How to Become an Antifragile Performer at Work

We’ve written several posts recently about the importance of resilience in the workplace. Resilient workers can recover from setbacks, protect themselves against negative experiences that otherwise could be paralyzing, and keep going in the face of adversity – all of which are needed to keep a business running profitably. Yet, even higher up on the stress management spectrum is something called antifragility

What is Antifragility?

According to author, professor, and mathematician Nassim Taleb who introduced the term in 2012, there's an ‘entire class of economic, biological, and other entities that don't just resist stress but actually benefit and grow from volatility. In other words, they strengthen and gain from unforeseen and typically unwelcome stimuli. In simpler terms, it’s the proverbial ‘thriving in chaos’.

"Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”1 - Nassim Taleb

A key difference between resilience and antifragility is that resilience depends, in part, on knowing what kinds of stresses you will be subject to and building up defenses against those stresses. Antifragility, on the other hand, does not require that you know what the stresses will be in advance – which is not an uncommon scenario in the workplace. Another key difference is that antifragile entities bounce forward after an attack; whereas resilient entities bounce back after an attack. It follows then, that encouraging antifragile performers at work - at least in some industries, departments, and teams - would benefit many organizations.

Is Thriving in Chaos Possible? The Theory of Antifragility Says So

Successful organizations do not like volatility, uncertainty, or chaos. Yet uncertainty and disruption in the workplace are at an all-time high – resulting in significant workplace stress. According to research2:

  • 72% of people who have daily stress and anxiety say it interferes with their lives at least moderately
  • 56% of employees say stress and anxiety impacts their workplace performance 
  • 50% of employees say stress impacts their quality of work.

The main culprits of all this workplace stress? Deadlines (55%), interpersonal work relationships (53%), staff management (50%), and dealing with unexpected issues and problems (49%)3.

Antifragile performers actually benefit from randomness, uncertainty, and variation4. They understand that ‘unexpected issues and problems' will be the norm at work. They know how to problem-solve quickly, respond to a crisis, and are willing to take risks to achieve greater results. We can see obvious examples of these performers in certain fields every day: first responders, medical professionals, teachers, and other individuals who find themselves in dangerous or chaotic situations and ‘run toward the burning building’, not away from it. Yet, even employees in more traditional office jobs can become antifragile.

Ways to Become an Antifragile Performer at Work

To achieve antifragility, you need to create conditions and develop skills to maximize the probability of growing through challenges by cultivating a healthy, adaptive response. Individuals can develop antifragility by5

  • Learning how to increase the capacity of your body to adapt to challenges and buffer stress, by better understanding what aspects of your physiology are fragile, and what could be improved.
  • Determining how to enhance your ability to benefit from uncertainty by using mental skills combined with techniques to regulate your nervous system.
  • Discovering how intentionally generating uncertainty by regularly taking small risks, can reduce your resistance to change. 

When it comes to specific business practices needed to encourage antifragility, KPMG suggests that teams must: move fast, have common goals, perfect their communication techniques, and adopt a digital ethos6.

Taleb himself suggests adopting these practices and mindsets to maximize antifragility at work7:

  • Make sure that you have your soul in the game
  • Experiment and tinker — and take lots of small risks
  • Don’t get consumed by data
  • Keep your options open
  • Focus more on avoiding things that don’t work than trying to find out what does work
  • Play the long game and don’t just optimize for the short term 

The Takeaway

The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly proof that no one really knows what’s around the corner. The ability to not only survive but to thrive in chaos and uncertainty will become more and more critical in order for organizations to be successful. Therefore, now is the time to cultivate antifragility in your personal life as well as in your organization, so that you can learn to grow from chaos and entropy. And consider Winston Churchill’s prescient words: "Never waste a good crisis."

Optivio is an enterprise-level stress management and performance optimization platform that can help you maintain an antifragile workforce. Learn more about it here: http://www.optivio.com/technology.

References

1. Nassim Taleb, 2014, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder
2. ADAA, 2006, Workplace Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey
3. ADAA, 2006, Workplace Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey
4. Shane Parrish, Farnham Street: 10 Principles to Live an Antifragile Life
5. James Hewitt Ph.D., Become an antifragile performer
6. Robert Bolton, KPMG, The Road to a New Mindset
7. Nassim Taleb, 2014, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

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