How you can be antifragile without hurting anyone

The best description I have for antifragility as of now is this one.

Something fragile will break under a certain amount of a specific pressure.

Something robust will stay the same under a certain amount of a specific pressure.

Something antifragile will get better under a certain amount of a specific pressure.

When this is applied, a great example all around us right now with the pandemic. There’s a massive pressure on businesses at the moment, and it’s a very specific kind of pressure.

The companies that are fragile to that specific pressure will go under. (Airlines)

The companies that are robust to that specific pressure will have the same turnover. (Grocery stores)

The companies that are antifragile to that specific pressure will get more money and be valued higher. (Amazon)

There are two visible principles that we can learn from in this.

The business model

This is all a game of probabilities, but stay with me for a second. Amazon or Zoom aren’t antifragile because they’re internet based companies. Were we to have a global electricity shortage, they would at best be robust. Probably fragile. The same goes if the internet is down.

In fact, they’re both heavily dependant on electricity and internet to operate at all. One could argue that all of our lives are, but we’ll ignore that argument for now. For many e-commerce sites only a couple of days of no electricity or internet would be devastating for their turnover. Imagine Amazon going down on Singles Day, Black Friday or sometime before Christmas.

Now, any of those scenarios aren’t very probable. But there is a risk. Just as there’s a risk of an invasion from another country to yours.

Part of why Zoom and Amazon are largely antifragile in their business model is because they have low overheads. If the electricity would shut down in all of the US for any of those shopping holidays, Amazon wouldn’t lose that much of their work.

It would be far more devastating for all of the people and businesses selling things through Amazon. And all of the other markets Amazon are on would still be alive, bringing in money.

There’s also an aspect of portfolio thinking in Amazon, where they’ve diversified from being a book seller to being active in almost all sectors of life. That means they’re less fragile to a dip in reading, because then they’ll sell you a coffee grinder instead.

Business models that use the internet can scale, making them less fragile.

Business models that diversify are less fragile to specific pressures.

Business models that go for probabilities are less fragile except in the tail ends.

The readiness

Being ready when it’s your time is a huge part of antifragility. If our immune system would take breaks every time we did, we wouldn’t be here. But it’s ready whenever we need it to be. Just as Zoom was ready to expand when we all needed them to do so.

I’ve been following a couple of professional speakers for the past couple of years. It was really interesting seeing both them and their customers in the beginning of this pandemic, because none of them were ready to take the leap.

There was one man who was going on and on about wanting to get support from the government rather than asking people how he could stream his performance. He wasn’t ready to make a shift.

That’s something very evident when talking about fragility, that the people who aren’t ready to make changes are instantly fragile. In our case, the pandemic didn’t kill off people at a magnitude where there were no people to speak for. It just moved them in to their own homes.

The same goes for gym owners, bars, restaurants, shops and cafés. There are a million ways for them to move in to the living room of their customers today, and the ones who did will reap the benefits both now and when we have a vaccine.

What happens when we’re ready to meet pressure is that we either manage to be proactive and cut the stressor off entirely, or we move to another spot where the pressure isn’t as harsh. Like in to the living rooms of people through producing media or live streams.

People who are ready to move and adjust are less fragile.

People who are ready to be where the pressure isn’t are less fragile.

The moral aspect

In all of this, there’s a moral aspect that’s important to remember. We can become less fragile by elbowing our way to where we want to be. That’s what a lot of people would say Amazon is doing, by taking over sector after sector and country after country. It’s the type of mentality that you’d expect from a bully in case of a fire in the school, pushing their way out.

What I want to show with this text is that that doesn’t need to be the case. You can be less fragile and still be ethical at the same time. Take the public speakers as examples, the ones who started live streaming didn’t push anyone else off the cliff to be there. There was enough room.

And when the late adopters caught up, there was space for them too.

Do use the principles, but use them sensibly. Doing the right thing is always the right thing.

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