What does it take to be Anti-fragile?

  • BLOG
  • July 30th, 2019

Nassim Taleb’s book ‘Anti-Fragile: Things That Gain From Disorder’ gave a new term to the lexicon: “anti-fragile”, to describe systems that not only can survive stress, and volatility

But also gain from them, that require them to survive. He goes on to make a distinction between the resilient which has the ability to resist shocks and stay the same; the anti-fragile gets better.

This is clearly a powerful idea and we believe that this is going to be a very important concept in the decision making process. Over the next few weeks, we shall explore how different aspects of the decision supply chain can benefit from anti-fragility.

Learning over Knowing 

In the book, Taleb uses a fox and hedgehog analogy. In a jungle that is full of danger, the hedgehog uses the same response to any predator – by rolling itself into a ball. It tends to apply the same formulaic solution to all situations, clearly not the best strategy. The fox, on the other hand, is always looking to improvise by drawing from multiple inputs. And it is the fox that tends to be more successful over time, especially when it comes to ill-defined problems.

There are clear parallels in the business world, where decision makers are increasingly faced with problems that are muddy – there is little clarity on the problem, leave alone the right solution. In the traditional model, organizations would employ experts who tended to come with deep skills in a specific area. These experts would come in with a ‘knowing mindset’ i.e. one that would apply a hedgehog like formulaic approach. However, as the business landscape becomes more competitive and disruptive technologies and business models continue to challenge conventional wisdom at an ever increasing rate, the hedgehog approach leads to ineffective solutions. On the other hand, the fox-like approach encourages a learning mindset – one that would be willing to look at multiple inputs, improvise and most importantly, a feedback loop that would be used to refine the approach on a continuous basis.

Obviously, the fox-like mindset is not born overnight. Organizations need to institutionalize a philosophy of learning – one that recognizes that experts can actually be counter-productive and at the same time, encourages a culture of continuous learning. Organizations that can make this happen are anti-fragile – the stresses and volatility of the system will provide them with opportunities to develop the ability learn and in the process, make them better equipped to handle the business volatility on an ongoing basis.