Illustration by Avery Adamson

Resilience is the ability to survive and bounce back from disruptions and shocks and attacks. It’s a high priority for most businesses these days, given the increasing variety of threats they must deal with.

The decentralized, resilient octopus.

Octopuses are one of the most resilient animals on earth. They may not be the biggest or strongest, but they’re possibly the most likely to survive unexpected danger.

They’re great at surviving attacks, for example: making themselves small enough to escape through very tiny spaces, or cladding themselves in shells to look like one big impenetrable shell. They can also survive by regrowing severed limbs, even if an attacker manages to grab ahold of them.

Why are octopuses so resilient? One reason is that their neurons are decentralized throughout their body, with their limbs each containing parts of their ‘brain.’ So they can feel, think and act independently (and together with the other limbs) without sending signals back to their head.

Because of this decentralization, the octopus is a little like the Internet, the most resilient human system ever designed. The Internet is a decentralized network, not dependent on any one headquarters or node. If part of it gets cut off, all the data gets routed around the outage and the network repairs itself.

Businesses trying to become more resilient focus on things like decentralization, redundancy, and independent decision making. Can parts of your company function if they get cut off from the other parts? Do you have backup systems in place in case your main systems are attacked? Can you re-route your data and re-grow your tentacles?

Business are learning to expect the unexpected, in the face of climate-driven extreme weather, global pandemics, and various cyber, political and financials threats and shocks.

And rather than trying to harden themselves to repel attacks, they’re learned that it’s much better to invest in resilience and survivability.

We should all probably try to be more resilient, like the octopus.