Antifragility: When Leaders Flourish In Volatility

In his book “The Black Swan” and his more recent book “Antifragile,” Nassim Nicholas Taleb looked at the impact of huge improbable events on our lives, and how our stressors can actually be our saviours. These events are so random that they are virtually unpredictable, but he argues that the natural (but unhelpful) reaction is to yearn to analyse their origins rather than growing as a result of them.

Taleb suggests that we should stop trying to predict the future and start reacting positively to the uncertainties that every day brings us. We should learn to thrive from volatility. Hence, he coined the word: Antifragility.

At such times, leaders of businesses should leave their defensive ramparts and get onto the offensive. In uncertainty, there is opportunity. Antifragility is being able to thrive on disruption. The disruptive examples of Uber and Airbnb are only the start of the seismic changes that improved technological capabilities have introduced into our society. Disruption will soon become the norm – how will global business react?

If you want to succeed and dominate, to separate yourself from the pack and become the last man standing, it’s no longer enough to bounce back from adversity – to simply be resilient. You have to bounce back stronger and better. You have to become antifragile.

Taleb likens antifragility to the Hydra from Greek mythology. The Hydra was a multi-headed dragon. Whenever the hero cut off one of the Hydra’s heads, two would grow back in its place – the Hydra became stronger with adversity. That is until Hercules killed it – no antifragile system is absolutely indestructible (which sort of disproves his argument actually).

Coming back to the opportunities for leaders in today’s disrupted world:

They should seek to evolve their businesses in the face of external challenges. When they overcome adversity, they learn and move onto a higher plane of development. They are dynamic rather than static, reacting rather than letting events wash over them. Antifragility is about growing in new directions rather than seeking to sustain simply yourself through the hard times. A cold shower every now and again makes you healthier; a mud race teaches you more about yourself than a simple jog.

According to Taleb, stress is a source of growth to be welcomed rather than avoided. Growing pains are a natural part of any life worth living. This isn’t exactly the reason that us mere mortals go to work, but it is a reality that any leader needs to meet head on. The best businesses of the next 50 years will be the ones that will have thrived through adversity and turned the disruptive influences to their advantage.

The survival of the fittest no more. The survival of the antifragile? Maybe….


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