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  • Writer's pictureAlexa Dumitru

Anti-fragility or growing stronger when facing uncertainty

Ever heard the expression "He is such a snowflake."? Me too. I wanted to think that snowflakes are unique, magical, that they have a special something which needs to be adored. That has completely changed.



The last few years have been full of chaos, uncertainty and fear. Nowadays, the challenges are different because society is in an unprecedented dynamic. We, as humanity, have gone through years of pandemic, started 2022 with news about war and we are ending the year with fear of a looming recession. Disorder, which refers to any volatility, randomness, stressors, errors, variability, uncertainty, and imperfect and incomplete knowledge, is now the rule of today’s business world—not a choice (Taleb, 2012).


There is no standard recipe or strategy for businesses anymore. There is no predictability and no safe ways.

It’s just the emotion of the present which is given by the expectations and needs of today's people.



So without a clear recipe that worked before the question remains:

How do you thrive in this Zeitgeist full of uncertainty?



Anti-fragility is the word.

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 anti-fragile. Anti-fragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the anti-fragile gets better. This property is behind everything that has changed with time: evolution, culture, ideas, revolutions, political systems, religions, business models, technological innovation, cultural and economic success, corporate survival, cocktail recipes , the rise of cities, cultures, legal systems, equatorial forests, bacterial resistance … even our own existence as a species on this planet.



Anti-fragility


There are challenging times and interesting lands of opportunities and in the face of such disruptive forces we need to train and transform our vulnerability and empathy into an anti-fragility system of winning.

Some systems, like the biological ones, gain from disorder. Anti-fragile systems not only resist under stress, crisis or disorder but they can even thrive in such situations.

The success of our endeavours depends on our people's anti-fragile attitudes: to be flexible and agile to match, to source, manage, motivate and upgrade their talent while controlling costs.


Anti-fragility in people, in teams and in companies is the only recipe for thriving in uncertainty.

We are born to be anti-fragile. We are born with an anti-fragile immune system and an anti-fragile psyche.

Think about kids, they get sick but they recover quickly without many pills, they get scared of different things they cry, they let it out and then they go to laugh and play again.

But then education happens and unfortunately there are just a few that have been raised to embrace failure, randomness or accept chaos. Most of us were raised by parents that faced anxiety or any kind of shortages so they passed that along.

Here we are today, obsessed with predictability and google calendars and tasks organized by the minute. We get anxious when something doesn't stick to the rules that we know.


So how do you build anti-fragility in yourself?


"How can you think yourself a great man, when the first accident that comes along can wipe you out completely.”

— Euripides

This is not a bullet point “10 things you can do for a better life” thing. So I don’t sell standard recipes.

We don’t have to build anti-fragility, we just have to gain it back, to find it somewhere lost in us. Remember when we were little kids we used to fall, get scared, cry and then in a matter of minutes we were ready to climb back.


  • Stop optimising for today or tomorrow and play the long game.

  • Resist the temptation to suppress randomness, chaos or disruptions. They will never end. Once you accept this you can feel more at ease. You live and work with people. People are alive, people are parts of the universe so randomness is in the centre of it all.

  • Experiment and tinker just for the sake of it. Play! And yes, this means that you will take small risks but by doing this you can train yourself for the bigger risks.

At the same time, stick to the risks you can contain. Avoid risks that would wipe you out completely if taken.

  • Stick to old ways. Look for rules that have been around for a long time. You know the quotes or the cliches? They are there for a reason, we keep living the same things.

  • Stick to the simple rules and be sure that you have your soul in the game.

How can you build anti-fragility in your team as a leader?


First of all, I hope you have anti-fragility in you. If not, it’s time for self actualisation.

You have to embrace disruption, chaos and randomness as an example.

Encourage small doses of chaos, change things once in a while. Challenge your team randomly to do things differently. Observe how they react. Empathise with the ones that were extremely anxious or bothered and lead with curiosity.


Do not overprotect. Let them test, let them experiment while you have their back. Encourage them to play but only after you explicitly set the playground very clear. In order to feel safe we need to play while knowing the rules.


Be aware that in times of disruption your team will go through some transitions: first they have to come to terms with the end of past events, reassess situations in the middle of the road and in the end, accept new beginnings.


Understand that resistance to change is pernicious, deceptive and sneaky. If resistance is more powerful than dissatisfaction then anti-fragility won’t take root.

Respect individuality by understanding that every individual, team and organisation has a way to innovate that starts with their own, unique mindsets, attitudes and approaches to the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity that change brings.


Last but not least, respect that not everyone will have the emotional strength, the capacity or even the desire to challenge himself and thrive in disruption.



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