Demystifying Antifragility: Beyond Agility Workshop

On October 3rd, 2014, the Center for Technology Innovation (CTI) generously hosted the Demystifying Antifragility: Beyond Agility (PDF Brochure) 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):

  • Context (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 antifragilize 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 (@lnemethcavanagh) 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.


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