Flexibility is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and needs by changing one’s configuration or role. Military units have to be flexible because commanders and planners can never know for sure ahead of time what the exact requirements of a situation will be. As a result, military units are usually given a main role and mission and secondary roles and missions in case the plans go awry for whatever reason. This builds flexibility into the plans and manoeuvres of the organization.

There are three levels of flexibility. The first is resilience. This is the ability to absorb a change or a shock to the system and to recover in enough time and with sufficient resources to get back on track. We all need resilience because we never can be sure that we won’t be hit in the flank or confront an unforeseen obstacle.

The second level of flexibility is robustness. This is the ability to seek out potential problems ahead of time in order to create backup solutions and contingency plans to be activated ‘just-in-case.’ The practice of giving alternate and backup roles and responsibilities, as described above, in order to cover for others and potential mistakes is a part of achieving robustness.

The third level of flexibility is adaptability. This is the ability to change configuration and even purpose on the fly with the resources at hand, to play defence while reconfiguring, and to seize or re-seize the initiative in order to go back on the offensive.

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

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