I am just in the beginning pages of a book that I know I will find to be fascinating, Anti-Fragile: Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Tabb.
The book’s basic premise is this: There is an opposite to fragile that is outside the awareness of many people.
Fragile or Not or Something Else
Most people see the opposite of fragile to be resilient, robust or sturdy. Tabb’s premise is that the opposite of fragile is anti-fragile. Sturdiness or resilience is some mid-point between fragile and anti-fragile poles.
Something that is fragile breaks or is destroyed when met with a disturbance; something that is resilient, robust or sturdy is able to withstand a disturbance; something that is anti-fragile excels when disturbed.
I want to be anti-fragile. I want my organization and those I serve to be anti-fragile as well.
A Worldly Example
Tabb likens the earth as a big long-standing anti-fragile system.
“Our planet has been around for perhaps four billion years and, convincingly, robustness can’t be it: you need perfect robustness for a crack not to end up crashing the system. Given the unsustainability of perfect robustness, we need a mechanism by which the system regenerates itself continuously by using, rather than suffering from, random events, unpredictable shocks, stressors, and volatility“ (page 8).
It’s All Natural
I’m so quick to write about a book where I’ve barely finished chapter one because Tabb’s thinking rings so true to me and reminds me of a client who shared a similar philosophy with me and many others so many years ago.
The late Bob Rodale, second generation leader of the Rodale media empire, shared a similar belief about nature.
According to Bob, nature held the secret to regeneration.
An area devastated by a volcano or fire, for example, emerges with rich new soil, new growth, and new species.Nature’s capacity to self-revive—without artificial additives or chemicals—and ultimately come back more vibrant, healthy, and diverse than before is a perfect example of anti-fragility.
Anti-fragile people have the same ability.
They are able to reach deep into their natural reserves to excel in the face of set-backs.
We, as leaders, need to learn from Tabb, Rodale, nature, and other sage people who share similar thinking. We need to be able to not just manage or lead in turbulent times, we need to learn to ride the waves of turbulence with giddy wonder, curious experimentation and the courage to believe in our innate ability to regenerate, survive and thrive.
So What About You?
Are you anti-fragile?
1. Can you go with the flow?
The capacity to let go and truly experience that which is before you is a gift of mindful leaders. Too many of us, when faced with disturbances, get busy trying to control the moment, the future, the past, the other, our temper or the universe and we miss the opportunity to capture a glimpse of something new and promising.
2. Can you allow things to emerge?
That requires a form of “letting go” that takes more than momentary or fleeting levels of attention. It takes courage, trust and the belief that somehow things will work out. It’s what allows a new idea to be born, a provocative concept to be aired or a discomforting notion to take flight. Sadly, most of us have a lot of work to do in that arena.
3. Can you pay mindful attention to mistakes and missteps?
Can you do it not so they can be fixed or the transgressor punished—but so that something new and different can emerge. Ellen Langer writes with eloquence about mistakes and missteps as subtle signals that something new wants to emerge. Anti-fragile leaders have the compassion, courage and forgiveness to allow that to happen for themselves and others.
What tips would you suggest for leaders who want to become anti-fragile? What do you do to excel amid unexpected disturbances or when the world of work is erupting?
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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders™
Rosaria (Ria) Hawkins, PhD, is President of Take Charge Consultants
She helps organizations build mindful strategies to ensure long-term success
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