Being Antifragile to Adapt Purposefully
It’s often said “change is the only constant in life.” Despite this (or perhaps because of it), people have an instinctive desire to create “stability” and “safety” — situations we think we can control and are comfortable in. That longing can make us reactionary rather than proactive in our outlook. We become complacent and fragile, unready and unwilling to adapt to change: vulnerable to disruption.
The typical response to this is to create robust systems that can withstand a crisis. Nassim Taleb, however, suggests that the opposite of vulnerability isn’t found in robustness, but in a kind of adaptability he calls antifragility.
What is antifragility?
In his book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, Taleb says:
“Consider that Mother Nature is not just “safe.” It is aggressive in destroying and replacing, in selecting and reshuffling. When it comes to random events, “robust” is certainly not good enough. In the long run everything with the most minute vulnerability breaks, given the ruthlessness of time—yet our planet has been around for perhaps four billion years and, convincingly, robustness can’t just be it: you need perfect robustness for a crack not to end up crashing the system. Given the unattainability of perfect robustness, we need a mechanism by which the system regenerates itself continuously by using, rather than suffering from, random events, unpredictable shocks, stressors, and volatility.”
You can prepare for certain types of disruptions, but the unpredictability of the future restricts us to the hazards that we know. “Black swans,” on the other hand, are those rare, unexpected events that disrupt how we view the world. These “unknown unknowns” pose the greatest risk for disruption and by their nature are things you can’t directly prepare for.
So how do you deal with the unforeseeable?
By building the expectation of disruption into how you perceive the world. Antifragility isn’t about just withstanding disruption, it’s about growing and becoming stronger through adversity.
We fight through our exercise routine not just to survive (although sometimes it feels that way!), but to grow stronger. When we lift weights, we are creating micro-tears in our muscle fibres that build new, stronger muscle tissue. The right amount of stress creates positive progress. In fitness, like in many aspects of life, we need to find the right balance: push too hard and the tears become injuries. But as the proverb goes,“iron sharpens iron”— we are only improved and strengthened by challenges.
How do I apply this to life and business?
- Being mentally prepared for change. Anticipate that the unpredictable will happen and embrace this as a catalyst for positive change. [link to motorcycle story]
- Taking pride in your work. Hold yourself to a higher standard and deliver the highest quality results, whether someone is looking or not.
- Seizing the initiative. Don’t become dependent on others to act. This is a defensive approach which results in your business/career/personal aspirations shrinking.
- Learning to find your individual and team flow state where you have the right amount of stress to make a positive impact. As with exercise, don’t push yourself or your team to the point of breakdown, but to the point of positive growth.
- Living life to the max. I’ve done everything from fly for the Royal Air Force, work in a war zone, to train with Shaolin monks in remote China, and every experience is an opportunity to open your mind, learn and grow, especially the unexpected ones.
Individually and at VECKTA we are asking ourselves:
- Where are we being too passive and need to take more proactive control?
- Where can we take advantage of the waves of disruption and status quo to be the disruptor?
- Where are we fragile and what is getting in the way of our success?
- Where is our flow state sweet spot?
In essence it is all about being resilient, growing and becoming better with the right amount of stress and having the right attitude and a huge determination to succeed. We are in a complex world and those that are most successful have learned to thrive under chaos. We want to take that chaos and bring some structure and simplicity to it so it is accessible to more people. Adapt and get stronger!
We will continue to explore antifragility and how it applies to distributed energy in future posts.