Fragility is the quality of being easily broken, delicate or vulnerable. A fragile system, similar to a vase, are easily impacted by a slight shock. Vases are fragile – and broken when hit. Once they break, it may be possible to glue them together again but will never look and function the same from its original state.
What is the opposite of fragility? Durability and adaptability. A system which adapts and gains strength from the impact of a shock(s) – vases getting more robust with each stone hitting them.
Nature shows many examples of anti fragile systems. The human immune system is anti fragile. Each infection is overcomed further strengthening it. The immune system is especially design with the need of “shocks” / intruders in order to evolve and remain strong.
Currently we typically aim to protect systems from a set of expected events. In the world of VUCA (Dance on the VUCAno) the aim must be making environment and its systems anti-fragile. Why not expose a system continuously to shock events and train it to handle them? Expect the unexpected, make the unexpected to anticipated.
The notion of VUCA was introduced by the U.S. Army War College to describe a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous multilateral world which resulted after the end of the Cold War. This applies well to the world we see today where a lot of things evolve in parallel influencing each other. VUCA stands for:
- Volatility – fast rate of change
- Uncertainty – as things change fast we seem to live in a world of uncertainty
- Complexity – small things can develop huge effects, nothing seems linear anymore
- Ambiguity – things can be interpreted differently, context matters, answers depend
People like stability and simple situations – but in reality is different. The elements of VUCA can be seen as a threat or an opportunity. I prefer the opportunistic view with observable developments within each elements of VUCA
- Volatility – opportunity for those who can adapt, are agile and have access to resources
- Uncertainty – opportunity for those who look at the bigger picture
- Complexity – opportunity for those who can adapt and influence
- Ambiguity – opportunity for those who live and breath diversity
Here are some thoughts triggered by VUCA
- Having a vision or a longer term purpose is key to channeling activities towards a common goal. It enables all to make the right decisions at any time (giving direction)
- Projects or initiatives must be structured as small steps each leading to a stable and beneficial state.
- Approaches may look promising upfront but may become unattractive or even unpractical when being implemented. It s key to acknowledge, learn and move on (never fail to fail).
- Try to travel light – adjusting direction and acting quickly does not work when we have lots of baggage.
- Avoiding technical and business debt becomes instrumental in enabling the ability to renew systems and organizations.
- Old patterns and theories become stumbling blocks. Be creative and innovative to develop patterns and tools which match the new reality.
- Best practices are good to learn. They are for a specific situation – yours is different.
- We live in a world of networks and network effects matter. Its about connections and influence not about hierarchy.
- If one acts to isolated he loses influence which lacks the stimuli and interactions in order to drive innovation and creativity.
- Try new things if you expect something new. Be curious and open for surprises – there is always something positive in it which can be used to build on.
In the world of ambiguity it may sound promising to try to keep and defend one’s current strong position. Why try to be creative and innovate? Why not just wait, optimize the current state and buy what turns out to be a success. This does not work well in a networked world. Such strategy typically leads to a limited time success followed by a serious threat.