Antifragility in Business

The concept of antifragility is what you might expect it to be – the opposite of fragile. The term “antifragile”, coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book AntiFragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, is used to designate businesses and organizations that are not only robust, but that actually become stronger over periods of stress or pressure. Instead of aiming solely to withstand the impacts of pressure, organizations should strive for antifragility to continually reinforce the strength of their business.

Something that is antifragile thrives on randomness, disorder, or situations where there is incomplete information. In other words, antifragility helps organizations overcome Black Swan problems – the problems that we are unable to predict but can have severe consequences. In the face of Black Swans, the antifragile and finds creative solutions to overcome and adapt to these challenges.

It’s important to differentiate a robust organization from one that is antifragile. A robust or resilient organization will be able to resume or continue regular business activity as usual after experiencing a disruption – anything from a natural disaster to increased market competition. An antifragile organization, on the other hand, is one that is able to not only withstand negative impacts from pressure, but can effectively become stronger through innovating when this pressure is applied.

The best innovation leaders are the ones who know how to apply the right amount of pressure or change within their organizations to enact antifragility, leading to more innovative work environments. To illustrate this, let’s look at an example from industry giant Procter & Gamble. From 2000 to 2010, CEO A.G. Lafley worked to launch P&G back to success by prioritizing user needs and investigating their behaviours while using P&G products to stay competitive within the rapidly-changing global market. Product development teams were strongly encouraged from the head of the organization to bring in consumers to their innovation centres and involve users in the innovation process (A.G. Lafley, Harvard Business Review).

Lafley set large, bold goals for the organization. For example, the skin care brand Oil of Olay suffered by being called, “Oil of Old Lady.” He asked his skincare team to rethink and innovate skin care – everything from branding to the target age groups to formulas to the brand we recognize today simply as Olay.

Another well-known leader in a different industry that sets bold goals and aspirations is Elon Musk. He applies pressure to his organizations to enact antifragility to come up with new business models and new markets for electric vehicles. Initially, electric vehicles catered to environmentally conscious consumers. Through branding and re-design, he has pushed beyond the initial environmentally-friendly demographic to appeal to those who purchase vehicles that demonstrate both status and class.

Innovation and Design Thinking play a key role in building organizational antifragility, as they encourage prototyping and testing to produce better and better iterations of products, services, processes, etc. Design Thinking allows organizations to become less fragile and more antifragile by focussing on users’ true needs and adjusting accordingly to meet those needs, as well as mitigates risk through rigorous testing of prototypes.

The road to becoming antifragile is ongoing and requires the ability to meet challenges head on during times of stress, as well as the organizational capacity to work through them in creative ways. There are innovation processes like Design Thinking that can be put in place to continue innovation even when great innovation leaders have moved on, so organizations can remain antifragile, no matter if you are a B2B, B2C, or public sector organization.

For more information on how Spring2 Innovation can help your organization become antifragile visit www.spring2innovation.com.