Are We Creating “Fragile” Systems And Organizations?

“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.”  -Nassim Taleb via Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

In a recent article from Smithsonian, they provided five reasons on why you might want to stop using antibacterial soap. One of the reasons is that “antibacterial soaps have the potential to create antibiotic-resistant bacteria.” Another being that antibacterial soaps “might lead to other health problems.” At the conclusion of the article, it was shared that you would probably be better served by just relying on “conventional soap and water.”

I had heard previously that using antibacterial soaps may be worse for you than using conventional soap and water, even though I hadn’t given it much thought. Getting rid of bacteria sounded like a natural premise to becoming healthier. The problem is that by eliminating bacteria, you also take away your body’s ability to engage that bacteria and create natural immunities. Thereby opening yourself to a host of all kinds of ailments and maladies down the line.

The interesting thing, is that we’ve taken a similar approach to how we try to run and even shield our organizations and institutions. In reality, we’ve tried to antibacterialize them against the randomness, uncertainty and unknowns that we are facing and coming more and more in contact with in our modern world. We are creating what Nassim Taleb might refer to as “fragile” organizations and institutions.

Especially in education, we are trying to create and erect invincible systems and organizations that are foolproof. We are trying to create certainty and assurances where it cannot exist. We are trying to antibacterialize our systems and organizations. Leading to misguided plans and strategies that are inevitably tearing down the immune systems of our institutions and organizations.

Or as Taleb shares in his work Antifragile, “We have been fragilizing the economy, our health, political life, education, almost everything…by suppressing randomness and volatility.”

The problem with this kind of thinking, this antibacterializing of our organizations, is that we are not prepared or equipped to deal with the uncertainty, turbulence and chaos that we will eventually face in our modern world.

Instead of “fragile” which Taleb labels as those things that ”you necessarily want them to be left alone in peace, quiet, order, and predictability.” We need to look at creating systems, institutions and organizations that are antifragile” or as he shares, ”To be robust is to be neutral to shocks.”

Suppressing randomness, uncertainty and the unknown, endears our organizations towards becoming more and more “fragile.” When we antibacterialize our organizations, we make our organizational immune systems less and less hardy and resilient.

Trying to create more certainty and assurances, not only does not work, it makes us more apt to be shocked by the unknown and randomness that all systems and organizations will ultimately experience, especially in this volatile, turbulent, and chaotic world that we exist within.

To build up “antifragile” systems and organizations, we are going to need creative leaders who understand the randomness and uncertainty of our current world and use that understanding and knowledge to the benefit the whole of the organization. Creative leaders determined to face some risk, some uncertainty, and some unknowns to lower the “shock” level of the organization. To allow a bit of bacteria to exist in order to strengthen the whole of the system.

“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same: the antifragile gets better.”  -via Nassim Taleb Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

Quotes and references from…

Taleb, Nassim. Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. 2014. New York. Random House Trade Paperback.


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