Is Resiliency Enough?




Stability is a cornerstone of building an organization – or individual lifestyle – meant to withstand tumult. Could searching for stability, though, be in opposition to the growth you’re ideally trying to create?


By Jack Colwell, Senior Consultant | April 17, 2020

Nobody wants to be like a candle that the slightest breeze of adversity can blow out.
Nobody wants to be fragile, do they? The word itself brings to mind thoughts of being easily broken, damaged, flimsy, or unstable. Nobody wants to have a fragile psyche that must be coddled, cared for, and protected by others when the inevitable challenges of life and work arise. Nobody wants the be the person that everyone walks on eggshells around, concerned about upsetting their fragile emotional state.

People want to be resilient and robust, able to withstand uncertainty and volatility. Rather than a candle, we envision being more like a lightbulb; unaffected by the breeze at all.

Or do they?

The recent pandemic has illustrated what author/philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb has argued for years. In today's complex and volatile world, resilient and robust is not enough.

Yes, the lightbulb withstands the breeze (external adversity), and glows - as long as it is on a sturdy base, has a uniform current flow and is not shaken (internal stability). In an unstable environment, the lightbulb becomes fragile. Likewise, attempting to be resilient in today's working environment can cause one to become fragile.

When work fails to fulfill personal expectations of stability, consistency, fairness, high quality/empathic leadership, and ever-improving salary/benefits packages, the resilient can become fragile.

In his book, Anti-fragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, Taleb makes this argument. Anti-fragile is the quality essential for individuals, families, businesses, systems, and governments that wish to thrive in an increasingly complex and volatile world. Taleb argues the goal is to be not like a candle or a lightbulb, but like fire, gaining, growing, and fueled by the winds of adversity and the challenges in its path. It's no longer enough to bounce back from adversity and volatility – to be resilient. You have to bounce back stronger and better. You have to become anti-fragile.

Anti-fragility and Mindset
To illustrate the union between Anti-fragility and the Outward Mindset, consider some simple comparisons with everyday situations and responses.

When I see dysfunction in the organization -

Fragile
....I feel frustrated and stymied.

Resilient
....I don't let it bother me; I wait it out until the problem resolves itself.

Anti-Fragile
...I feel invigorated by an opportunity to de-blame collusions and find new ways of working collaboratively to help things go right.

When I sense that others are being hostile or apathetic toward me -

Fragile
...I feel angry or resentful or crushed or oppressed.

Resilient
....I try to ignore them and do my job.

Anti-Fragile
...I become fascinated and curious about what their justifications are and where they feel like I have contributed to them.

When I see others, who are disengaged and working at a minimal level -

Fragile
....I feel like that if they can get away with not working, why should I work hard?

Resilient
...I try to keep plugging away and not let it bother me.

Anti-Fragile
...I seek to determine if there is any way I have hampered them or not fulfilled my responsibility toward them.

When I see bottleneck, red tape, and micromanaging in the organization -

Fragile
...I feel like, "here we go again, why bother trying around here?"

Resilient
...I try not to let it bother me, knowing all organizations have the same problems.

Anti-Fragile
...I understand that the overly cautious have many pressures and fears stymying them, I do my best to discover/eliminate their concerns and encourage them.

When I do not get the raises and benefits, that I feel I deserve -

Fragile
...I 'get even' by disengaging and trash-talking the organization.

Resilient
...I try to ignore it and keep working like always.

Anti-Fragile
...I seek to determine if there is any way I have hampered them or not fulfilled my responsibility toward them.

From these, each reader can consider what having an Outward (anti-fragile) Mindset feels like, sounds like, and looks like during a pandemic. It isn’t having the ability to shut out the ability to be harmed – similar attempts have been made and are often misguided and only weaken the organization over time as they stagnate. Rather, it’s understanding which stressors we’re experiencing, and becoming curious about how they can fuel our organization’s lessons and growth.