Nassim Taleb Antifragile concept is perhaps one of the most attractive frames (conceptual, philosophical, practical) we have had recently. By describing antifragile as the opposite to fragile, versus, say, resilience, adaptation, flexibility or even agility, he has opened the way to understanding growth and organizational complexity. He is not an organizational developer so his references to the organizational world are not as detailed or profound as in other areas. However, the doors are open. The subtitle of the book reads: ‘Things that gain from disorder’. That’s it!
A few years ago I was part of a panel discussion organised by the restless thinker and great business coach Sinan Si Alhir (@SAlhir). I recommend to those unfamiliar with Antifragility to look for Si’s writings and, of course, to read the book.
One of the questions I had in my mind, which I shared with the audience, was, when in the organizational life is antifragility more, if not relevant, present or simply fundamental to understand the organization itself. I thought of three scenarios:
- Daily life itself! Hard this one. But the question injected by antifragility would be (my paraphrasing), for any adaptation, response, ups and downs, resilient behaviour, does the organization come out better and stronger or just coping with and ‘adapted’? You see, whilst adaptation and flexibility need to be part of the machinery, they are not strong enough in themselves to elevate the company to its next stage of possibilities. In more prosaic words, you can adapt and show to be flexible, and learn nothing.
- A crisis. A crisis is an (unwelcome) experimental situation where all energies get together, hands on decks and here we go. Again one could ‘just’ solve the crisis (and become proficient at it) or come out much better and healthier.
- An artificially created stress in non-crisis. What? Yes, in my organizational consulting work I submit clients to ‘stress tests’ to simulate resilience, learning, adaptation and… antifragility capacity. One of the ways we do this is to use our one day immersion (Accelerator) called Reboot! where we put on the table, with no preparation by the client, 12 organizational variables that need to be addressed on the spot. It’s not a game (I don’t do business games) and it works marvellously!
The key is to explore what it would take to create an organizational DNA that has antifragility in it, that, by definition, makes the company stronger and healthier out of ‘disorder and chaos’, to use Taleb’s concept (read: challenges, crisis, disruptions, distortions, M&As, markets behaving badly and so on).
There is something important here for the new organization of the 21st Century and we need to keep exploring.
Is antifragility the new change?