Resiliency or antifragility?

16-02-2021

Win a battle without crumpling is not enough. Obstacles need to become a new energy: antifragility is the watchword

Resiliency is among the most used (and abused) buzzwords of the last year. Coming from material physics to state the ability to resist a hit without breaking, the notion is leveraged in social sciences and economics to describe the ability of an individual or an organization to face and pass a trauma or a difficulty, securing the achievement of given objectives.

Questioned by a D La Repubblica reader, the philosopher Umberto Galimberti explained that it’s incorrect to talk about resilient people, since “we cannot treat humans as materials (…) and ignore humans are not objects”. If adding a certain boredom due to excessive word use to some conceptual criticism, under the spotlight comes a new watchword: antifragility.

The idea is not brand new. In 2012, the philosopher and mathematician Nassim Nicholas Taleb theorized antifragility to move beyond resilience and robustness. The key difference is that resilient things resist shocks but remain the same, while antifragile ones react to issues to create something different and better. Taleb told that antifragility can live along with uncertainty and accept its own vulnerability, so it takes strength and inspiration from obstacles to redefine its goals, setting more ambitious targets.

It’s easy to see the application is sports, where athletes need to learn from defeats and injuries to return as performing as before, or even better. Giuseppe Vercelli, psychologist and professor at Università degli Studi di Torino, studied sports to state the four pillars of antifragility. Specifically, they are proactive adjustment to promptly react to changes, competitive evolution to look for challenges, emotional agility to turn emotions into positive energy, and conscious disruption to overcome obstacles and bias, seeking for new goals.

Antifragility is a state of mind, and it is potentially actionable and trainable in any individual. If such people do exist, can we find antifragile organizations too?

The route for antifragile companies is not easy. It requires a precise strategical thinking and the activation of various organization and management levers, including internal communication. Case studies shared during a recent webinar by Ruling Companies prove that Covid-19 pandemic turned upside down most behavioral patterns and habits, so it unlocked a certain creativity and an antifragile spirit in some employees. Some people invented new ways to make remote working more productive, or managed to refresh some processes to achieve superior KPIs.

Antifragility is contagious,” said Emanuela Teatini, HR director at MM Metropolitana Milanese. She underlined such an attitude can contribute to innovation even in traditional organizations, such as public sector companies.

Three dimensions should be considered for an antifragile company, starting from the need of an antifragile leadership. Leaders should have or mature this competence and bring it in the daily activities of their teams, spreading this state of mind at all levels of the organization. Then, there should be a clear antifragility focus in recruitment and talent management policies, thus searching for and then motivating people who can grow even in complex scenarios. Last, a sound corporate communication to build an antifragile storytelling, engage people, enhance their commitment and trust.

 However, if antifragility is not consistent with corporate values and purpose, there will be very poor results, said Mario Perego, HR director at Heineken Italia. A relevant remind of how important authenticity is in corporate strategies and related communication.