An injunction to mishandle so that the organisation is strengthened

Allow me to put to you the concept of antifragility – by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It is something that I find more useful than everything else in this world. EVERYTHING.

Uncertainty is a necessary characteristic of every living thing. So, trying to control it is the wrong approach. Can’t be done. So, what to do?

Use a wiser approach.

Wind energizes fire but extinguishes a flame. So, the way out is not to try the get the wind to also energize the flame. Instead, why not be the fire – something that benefits from an inevitable phenomenon.

Organize your life (and your company) such that it benefits from uncertainty.

For starters, dabble into a lot of things. Just for the heck of it. Don’t avoid stressors; introduce them (don’t be stupid, of course). Living things benefit from stressors – only non-living things e.g. glass get harmed by them. Lack of stressors kills complex systems.

May sound counter intuitive but is so only on first reading. On second thoughts – particularly after understanding what Taleb has to say in his book, Antifragile – Things that gain from Disorder, you’ll see the sense in it.

After all, nonsense is nonsense only till you find the sense in it.

If you wish to not be harmed by harm (randomness), make things robust. While that is good, even better is possible. At a yet higher level, you can organize things such that the supposedly harmful events actually nourish your system. If you can do it, will it not be great? Yes, it can be done.

The opposite of ‘fragile’ is not ‘robust’; it is anti-fragile.

But how does one organise to have the harm end up benefitting the system?

Harm shows up some weakness – some vulnerabilities and cracks in the system. E.g. incompetence in an employee. In a fragile system, you end up being nice tot he employee and start ‘mothering’ him. This will blow up your system at a later date, when there are enough such incompetent employees together. In a robust system, you remove that employee.

But in an anti-fragile system, you want to have the harm actually benefit the system. For that, not only should you fire that employee, but should welcome the knowledge that such problems exist in your system and take active measures to find out more such guys and fire them too.

Some guys will be harmed but, overall, the system will be saved from a possible ‘Black Swan’ in future.

That is the meaning of using the harm to benefit your system.

But what I’ve shown till now is how harm can be used to correct the system – through feedbacks. How do we get it actually benefit the system?

Well, measures taken by a living organism do not merely make up for the loss; they actually strengthen the system.

How so?

This happens by a phenomenon know as ‘overcompensation’. When you give your body a stress of 50 lbs weight in the gym, it produces (over the next few days) strength to lift not only 50 lbs, but actually 60 lbs. That’s how one gets stronger. All living organisms ‘overcompensate’ for stress.

Only, one has to allow the system to function. Normally, what we do is to shut off the system by protecting the failing sub-part. Hence, there is no repair and surely no overcompensation.

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