Chaos is everywhere. From stoplights to random acts of kindness, we need to accept that more often than not things that happen around us are outside of our realm of control. Embracing chaos is something that feels highly improbable, even uncomfortable, in a professional setting. There are patterns we can’t predict and outcomes we are unable to foresee, and so sometimes it becomes necessary to ride the wave of chaos to distant and undiscovered waters. In his book Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb says that “(Antifragility) is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” The concept of antifragility is one that isn’t widely known, but essentially means that instead of breaking upon failure we get stronger.
If you were to pack glasses in the box, even carefully, you would nonetheless be aware that the contents inside would not respond well to disturbances like being dropped or mishandled. Glasses are fragile. However, imagine if there was an item you put in the box that was improved by disturbances, that were made stronger or more capable by being mishandled. That is the true opposite of fragile, or as Taleb refers to it – antifragile.
“Antifragile” is a sequel to Mr. Taleb’s 2007 book “The Black Swan.” In those and other writings, he has argued that “Black Swans” — large, improbable and highly consequential events like the fall of the Twin Towers or the rise of the Internet — are not predictable. Although we as humans search for rational patterns of cause and effect, its impossible to calculate the risk of large events or predict their outcomes.
To bring this into the lens of Market Research, I believe that there are three key takeaways from this transcendent and somewhat divisive book that if put forth into action, could shape chaos into progress.
1. Invest trust in people, not plans
2. Favor broad diversification to reduce negative outcomes in any given event
3. You learn more from failure than from success.
By allowing the stress and unpredictability of a small but robust market research company to strengthen its practices with every ‘failure’, failure becomes easier to recognize and fix. Benefiting from random events like quick projects, unforeseen technical difficulties, and difficult external influences make Vivisum (and other boutique market research firms) better able to identify weak spots and stabilize them efficiently. Fragile systems require predictability. Resilient systems require constant learning. Although it is difficult to navigate chaos, we are entering 2020 with a growth mindset and a desire to learn from our failures.