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Demystifying Antifragility: Beyond Agility Workshop

October 11, 2014

On October 3rd, 2014, the Center for Technology Innovation (CTI) generously hosted the Demystifying Antifragility: Beyond Agility workshop focusing on Antifragility for business and technology professionals based on Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s “Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder”, which introduced the concept of Antifragility.

This post was intended to be published on October 4th, 2014, but I confronted my own “fragility” (and heart condition) on Oct-4th and demonstrated a degree of “antifragility” (returned from the incident/episode) soon thereafter — so apologies to the workshop participants (in particular)  for the delay in providing this blog, content, and presentation (below, at the end of the blog post).

Please see the following for background. . .
Antifragile, Flexibility, Robust, Resilience, Agility, and Fragile
The Emergence of the Antifragile Organization
The Triad: Fragile, Robust, and Antifragile
Antifragility: From Details to Nuances [LinkedIn]


As a foundational introduction to the workshop, we explored being “prisoners of our paradigms,” our “mental handicap” of domain dependency, and the Six Diseases; and we emphasized the need for curiosity when approaching this topic (Jack Johnson‘s Curious George song and video “Upside Down”).

Why Curious George? I have often been compared to this “little monkey” given my (and his) curiosity, and those who I work with often joke regarding “who has the yellow hat” (as George is routinely with “the man [or woman or person] with the yellow hat”).

I want to turn the whole thing upside down
I’ll find the things they say just can’t be found
I’ll share this love I find with everyone
We’ll sing and dance to Mother Nature’s songs
I don’t want this feeling to go away

Introducing Antifragility: What is Antifragility?

First, we introduced the concept of Antifragility and explored Agility, Antifragility, Risk, Black Swans, the Antidote to Black Swans, and Mother Nature.

Business organizations live in a VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) (which arouses fear) and (implicitly, if not explicitly) use OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act) loops/cycles — ultimately, we must confront fear with empathy, catalyze the human element, and become future ready!

The essence of agility is re-orientation within the OODA loop/cycle. The essence of antifragility is evolution. This is the business context for Taleb’s “non-predictive decision making under uncertainty” and antifragility.

Exploring Antifragility: Demystifying Antifragility

Next, we demystified the concept of Antifragility and explored the Triad (Fragile, Robust, and Antifragile categories) and the Map of the World (Triad against domains/subjects) to distill and organize the various aspects (and essence) of Antifragility around the notions of parts forming wholes, their dynamics, and how they respond to randomness and stress.

Operationalizing Antifragility

Next, we explored how the concept of Antifragility may be operationalized or put into practice by business organizations through a Foundation (pillars), Worldview, Modus Operandi, and Intent that organizes Antifragility around three core concepts (or concept clusters):

  • Stakeholders, Enterprises, and Ecosystems: Self-designing Individuals and Collectives
  • Dynamics: Teaming, Communities, and Focal/Schelling Points
  • Evolution: Adaptive Cycles, Panarchy, and the Cynefin Framework

Stakeholders, individuals and collectives, form an enterprise within an ecosystem. While all business organizations embrace this notion, what makes an enterprise antifragile includes the dynamics among stakeholders and the evolution of the enterprise within the ecosystem.

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and the Scaled Antifragile Framework (SAfFe)

We spent significant time in the workshop exploring these three core concepts (or concept clusters) and how they are put into practice. We also spent significant time in the workshop exploring how the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) — given its popularity — can fragilize versus antifragile an enterprise (or how SAFe makes an enterprise more fragile versus more antifragile) — especially when adopted and sustained in an unhealthy manner.

Even with so-called SAFe success stories, SAFe fails to address “digital transformation issues beyond the enterprise’s software development challenges” and adopting and sustaining agility (in mixed environments or enterprises with a variation of approaches) let alone achieving antifragility!

The need for an Antifragile Framework was more than apparent from the conversation, and we explored how to make SAFe more Antifragile — that is, perhaps the Scaled Antifragile Framework (SAfFe) by applying an Antifragile Framework to SAFe. More to come!!!

Design for Antifragility

Finally, we offered an actionable roadmap for how business enterprises can achieve greater Antifragility and explored how fundamental change (or renewal) involves designing (defining, creating, and refining) an Antifragile enterprise using the concepts of stakeholders, enterprise, ecosystem, dynamics, and evolution.

