Resilience Is Not Enough

I sometimes go out to breakfast or lunch with my 20-year-old stepdaughter, Abbey. As soon as the food arrives, she – like many others of her generation – pulls out her smartphone, takes a photo, and shares it with her friends on social media (And, to her credit, she then puts away her phone for the rest of the meal).

Of course, knowing that I have a futurist sitting across the table from me, I’m always curious about her behaviour, so I ask what she’s doing. She recently told me that she’s stopped posting these photos on Snapchat, and has now gone back to sharing them on Instagram. Why? Because Instagram’s recent update made it more attractive to post there, and she and her friends have all made the switch.

Abbey and her friends are happy to keep using whatever works best, and they don’t complain about the constant changes to platforms, apps, and technology in general. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: They crave change, rather than resisting it.

How different this is from the way many people think in business!

What about you?

Do you love change or loathe it?
Do you embrace it as an opportunity or resist it as a threat?
Do you sigh and call on your reserves of resilience, or get excited and shout, “Bring it on!”?

Resilience is not enough.

We hear a lot about the importance of resilience, which is about bouncing back, standing up every time you fall down, and getting back on your feet after every setback. But the problem with only being resilient is that you end up being reactive. Even the most resilient person, team, or organisation is still at the mercy of what’s happening around them.

And let’s face it – it’s no fun being constantly knocked down! As good as you are at bouncing back, facing a constant barrage of punches eventually wears you down.

That’s why you need something more than resilience – for yourself, your team, and your organisation.

Instead of just being resilient, build change management into your strategy, so you thrive in chaos rather than being battered by it.

The best organisations are “antifragile”.

In 2012, author Nassim Nicholas Taleb introduced the word “Antifragile”, in his book of the same name. Something is antifragile when it thrives on chaos. In other words, far from just resisting change or recovering from it, it actively grows and thrives in a chaotic, ever-changing environment.

For example:

  • Day traders thrive in volatile (rising and even falling) markets.
  • Healthy bones adapt and become stronger when exposed to pressure (Wolff’s law).
  • Your immune system gets stronger by being exposed to small doses of stress (that’s how vaccinations work).
  • Software products released in “beta” form (such as Gmail) develop faster because they are subjected to a barrage of user testing.

Are you building an antifragile team?

When it comes to managing stress, chaos, and an ever-changing business environment, there are four kinds of teams:

Which of these applies to you and your team?

  • Are you brittle? This team performs adequately in a stable environment, but falls apart at the slightest stress. Life is a constant struggle, with no end in sight.
  • Some brittle teams strive to be more nimble, where they artfully jump around, always looking over their shoulder, so they can dodge and avoid change. This can work in the short term, but it’s exhausting.
  • Then there’s the resilient team, which we’ve discussed already. They bounce back, get back from every setback, and work desperately to cope with all the change around them. But they never get ahead, are always punch-drunk, and eventually get broken.

You might recognise your team or organisation in one of these three categories, but that doesn’t mean all is lost – unless you continue operating that way forever.

Now is the perfect opportunity to set a new direction for your team: Be more antifragile.

What does this mean in practice?

Here are three things you can do to get started:

  1. Adopt an antifragile mindset. Most leaders have the mindset, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But that doesn’t work in a fast-changing world. Instead, adopt the mindset, “If it ain’t broke, break it!” This doesn’t mean you wantonly break things just for the sake of it. But look for long-established practices and consider whether they are still the best way to solve whatever problem they are solving.
  2. Engage your antifragile team members. If you already have young graduates or recent recruits in your team, consider yourself lucky – because they might already have the antifragile mindset. Instead of forcing them to conform to your established processes, engage them to develop something new.
  3. Make “antifragile” a habit. Don’t wait until “things quieten down” to start building an antifragile team – that will never happen! Instead, make it a habit by setting aside time regularly for it – for example, at team meetings, with initiatives like reverse mentoring, and even with formal recognition and rewards for team members who embrace it.

Whatever you do, start now! In any industry, not all businesses will survive. Be more antifragile, and you’ll thrive – not just survive – in this fast-changing world.

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