Issue #91
#91 - Bouncing Back Vs. Bouncing Back Better: Antifragility At Work πŸ‹πŸ½β€β™€οΈ
November 10, 2023

#91 - Bouncing Back vs. Bouncing Back Better: Antifragility At Work πŸ‹πŸ½β€β™€οΈ


We are already in the new. We are in it, but we don't see it." - Marc Luyckx Ghisi


For decades, Toyota had been the symbol of automotive reliability. The company was globally renown for its quality control, it set the industry standard for safety, and it leveraged that brand to become the world's biggest car maker.

But in 2009, everything went sideways: a safety recall of millions of cars all over the world dealt a huge blow to Toyota's brand and its business. The recall was a logistical and financial disaster in terms of repairs and returns, but it also struck at the heart of Toyota's identity, tarnished a reputation it had spent decades building, and crushed consumer trust.

Then, in 2011, a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit, disrupting the company's global supply chain. It was a striking turn of events, and a sobering reminder of how even the best-run organizations are not immune to uncertainty and volatility.

And yet, by 2013, Toyota's profits were 4X over 2010 levels, and 3X compared to 2012. The company has bounced back -- stronger than it was before -- and reclaimed the banner as the world's biggest car maker. πŸ™Œ

It turns out we can give a name to this notion of being able to emerge stronger when faced with challenges: "antifragility". And looking back, we can say that Toyota's performance was classically "antifragile".

This week, against the backdrop of deep and rising uncertainty, we use our 3 Stories to understand the concept of antifragility, and explore its implications for how we work:

🎯 Story #1 - Where did the term "antifragility" come from, and what does it mean? We go straight to the source: the book "Antifragile", by Lebanese-American thinker Nassim Nicholas Taleb. We define the term, and define what antifragile doesn't mean, too (hint: it is not the same thing as resilience). πŸ‘‡

🎯 Story #2 - Good news, dear reader! You are already antifragile. πŸ™Œ But what does it mean for an individual to be anti-fragile? And how, pray tell, does one become more antifragile? We've got ideas.

🎯 Story #3 - Let's go up a level and explore the traits of antifragile organizations. How do those orgs compare to more "fragile" ones on the other end of the spectrum? πŸ€”

By the end of today, we'll have tucked "antifragility" into our TalentStories lexicon, ready to revisit and explore the idea more in the weeks and months to come. Got any thoughts or personal experiences with antifragility? We'd love to hear them! Drop us a line here!

Meantime, thanks for reading and exploring with us -- and have a great end to your week!

Aki + Usman



#Antifragile #Vocab #NotResilience

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a fascinating figure: an academic who studies statistics, and an options trader with a pugnacious Twitter feed. He's also a prolific author whose books on randomness, probability and uncertainty have earned him a devoted following. Several of those books have even injected new words into everyday lingo; terms like "black swan", "skin in the game", and "antifragile".

Taleb coined antifragile in his 2012 book of the same name:

Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile.

Crucially, being antifragile is not the same thing as being resilient. Taleb explains the difference:

Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better. This property is behind everything that has changed with time: evolution, culture, ideas, revolutions, political systems, technological innovation, cultural and economic success, corporate survival... even our own existence as a species on this planet.

All well and good, but if you're like me, you read this and thought, "Hmm. Interesting. But awfully abstract." So let's use our second and third Stories to make things more concrete. ⬇️




#Antifragile #Individuals #GetMoreAntifragile


Luca Dellanna is a management thinker and writer. In this YT clip he explains that Nassim Nicholas Taleb is his "favorite author", then offers up simple examples of fragility and antifragility:

Chopsticks πŸ₯’ , and weightlifting πŸ‹πŸ½β€β™€οΈ.

Disposable chopsticks are fragile: apply stress to them, and at first, nothing happens; continue to add stress, and they break.

Lifting weights, by contrast, is antifragile. When we lift too little, nothing happens; when we lift too much, we can break our bodies, just like chopsticks with too much stress.

But unlike chopsticks, there is an in between amount of weight, or stress, which can make us stronger. There is the potential to react positively to stress. This potential makes weightlifting antifragile. Whereas chopsticks have no potential to get stronger. They are fragile.

Dellanna goes out of the way to emphasize that as humans, we are all inherently antifragile. Because we each possess this potential to become stronger under stress. πŸ’‘

So in practice becoming more antifragile is an exercise in capacity building; it entails growing the size of our in-between space. And Luca gives us four concrete ways to do this:

  • Expose ourselves to manageable challenges, like gym workouts, or seeking constructive feedback.
  • Build overcapacity in our lives: keep more money in our bank account than we technically need; maintain more relationships than we need, etc.
  • Pay attention to small mistakes, and adapt to near misses. Even or especially when it doesn't lead to harm, a small mistake allows us to ask what went wrong, and how to avoid it in future.
  • Optionality -- pursue projects and opportunities with limited downside risk, but big upside if they succeed.

I'm guessing that different readers will resonate with, or be keen to give more thought to, different bullets, above. For me? The notion of learning from small mistakes that don't lead to disaster really resonated, because it struck me as a form of "cheap learning". Ditto, the optionality bullet: what are the things I can choose to work on that are specifically low risk, but high reward? And of course, do I opt into enough manageable challenges? πŸ€”


#Antifragile #Organizations #Traits #Survival


Let's return to Toyota and ask why it was able to bounce back the way it did after the crises it faced at the turn of last decade. Not just bounce back, but bounce back better than it was before the stress. In other words: what made the company so antifragile?

In his 2013 Harvard Business Review article on antifragility, consultant Brad Power explained why several analysts were confident that Toyota would recover, even before it had:

Here is the working principle: Crises and major disruptions are not an abrupt departure from what anti-fragile organizations do continuously β€” solve problems. Rather than being controlled through rigid command structures, employees at all levels are trained every day to be quick problem-solvers. A disruption or crisis that might be crippling for some organizations is a challenge they already know how to handle.

In short, Toyota had for decades exposed itself to stressors, and learned to solve problems. It had decentralized decision making, famously empowering any employee on its assembly line to shut down the entire manufacturing process, even when that meant missed quotas and production delays. It's "Lean Manufacturing" system was designed for adaptation, and allowed Toyota to adjust to spikes in demand and disruptions of supply.

Elsewhere in the same article, Power explains why the concept of antifragility has become so relevant:

Most successful organizations do not like volatility, randomness, uncertainty, disorder, errors, stressors, and chaos. Yet we are in a world where disruption and randomness are increasing. Organizations that gain from randomness will dominate, and organizations that are hurt by it will go away.

Indeed, our response to change and uncertainty is the central theme and exploration of this newsletter. So we're drawn to this idea of antifragility because on some level, it's message is not just that we should embrace uncertainty. It's that we've always done so -- and all possess the capacity to become better at doing it. ✌️

Thanks for reading. πŸ™

Work moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
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