In the context of accelerated global change, the concept of resilience, with its roots in ecological theory and complex adaptive systems, has emerged as the favored framework for understanding and responding to the dynamics of change. Its transfer from ecological to social contexts, however, has led to the concept being interpreted in multiple ways across numerous disciplines causing significant challenges for its practical application. The aim of this paper is to improve conceptual clarity within resilience thinking so that resilience can be interpreted and articulated in ways that enhance its utility and explanatory power, not only theoretically but also operationally. We argue that the current confusion and ambiguity within resilience thinking is problematic for operationalizing the concept within policy making. To achieve our aim, we interrogate resilience interpretations used within a number of academic and practice domains in the forefront of contending with the disruptive and sometimes catastrophic effects of global change (primarily due to climate change) on ecological and human-nature systems. We demonstrate evolution and convergence among disciplines in the interpretations and theoretical underpinnings of resilience and in engagement with cross-scale considerations. From our analysis, we identify core conceptual elements to be considered in policy responses if resilience is to fulfill its potential in improving decision making for change. We offer an original classification of resilience definitions in current use and a typology of resilience interpretations. We conclude that resilience thinking must be open to alternative traditions and interpretations if it is to become a theoretically and operationally powerful paradigm.