Optimist Performance

What would happen if I got hit by a bus tomorrow? I ask my team this question often (or rather, frame the scenario that I’m suddenly out of the picture and the business needs to keep moving forwards) with the aim of creating an antifragile team. 

If the last few years have taught us anything, it is that no matter how much we try to avoid uncertainty in our life, we can never escape it. The reality is that so many things are out of our control but will impact our lives. 

You have probably heard this a million times before. Still, by way of example, when I played rugby for England, we used the phrase “getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable”, and this is exactly what being antifragile means. Back then, it meant getting our heart rates up before training to get comfortable with that level of stress.

While I am not expecting people in the office to get their heart rates up intentionally, we can still train ourselves to be comfortable with uncomfortable situations. 

A great example of this is Netflix and their monkey chaos strategy. “The team created a custom tool that was explicitly designed to cause chaos in their system at unexpected times, popping out of no-where and wreaking havoc in their network.”

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What does antifragility mean?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb came up with the term antifragile in 2012, describing it as “things that gain from disorder.” 

antifragileBeing antifragile is different from being resilient because you don’t only recover from adversity; you actually get better by it. Considering the times we live in, it seems we could all benefit from being more antifragile both in our professional and personal lives.

In the book Ikigai, the authors describe 3 things we can do as individuals to become more antifragile: 

  • Create more options, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  • Bet conservatively in certain areas and take many risks in others. 
    • Taking small risks that might lead to great rewards.
  • Get rid of the things that made you fragile. Setting good riddance goals. 

These tips are incredibly useful for any individual, but if we want to become antifragile in every aspect of our lives, we’ll need to shift our mindset. 

You can read more about ikigai here.

How can we shift our mindsets to become more antifragile?

This can seem challenging, but the reality is we already are more antifragile than we think. How our bodies react when doing weights is a great example of physical antifragility. We create a stressor in our bodies, and our bodies get better by it. (You can read more about stress, our bodies and antifragility here)

antifragileThe same can be said about our minds; the majority of us learn and grow from challenges. Google did a thought experiment called “The eraser test”, where they asked people if they would erase the traumatic events in their lives, consequently erasing all that came from those events too. A surprising 99.99% of people said they wouldn’t erase it. The reality is that those challenges make us learn and grow. 

So, how can we shift our mindsets? We can use stoicism as an example. The stoic put themselves in difficult situations even when they aren’t real, just to get comfortable with it in case the worst scenario happens. For example, they imagine (some even live it for a while) how it would be to be poor even if they have a very comfortable and wealthy lifestyle. 

We can use this tool for ourselves and our teams too. We can imagine challenging situations and explore how they would make us feel and how we would act. We can also put ourselves in difficult but controlled situations to get used to that uncomfortable feeling. This is what getting our heart rates up did to my rugby team: it prepared us for real games. 

So, how can we build an antifragile team?

Create trust. Trust is, for me, the most important ingredient to building an antifragile team. By creating trust, people will feel more comfortable dealing with the unexpected, making mistakes or raising concerns. 

Mistakes are a good thing. While no one wants to make mistakes, we can’t always avoid them, and the reality is that we shouldn’t either. By making mistakes (as long as they are not exponential), we can learn and grow. 

Allow space for innovation. The more restricted we are in our teams, the bigger the chance that a small change will disrupt them. However, if we continually strive for innovation, we will be more accustomed to uncertainty as part of the process. 

Read more about how to look at uncertainty the Optimist way. 

Reduce the resistance to change. According to the change management theory, our resistance to change has to be lower than the effort that change will demand. If we work on making change normal, we will decrease our resistance to change. 

Take small risks. Become used to risks. In business and life, there will always be a certain amount of risk; this, however, increases exponentially in uncertain times. If we continually take small and controlled risks, we will get comfortable with them. 

The optimist view…

The question “what would happen if I get hit by a bus tomorrow” aims to help prepare the team for any unpredictable challenge. I still look both ways when crossing the road, but my goal is that everyone in the team becomes comfortable with taking risks, making decisions and taking ownership of their roles. 

At Optimist Performance, we work with businesses to explore, engage with and evolve their team values, behaviours and culture. It’s an iterative and co-creative process so that teams are committed and involved at every stage of the process, resulting in them being better prepared for uncertainty or the unexpected.  This means that no matter what happens, having built into the process and stress tested along the way, a team’s ability to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable, those involved can be confident and prepared for what happens next.  

Get in touch with us to learn more about how we can help you and your team get ready for uncertainty and change.

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