Leadership: Resilience is not enough

29 August 2018

Gihan Perera

Gihan Perera is a futurist, conference speaker, author and consultant who gives business leaders a glimpse into what's ahead - and how they can become fit for the future.

When it comes to managing stress and change in an ever-evolving business environment, it’s time you consider building a business that thrives on chaos.

I often go out to breakfast or lunch with my 19-year-old stepdaughter, Abbey. As soon as the food arrives, she – like many others of her generation – pulls out her smartphone, takes a photo, and shares it with her friends on social media (and to her credit, she then puts away her phone for the rest of the meal).

Of course, knowing that I have a futurist sitting across the table from me, I’m always curious about her behaviour, so I ask what she’s doing. She recently told me that she’s stopped posting these photos on Snapchat, and has now gone back to sharing them on Instagram. Why? Because Instagram’s recent update made it more attractive to post there, and she and her friends have all made the switch.

Abbey and her friends are happy to keep using whatever works best, and they don’t complain about the constant changes to platforms, apps and technology in general. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: They crave change, rather than resisting it.

How different this is from the way many people think in business!

What about you?

Do you love change or loathe it? Do you embrace it as an opportunity or resist it as a threat? Do you sigh and call on your reserves of resilience, or get excited and shout, ‘Bring it on!’?

Resilience is not enough

You don’t need me to tell you that the financial services industry has had more than its fair share of change in the last few years. And yes, resilience is important – especially in the face of constant change from FoFA, FSI, FASEA and other F-words that have hit advisers in a seemingly never-ending series of tidal waves.

But resilience alone is not enough.

Resilience is about bouncing back, standing up every time you fall down, and getting back on your feet after every setback. But the problem with only being resilient is that you end up being reactive. You can be the most resilient person, team or business – but you’re still at the mercy of what’s happening around you.

And let’s face it – it’s no fun being constantly knocked down! As good as you are at bouncing back, facing a constant barrage of punches eventually wears you down.

That’s why you need something more than resilience – for yourself, your team and your business.

The best businesses are ‘antifragile’

In 2012, author Nassim Nicholas Taleb introduced the word ‘Antifragile’, in his book of the same name. Something is antifragile when it thrives on chaos. In other words, far from just resisting change or recovering from it, it actively grows and thrives in a chaotic, ever-changing environment.

For example:

  • Your immune system gets stronger by being exposed to small doses of stress (that’s how vaccinations work).
  • Day traders thrive in volatile – and even falling – markets.
  • Software products released in ‘beta’ form (such as Gmail) develop faster because they are subjected to a barrage of user testing.

Are you building an antifragile business?

When it comes to managing stress, chaos and an ever-changing business environment for advisers, there are four kinds of businesses and teams.

Which of these applies to you, your team and your business?

  • Are you brittle? This business performs adequately in a stable environment, but falls apart at the slightest stress. Life is a constant struggle, with no end in sight.
  • Many fragile businesses strive to be nimble, where they artfully jump around, always looking over their shoulder, so they can dodge and avoid change. This can work in the short-term, but it’s exhausting.
  • Then there’s the resilient business. They bounce back, get back from every setback, and work desperately to cope with all the change around them. But they never get ahead, are always punch-drunk, and eventually get broken.

You might recognise your business in one of these three categories, but that doesn’t mean all is lost – unless you continue operating that way forever.

Now, at the start of a new financial year, it’s the perfect opportunity to set a new direction for your business. And one of the best things you can do is strive to become the fourth kind of business – antifragile.

What does this mean in practice?

Of course, it’s one thing to talk the talk about being antifragile, but another thing altogether to put it into practice – especially when you’re already facing the myriad other pressures of managing an active business.

Here are three things you can do to get started.

1. Adopt an antifragile mindset

Most leaders – especially experienced leaders – start with the mindset that ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. But that doesn’t work in a fast-changing world, and especially doesn’t work if you want to be more antifragile.

Instead, adopt this mindset: ‘If it ain’t broke, break it!’

This doesn’t mean you wantonly break things just for the sake of it! Instead, consider all the assets in your business, and ask this question about each of them: ‘If we didn’t have this, what would we do differently?’

For example:

  • If we didn’t already have a website, what website would we build?
  • If we didn’t have these systems and processes for delivering advice, how would we do it if starting from scratch?
  • If we didn’t have a database of loyal clients we might upset, what radical change could we make?

2. Engage your antifragile team members

If you already have young graduates or recent recruits in your team, consider yourself lucky – because they might already have the antifragile mindset. Instead of forcing them to conform to your established processes, engage them to develop something new.

Engage them actively, using ‘reverse mentoring’, where the younger, more junior people in an organisation provide the mentoring for older, more senior staff.

For example, The Hartford, a financial services group in the USA, leveraged the power of reverse mentoring to reach a new kind of customer, understand the new workforce, and improve their bottom line.

Almost all the mentees (the senior people, remember) rated it extremely effective for their own personal development, most of the mentors (the junior people) were promoted within a year, and the business implemented new practices that saved time and money, increased social media engagement, and boosted internal knowledge.

3. Make ‘antifragile’ a habit

Don’t wait until ‘things quieten down’ to start building an antifragile business – that will never happen! Instead, make it a habit by setting aside time regularly for it. For example, at team meetings, with initiatives like reverse mentoring, and even with formal recognition and rewards for team members who embrace it.

Whatever you do, start now! In this profession, not all businesses will survive. Be more antifragile, and you’ll thrive – not just survive – in this fast-changing world.

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