The keen-eyed among you will have spotted Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder on the non-fiction shelves. The key message of the book is this: during times of uncertainty, we shouldn’t merely strive for survival; we should be using chaos as an opportunity to learn, adapt and thrive.
I have relied on this book extensively, both professionally and personally. Although Taleb’s approach to the book’s narrative could be considered egotistical in parts, the concept itself is interesting and engaging. And here is why.
According to Taleb, the strength that allows individuals, organisations and countries to survive can only be built by taking risks. Risks, by their very nature, result in mistakes. But, argues Taleb, that is where the real learning lies. If ‘fail early and often’ is a mantra for innovation, Antifragile creates the perfect conditions for innovation to thrive. By injecting experiences with ‘small doses of poison’, leaders will be prepared for what the future may hold, however turbulent the times.
It is an unconventional point Taleb is getting across, so he uses visual imagery to tell his story. He asks readers to consider older stone-built buildings that survive all that nature throws at them, and yet, are no longer fit for purpose. This point demonstrates that being robust, or quite literally sturdy in construction, is not a stand-alone measure for success. Businesses need more than robustness – they need to thrive in difficult times. Given that the future is impossible to predict, and that most leaders fail to properly forecast the increasing scale of ‘significant negative events’, this is not easily said or done.
In more modern times, Apple Pay is a prime example of the antifragile model at work. Having driven the technology market, the global brand has now developed its own method of quick and easy contactless payment, streets ahead of its competitors. In choosing to take such a risk, Apple has made many small mistakes along the way. But is it a coincidence that the brand has become synonymous with innovation? Of course not.
Here is an example closer to home. At Potential Squared, we are undergoing what you might call a brand review. We value the insight this process will provide. We are also aware that how we interpret these results is where the antifragile concept comes in. If we want to remain as robust as possible, we would continue to push and enhance what we are best known for – leadership.
But Antifragile advocates taking a bigger risk. We should create our business as a laboratory, take risks, make mistakes and, ultimately, be resilient in the future – whatever that future may look like.
While there are some faults to Antifragile, the concept serves as a fundamental principle for leadership. Antifragile reminds us of the need to grow, develop, challenge and change. Being antifragile demands strong decisions and even stronger decision makers.
Stay tuned for our upcoming interview with the author. Follow Colin's past interviews on The Huffington Post