Much of today’s strategy development is about eliminating risk and reducing uncertainty. Maximize upside and minimize downside. Heavy emphasis on minimizing the downside. But what if we shifted our thinking to maximize upside by maximizing downside? There will always be a downside. What if we used it?
Enter antifragile thinking.
Something fragile breaks when exposed to stress. Something resilient doesn’t break. Something antifragile gets stronger.
If you can make your strategy or your plan antifragile, you get to have your cake and eat it too.
Nassim Taleb, author of Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, defines antifragile this way: Things that benefit from shock; thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder. And love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.
An antifragile person uses setbacks to their advantage. i.e., I got fired from my job, so I started Pixar. An antifragile company uses uncertainty and pandemics to get better. i.e., Airbnb
Said more poetically by Andy Grove, Intel’s founder, “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive crisis. Great companies are defined by crisis.
Want to have it all with strategy development?
Here are 3 Ways to Make Your Strategy Antifragile:
1) Fall in Love with your Customer, Not your Product or Service. Better yet, fall in love with your customer’s problem. In business, more often than not, we fall in love with ourselves. With our product or service. Our process. Our culture. Just like you and me, companies are creatures of habit.
But habits are based on what’s worked in the past. And you and I, both being customers, have different problems today than 10 years ago, 10 months ago…
Truth: life happened, and now your customer has different needs. Falling in love with your customer instead of your product or service will always allow you to “kill your darlings.”
2) Prioritize Learning Over Planning. In business, nothing is better than predictability. But how we get there needs to change. Since failure is not an option in almost every company, innovation is often watered down to “slightly better improvements of the same.” Now my battery life lasts for 9 hours instead of 8.
When a leap is eventually forced upon us, we plan like crazy. Meanwhile, the opportunity is waiting for us in our driveway. The strategic pivot is risky, no doubt. How we get there doesn’t have to be.
Author Ozan Varol suggests in his 2020 hit book Think Like A Rocket Scientist, “test as you fly, fly as you test.”
In other words, break your initiative down into smaller chunks and emphasize progressive learning instead of elongated front-heavy planning. If you want to go deeper here, look into agile software development.
3) Embrace Redundancy. Change your thinking on back up plans. Back up plans today are thought of as “you must not have the conviction that this thing is going to work.”
My father-in-law says from his P&G days, “A plan is a basis for change.” Changing the plan isn’t weakness. It’s really a sign of mental agility.
Amazon calls these two-way doors. If we walk through and don’t like what we see, can we turn around and come back? Put as many two-way doors in your plan as possible.
Here’s a recent example:
In response to COVID, I helped launch a new digital service at my company. It’s a reconfiguration of existing capabilities tailored especially at new customer challenges resulting from COVID.
The service is a two-way door. Not that we didn’t like what we saw- we did. But the learnings highlighted an even more significant market opportunity we hadn’t considered.
We walked back through the door and are now pivoting the entire business in a new direction.
You don’t have to be the CEO to set your company’s strategy (although that does help). If you have goals, then you more than likely have a plan to achieve them.
If something was going to cause you to miss your mark, what would it be? Enter antifragile thinking.