Various Voices on Antifragility

The workshop’s most interesting conversations focused on the Various Voices on Antifragility — all contributions were deeply appreciated by the participants:

  • Agility Board ( emphasized sense and respond.
  • Jonathan Anthony (@ThisMuchWeKnow) emphasized making life or business antifragile.
  • Fred Aubin (@FM_Aubin) emphasized revolution and evolution.
  • Brad Barton (@Brad_Barton) emphasized intuition through awareness and deep understanding.
  • Tony Bendell (@AntiFragileUK) emphasized that “Anti-Fragility is the most important potential breakthrough in business thinking”. Tony’s book Building Anti-Fragile Organizations directly addresses antifragility and is definitely worth exploring!
  • Dr. Andrew K. Black (@AntifragileDoc) emphasized thriving under stress and blossoming when encountering adversity and volatility. Andrew’s book The Antifragile Doctor directly addresses antifragility and is definitely worth exploring!
  • Paul Cottrell (@paulcottrell) emphasized the need for smart institutions that reduce fragility.
  • David Cushman (@davidcushman) emphasized how antifragility is about networks (Facebook, Twitter, Internet, Hierarchical and Networked Organizations, and Families).
  • Steve Fastabend (@SteveFastabend) emphasized creativity and innovation.
  • Mark Ferraro (@mark4ro) emphasized how “chasing risk is like chasing ghosts” and antifragility is the root of flourishing.
  • Gary Gagliardi (@StrategyGary) emphasized how antifragility is a vital part of the science of strategy (slide 97 of the presentation). Gary is the only other individual who, in his quote and work, directly echoes the connection and synergy between The Art of War and antifragility.
  • Judith E. Glaser (@CreatingWE) emphasized how conversations are our “hardwired human design tools” around designing for antifragility.
  • Tom Graves (@tetradian) emphasized how “everything depends on everything else” is a “people-problem”.
  • David Griffiths (@KMskunkworks) emphasized seeking variety.
  • Stephan Haeckel (LinkedIn) emphasized a sense & respond model.
  • Daniel Horton (@Dan_Horton) emphasized stoic antifragile practices.
  • Faly Ranaivoson (@falyranaivoson) emphasized that antifragility is about thriving.
  • John Hagel (@jhagel) emphasized how nature is inherently antifragile.
  • Mike Henry Sr. (@mikehenrysr) emphasized how antifragility involves a consistent, default, outcome of growth and improvement from difficult circumstances.
  • Leandro Herrero (@LeandroEHerrero) emphasized remarkable organizations as organisms (rather than organizations).
  • Graham Hill (@GrahamHill) emphasized looking beyond mere agility.
  • Ken Homer (@ken_homer) emphasized questions and brittle systems.
  • Semira Soraya-Kandan (@SemiraSK) emphasized the distinction between advantage and disadvantage (slide 120 of the presentation). Semira is the only other individual who, in her quote, directly echoes the connection and synergy between The Art of War and antifragility.
  • Tim Kuppler (@TimKuppler) emphasized how high-performing cultures embrace antifragility.
  • Jack Martin Leith (@FuturegenLabs) emphasized how antifragility is a generative capability.
  • James Key Lim (@jameskeylim) emphasized how antifragility emerges from genuine conviction and dedication to helping others thrive.
  • Hayim Makabee (@hayim_makabee) emphasized that “Agile is Dead”.
  • Dan Martin (@Best_Thought) emphasized the study of chaos and chaordic systems.
  • Anne McCrossan (@Annemcx) emphasized the logic of connectivity inherent in chaos.
  • Kenneth Mikkelsen (@LeadershipABC) emphasized leadership.
  • Russell Miles (@russmiles) emphasized antifragility in architecture and design.
  • Lisa Nemeth / Cavanagh (LinkedIn) emphasized the power of choice and offered an evocative picture to emphasize her point (slide 144 of the presentation)! Lisa is the only other individual who, in our conversations, echoes the connection and synergy between The Art of War and antifragility.
  • Lucie Newcomb (@NewCommGlobal) emphasized leadership.
  • Todd Nilson (@toddnilson) emphasized the “blueprint for business agility” and creating a work life that reflects the core principle of antifragility.
  • Christine Ogozaly (LinkedIn) emphasized that antifragility is not merely a new concept in change management.
  • Dan Pontefract (@dpontefract) emphasized open leadership.
  • Wim Rampen (@wimrampen) emphasized the connection between the Singularity and antifragility.
  • Janessa Huber (LinkedIn) emphasized relentlessly experimenting, embracing disruption fearlessly, and deliberately failing forward.
  • Kenneth Rubin (@krubinagile) emphasized agile principles.
  • Jean Russell (@NurtureGirl) emphasized going beyond being agile and responsive with the distinction between Survival, Sustainable, Resilient, and Thrivable.
  • Jennifer Sertl (@JenniferSertl) emphasized Resilience, Responsiveness, and Reflection.
  • Elinor Slomba (@artsint) emphasized Creative Ecosystems.
  • John Spence (@AwesomelySimple) emphasized embracing chaos while still striving for simplicity.
  • Luc Taesch (@luctaesch) emphasized awareness of cognitive biases.
  • Barbara A. Trautlein (@btrautlein) emphasized change intelligence leaders and their role in fostering antifragility.
  • Wouter IJgosse (@WouterIJgosse) emphasized his outreach regarding antifragility.
  • Dave Zwieback (@mindweather) emphasized the asymmetry of pain versus gain.
  • Vincenzo De Florio (@EnzoDeFlorio) emphasized Antifragile 2015.

