matter today. If I am hearing you correctly, you are celebrating the condition of resilience as a way to enhance the chance of thriving -- as individuals as well as for social institutions -- in the context of continuous flux in economic, cultural, physical systems today. What really works for me here is to reimagine the design directive as a continuous, co-creating equipoise in the relationships among organisms in the system -- rather than the relentless 'gotta grow, gotta accumulate, gotta consume more,' design directive of the prevailing win/lose culture. If fluid equilibrium is a goal, then all actors are themselves flexible, attentive and respectful of the others' ebb and flow of needs and contributions. And then, the communal 'we-ness' of our "shared fate" -- as Doug Smith put it in his book, On Value and Values -- has a shot at guiding our actions toward collective well being. Let's hope. Or rather, let's do what you propose, and act as if. Thanks, Elsie

I used the transcript of your interview to comment at the end of this story and give people room to think more spaciously about the part they can play in striving to change environmental policies. The Illinois governor is poised to sign a fracking bill that looks pretty bad to my friends and neighbors. The message I want to send is that we empower ourselves by engaging emotionally with the changes we want to make. As the Dalai Lama recently commented at the Change Your Mind Change The World 2013 Event

"We must be wisely selfish. Wise people serve others sincerely, putting the needs of others above their own."

Here's another great article:

Morning Session
Afternoon Session

Here are the transcripts of the "Change Your Mind, Change Your Life" talks.

I found this fascinating as I put these ideas next to the research on ACES (adverse childhood experiences) and their long-term physical, psychological, and I would say spiritual effects and the work being done around trauma informed care (especially for youth involved with the juvenile justice system). While I still think prevention is essential, perhaps a focus on resilience building is absolutely essential.

It sounds like Zolli is doing some excellent reporting from the top of a mountain. Thanks for giving him a platform to share his hopeful insights more widely.

The program disappointed me. I don't have any better idea of what resilience is or isn't than I had before; I can't believe that it is a costless good; no examples were presented as to how resilience could in practice be or has been consciously built into a complex system. There was very little science and less poetry than has come to expect in these programs.

Dear Poincare -

The dynamics of my conversation with Krista meant that we didn't dig deeply into the science - but there is plenty of it to go around. It's a huge field, but here are a few things worth watching:

First, on the psychological science of compassion and resilience, watch this talk by David DeSteno, of Northeastern University:

And here's a short talk by Thaddeus Pace of Emory University on similar themes:

On the ecological front, I would encourage you to watch this piece on the resilience of the balinese water temple system, by Steve Lansing, of the University of Arizona, and the Santa Fe Institute:

You might also check out the work of the Stockholm Resilience Center...


Great topic with useful information. Thanks for sharing with all of us.