There are lots of macro-level social and economic factors that seem to carry us all along in their current. Those of us in Houston were enjoying high oil prices – as it bolsters the local economy. Now, the chief industry in our land has taken an involuntary 60% price reduction in less than 8 months. How do you protect yourself and your organization from adverse global trends?
Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes a new term in his book by the same name, Antifragile. His point is that fragility has an opposite – but that the opposite of fragile is not robust. If my 4-year old drops a glass of milk, the milk will spill – but the cup will be fine because it is made of plastic. If I drop a glass of wine, my glass is toast and I need a dustpan. The kid's cup is robust. The wine goblet is fragile.
But what of antifragile? Taleb coins the term to describe entities (companies, organizations, people, teams, etc) that actually get stronger in the midst of disarray. Like the mythological Hydra... you cut off her head and two heads grow back. Hydra is nearly perfectly antifragile.
What do antifragile companies look like? They have optionality. They have outs. They can adapt quickly. They can spin up and spin down.
We have seen at our development firm that antifragility comes from 5 sources:
- Own the hiring process – we have (and I recommend that you have too) a defined hiring process. The process should be honed and re-tooled until it reliably churns out solid candidates. Check out Brad & Geoff Smart's book Topgrading(link is external) for more on this area.
- Cultivate stellar supplier relationships – suppliers that know you are loyal to them. That are small enough to need/want you... and big enough to perform. These are unbelievable assets. We try really hard to be this type of partner to our clients – and have found again and again that having great suppliers is a huge advantage.
- Connect beyond the work with your clients. When the going gets rough (and macro-trends dictate that it eventually will), the winners are those with tight relationships. We all want to protect our own. So connect! The guy across the conference table is a real person... get to know him. Figure out what makes him tick. There will be common areas of interest that you can bond over.
- Train, cross train, and then train some more. If everyone on the staff knows 4 different things – then you can expand and contract more readily to market fluctuations without having to hire or let go.
- Attract curious people – we want people on our staff that are always learning. Not because they have to (ie the boss says "learn this") but because they HAVE TO (ie there is an internal curiosity burning within that demands more input).