Again, all contributions were deeply appreciated by the participants — and personally, I am genuinely grateful for the privilege of intersecting some of these voices as the concept and application of Antifragility continues to emerge and evolve in the marketplace and world!

Welcome all feedback regarding the final presentation — and — please reach out if you’d like to share your thoughts or get more involved in advancing concept and application of Antifragility.

Constructively (rather than Destructively) Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

September 7, 2014

Brad Barton, Mark Ferraro, and I recently published Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) — after repeatedly witnessing the ongoing “excessive suffering” of many people and organizations confronting the challenge of achieving greater Agility at scale, particularly with the SAFe (among other approaches). And while there is a more-general Dual-Track Value Co-Creation metaphor or pattern — which includes Strategy, Discovery, Delivery, and Infrastructure — for achieving scalability (and Agility at Scale), this book focuses on the SAFe (again, among other approaches).

While Scaled Agile, the organization behind the SAFe, readily acknowledges that the “SAFe does not implement itself and indeed makes no attempt to describe the significant organizational change management, cultural impacts, implementation strategies, and training and services provisioning that are typically required for successful implementation” and only offers brief “recommendations for implementation,” far too many practitioners are seemingly overlooking this acknowledgement and are using the “recommendations” as the way to “implement” the SAFe, which can be very “destructive”!

Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) offers an approach — with roots in decades of practice across many industry domains — for adopting, scaling, and sustaining Agility using the SAFe along with other approaches in Waterfall, Agile, and “mixed” enterprises.

Furthermore the “pure” or non-SAFe approach is known as Conscious Agility, and this brief book could have been easily named Conscious Agility for the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)!

Additionally, the image of a maze on the cover of the book really emphasizes that the SAFe can be a bit of a “maze” to navigate and a bit of a “maze” to adopt and sustain — “with all due respect” — as one can get lost in a “maze” or hit a dead-end!!!

The intent of this brief book is not to answer all the possible questions or provide all the possible guidance, but to address some questions as well as establish the context (via the change journey) for addressing other questions and leveraging other guidance in a more “healthy” or “constructive” and less “toxic” or “destructive” manner. If you have specific questions you’d like us to address, don’t hesitate to reach us via LinkedIn or About.Me.

Not only does Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) offer a means for adopting, scaling, and sustaining Agility with the SAFe, but it also offers the ability to integrate aspects from any approach (from those already mentioned among others) together while explicitly recognizing and appreciating the nuances of the context in which adopting, scaling, and sustaining is to occur.

Most attempts to achieve greater Agility fail because of being exclusive to one approach, ignoring contextual nuances, or fundamentally overlooking the “human element” throughout the change journey.

Our approach’s uniqueness in being agnostic and embracing an all-inclusive viewpoint while integrating relevant perspectives yet keeping the “human element” paramount makes it only that much more essential for successfully adopting, scaling, and sustaining Agility.

Again, there is no need to “excessively suffer” — there is a more “healthy” or “constructive” and less “toxic” or “destructive” change journey possible!

