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March 2014, from Kim Ratz, Speaker-Trainer-Troubadour

Nothing fancy -- just a free, fast & fun read to inspire hope, improve skills to cope,
and induce some fun along the way. (To see previous issues: Click Here)

A Thought to Help You Live&WorkWise: An Airplane Just Disappeared?!

With today's sophisticated technology, this isn't supposed to happen. We are accustomed to getting quick answers and solutions, so the dissapearance of 239 passengers aboard Malaysian Air flight 370 for almost 3 weeks now is not only troubling -- it's scary. Even if the plane is found, the answers to "Why & How?" may never be known. It reminds us we are vulnerable, that some things are beyond control, and you just never know when something terrible or unexplainable might happen to you or someone you know! Plus, this event will probably prompt more changes in the way we fly, and some will likely be expensive and inconvenient ...

This mystery is the most recent example why I'm including the research being conducted by economist Nasiim Nicholas Taleb ("Learning to Love Volativity") in my seminars. Taleb cites the increasing occurance of what he calls "black swans" - isolated events that are unexpected and highly consequential (think "Enron," "9-11," "Katrina & Sandy," etc.) He suggests these "black swans" will continue to happen, so we need to learn how to be "antifragile," i.e., less fragile and more resilient to be able to navigate these situations when the unknown predominates, and suggests 5 strategies to increase the "antifragility" of economic systems:

  • Rule 1: Think of the economy as a cat, not a washing machine.
  • Rule 2: Small is beautiful, but it is also efficient.
  • Rule 3: Trial & Error beats academic knowledge.
  • Rule 4: Decision makers must have skin in the game.
  • Rule 5: Favor businesses that benefit from their own mistakes, not those who ignore them.

I believe his findings yield clues that can also help both individuals and non-economic type organizations too. Seminar participants have told me they really value these practical discussions about Taleb's premise and strategies to be less fragile and more resilient. So in this article I share my take for how to adapt his "antifragility" strategies for your personal and professional use, and encourage you to consider what you can do to increase your "antifragility" so you not only get through these events - you can even come out better in some way!

Rule 1: Think of the economy as a cat, not a washing machine.
In a post-enlightenment view, the world is an advanced machine, which can be repaired, improved, and controlled. That also means things can break because they can't take care of themselves - they need someone to operate them and take care of them. Instead: by allowing some amount of disorder to "push" the system, the response is enough to create some antifragility ... He uses the example of depriving the bones of stress, which can become brittle. Exercise "pushes" bones and muscles to not get soft -- i.e., antifragile ... "Stifling natural fluctuations masks real problems, causing the breakdown to be both delayed and more intense when they do take place," says Taleb.

My take: Using the "brittle bone" metaphor above, you need to exercise your "antifragility" skills so when "black swans" happen you and your team are resilient, strong and capable of responding when pushed ... Organizations and systems are made up of people, who are organic and complex, and who by nature want to survive and "make things better" ... Your go-getters will bring your group to "push" things and meet resistance, which keeps attitudes and skills sharper, i.e., stronger. Capitalize on that and let people find ways to help themselves and each other get better, and most people will do it!

Rule 2: Small is beautiful, but it is also efficient.
While you want to be big enough, groups and systems can reach a tipping point where they get too big, and increase their risk and fragility ... He argues that decentralization would lower deficits and increase savings by reducing underestimations of projects and improved decision-making ...

My take: I remember when schools tried "bigger is better" by creating huge school campuses that could offer more classes and require less administration ... It wasn't long before we saw that individual student needs were being bypassed or buried in the bulk ... We adapted by creating "communities of learners" that would sub-group within the larger campus to try to compensate some attention, and now the research and designs are gearing back to smaller school size, smaller class size, and more individualized instruction ... Decentralization almost always makes sense, especially if the focus of the service/program is to serve people, by interacting with people to solve problems that affect individuals, families and communities ... If your system requires you to link several decentralized locations, then figure it out so the right people share the right information in the right ways at the right times, and don't let the need for logistics keep you from doing what you need to do ... Remember the "KISS Principle": "Keep it Simple Sweetie."

Rule 3: Trial & Error beats academic knowledge.
I think it's interesting how many studies come to this same conclusion from a number of different ways ... Tinkering has played a bigger role in western inventions and innovation than science ... Think of all the college dropouts who own multi-billion dollar tech companies ... Antifragility thrives in this environment of uncertainty amidst calculated risk and significant potential gain ...

My take: I don't think this has to be an "Either/Or" - I think it can be an "And"; we need both academics and seat-of-the-pants innovators. While it's true that not everyone needs to go to a typical 4 year college to succeed, it's a lot less likely for someone to succeed who doesn't graduate from high school and have some post-secondary training ... A strong public education system is vital to our society's future success in every sense - economically, as well as public health and safety, improved living standards in our communities, continued innovation and inventions, etc. I also know there are many "Albert Einsteins," working right now in their garages and basements on inventions/innovations that will soon be part of our everyday lives, like a new way to generate power, or a new way to communicate, or a new way to fight a disease, or a new way to do something better or make it easier ...

Rule 4: Decision makers must have skin in the game.
DU-UH! I liked his example of how the Romans forced engineers to sleep under a bridge once it was completed. This one should be a no-brainer and universal, yet obviously this is not always the case among financial institutions, as well as other systems, organizations and individuals ...

Rule 5: Favor businesses that benefit from their own mistakes not those whose mistakes percolate into the system.
While Taleb is thinking of financial institutions, this rule also resonates with many people who work in the public sector and in other service and helping professions. Some organizations and teams of people respond to challenge and stress better than others, and even find ways to come out better as a result. They even try to be proactive and anticipate what would be smart to do, instead of waiting and having to react to things all the time. Other groups seem to struggle because they're not really trying to solve the problem and learn from it, as they're too busy reacting and putting out fires, and they are spreading the pain by impacting others too in the meantime ...

My take: No matter what type of work you do, or what life role or goal you pursue, if you don't learn from your mistakes and figure out different and "better" ideas, you just aren't going to succeed as much as you otherwise could! And increasingly, if you don't keep finding ways to continuously improve and keep up, or growing into other areas that keep you "lean & mean" - you'll find yourself falling behind ...

Quotes related to "Antifragility & Resilience" for the days ahead ...

When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take the step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for us to stand on, or we will be taught to fly. - Patrick Overton

The normal and the everyday are often amazingly unstoppable, and what is unimaginable is the cessation of them. The world is resilient, and no matter what interruptions occur, people so badly want to return to their lives and get on with them. A veneer of civilization descends quickly, like a shining rain. Dust is settled. - Lorrie Moore

Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper, and makes more room for consolation. - Charles H. Spurgeon

Rarely has anything significant been achieved that was not preceded by adversity. - unknown

Resilience is not a commodity you are born with, waiting silently on tap. It is self-manufactured painstakingly over time by working through your problems and never giving up, even in the face of difficulty or failure. - Lorii Myers

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. - Mark Twain

Wings are not only for birds; they are also for minds. Human potential stops at some point somewhere beyond infinity. - Toller Cranston

When dealing with the unknown, children are often bewildered by the fact that their parents don't know all the answers. - Edgar Jackson

Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well. - Robert Louis Stevenson

Lord -- Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. - Reinhold Niebuhr

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