Antifragility: From Details to Nuances [LinkedIn]

August 31, 2014

After having received many queries regarding the Practice of Antifragility . . . (read more)

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) [LinkedIn]

August 31, 2014

After having received many queries inviting my thoughts on the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) . . . (read more)

We are Alive!

August 11, 2014

I love Robin Williams! Not merely for what he did as an artist (actor, comedian, etc.), but for the quintessential truth he endlessly echoed in everything he did — We are Alive! He fully embraced the mystery called life through caring, being aware, expressing appreciation (for the bad, the good, the happy, the sad, etc.), being so intuitive and improvising in every situation, …, so free!

Reminded of David Foster Wallace

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

And as Robin Williams struggled with his own daemons — as much as we each struggle with our own daemons — he and his whole life were cathartic to/for others…

You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.
(Robin Williams)

Thank You dear Soul for reminding us each of our own little “spark”!

What will your verse be?

Seize the day!

Real lose… love somethign more than you love yourself!

When did you know? … I don’t regret…

His wife, Susan Schneider…

This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken. On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.

The White House…

Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.

The Ownership Pyramid

May 23, 2014

Throughout our individual journeys, we encounter many people whose contributions readily go unnoticed. I’ve had the privilege of working with Peter Simon whose Ownership Pyramid is definitely worth exploring. Herein are a few questions that Peter addressed…

Ownership Pyramid_v1

What is the Ownership Pyramid?

The Ownership Pyramid is the result of an attempt to address a bigger socio-economic problem that has become apparent over the past 10 to 15 years. Whether it’s big government or big business, the end result has always been a stripping of an individual’s ability to own. As we enter a new age of politics and economics, the importance and understanding of ownership has been lost and needs to be restored. The Ownership Pyramid is a framework to guide people in understanding how to achieve and maintain ownership, without abusing its power.

What is the purpose of the Ownership Pyramid?

The Ownership Pyramid stemmed from my experiences in technology Project Management, where I experienced and was actually trained to collaborate with multiple application users and developers to gather requirements, but speak to each group separately, while trying to communicate a clear picture of what each group needed.

Looking back, project managers should have been called magicians, because after taking pieces of information from each group without anyone actually speaking directly to each other, it was expected that 6 months later, a product working to perfection was to magically appear. The only real magic performed was making project budgets disappear and changing project status colors from green to red. Presto! After pulling a rabbit out the hat during one too many stakeholder meetings, I felt it was time for a change in how the whole process works.

I wasn’t aware of Agile development or Agility at the time, but when I was first introduced to the Agile values, principles, practices, and frameworks, I embraced them and never looked back. Agility involves many paradigm shifts from the traditional model, but the one that stood out for me was the concept of the Product Owner (in Scrum, or Customer in Extreme Programming).

As a Libertarian, it hit me hard, and I became somewhat obsessed with the concept of ownership in general. Over time and through personal experiences, I realized how little ownership actually exists in society. Did the level of ownership change over time? How can ownership be measured within a society?

These were difficult questions to answer, but I thought that a fundamental framework could be valuable to guide a person in understanding ownership, maintaining ownership, and assessing whether ownership has been achieved or even existed. And that’s when the Ownership Pyramid concept was born. The Ownership Pyramid allows an individual to take steps to achieve greater ownership, assess their level of ownership, and practice actual ownership; with the widespread purpose of promoting and realizing humanities strengths through the process of achieving ownership.

What are the guiding organizing principles (how are the concepts organized)?

The Ownership Pyramid is structured to provide the steps for achieving ownership. Each building block of the pyramid is in an input/output relationship; meaning that the inputs in a particular level result in the outputs in the subsequent higher level. I tried to keep the structure as simple as possible, yet streamline it into a story with a continuous purpose and goal, the process doesn’t end when you reach Self-Assessment, rather it is only beginning.

The base of the pyramid is crucial, I place great importance on Respect and Forgiveness. Without these inputs, the entire pyramid eventually collapses as ownership is lost. To begin, understanding of the human spirit, nature, and potential is critical in progressing towards achieving ownership. Next is setting a course and absorbing enough information to begin formulating processes to produce the desired output. Finally the resulting product is created and continuously perfected using self-assessment techniques. The Self-Assessment is the final and most important step; if one can be strong enough to assess themselves as a human being they are able to discern value from cost and lead in a direction that is best for them and others impacted by their process, product and actions.

The Ownership Pyramid can be thought of as a base process that can spawn processes within processes, all seeking the same resulting goal. For example, the pyramid can be used to solve a problem, then used to create the concept for a product, then be used to develop the product — all while fostering ownership.

There’s an intersection point in the pyramid as well. Where the People come together, so do each of their pyramids. When each of the people effectively utilizes the pyramid, a masterful team emerges; at times we are fortunate enough to witness this achievement in sports, business, and relationships.

How do you use the Ownership Pyramid (in practice)?

The Ownership Pyramid can be used in a variety of industries. My expertise is in product delivery, specifically software applications. Because these types of delivery processes are highly dependent on the level of ownership within a team, I use the Ownership Pyramid as a means to assess the team’s strengths and weaknesses, and each individual’s sense of ownership relating to the overall goals of the team. For example, if the team members lack respect for each other, there are most certainly larger obstacles waiting around the corner.

Why “Ownership” not “Leadership” (especially when there is some much being talked about and done around leadership today)?

I’m really glad you asked this question. I personally believe that today’s concept of leadership is a dangerous mindset to promote. The idea that there are born leaders has been repeated to us for so many years now, its almost embedded in our DNA that their are those among us that will lead and all others must follow. When people are expecting a leader to be named, it can lead to a lack of commitment from the “followers” and a sense of hopelessness in having control over one’s destiny.

In too many circumstances, today’s definition of Leadership negates the concept of ownership; you don’t have to look far to see where ownerless leaders have taken over industries and governments. A leader lacking ownership can be identified when witnessing people using leadership as a control grab for their own benefit, at the expense of the group as a whole; when a corporate or government policy causes harm to the masses, and no one is held responsible.

Many of the today’s concepts regarding leadership reside under the pyramid. A leader lacking ownership is an enforcer, the leader achieving ownership is a coach, a promoter, a mentor. I do believe we are all leaders in our own way, and the Ownership Pyramid thrives on this underlying concept. Some lead quietly, while others are able to reign in a crowd through public speaking. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, so its important as leaders to recognize that we are human, and because of that we all have human potential. I believe the characteristics of a leader will evolve from someone who dictates and enforces to someone who looks to help all people realize fulfillment and leadership through ownership.

This can be applied to a parent and child relationship, to a teacher and student relationship. Again, where the People intersect, if ownership has been achieved by all members of the team, then everyone on the team is a leader of their respective role and responsibility. And they in turn can coach others in their respective fields to understand and practice the steps to attain ownership.

Another way to conceptualize the ownership-leadership relationship, is by perceiving the pyramid as an engine, with one of the many outputs being Leadership; unfortunately today, the engine behind leadership is missing in today’s leadership concept.

An important tangent to leadership is Identity. Identity, like leadership, is also an output of the pyramid, and in many instances is missing from today’s leader. Foundational steps (respect and forgiveness) lead to direction, focus, effort, knowledge which involve responsibilities being combined among People and their roles; culminating to reach Identity. Each step in the pyramid, along with iterations through the pyramid, ultimately leads one closer to understanding their Identity; and at the intersection among People, one’s identity becomes clearly visible. Combining a sense of Identity with Leadership ultimately results in a true understanding of Ownership, and that will allow for Self-Assessment to be incorporated into one’s daily process, enabling that person to maximize their agility and human potential. Committing to practicing the principles of the Ownership Pyramid is the beginning of a journey, a journey worth taking.

Agility Schmagility & Agile Schmagile

May 10, 2014

Reminded of Piet Hein’s The Road to Wisdom?

The road to wisdom? — Well, it’s plain and simple to express: Err and err and err again but less and less and less.

In 2009, we encountered “Agility Schmagility,” (Julian Keith Loren @jkloren) which inspired clarifying our approach to agility (Agility Distilled). Now, in 2014, we again encounter “Agile Schmagile,” (Tweet this!) (Nassim N. Taleb @nntaleb per Elinor Slomba @artsint via a tweet) which likewise inspires clarifying our approach to agility and even more-so antifragility (Conscious Agility with @brad_barton and @mark4ro — and Anti-fragility Distilled coming soon!) — Antifragile / Antifragility is a post-agile / post-agility concpet. The road goes on and we may contribute . . .


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