Project Management

Agile is not enough! Be Anti-FrAgile

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A contrarian and provocative blog that goes beyond the traditional over-hyped dogma of "Agile", so as to obtain true agility and project leadership through a process of philosophical reflection.

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Some time back I wrote about the idea of being FrAgile rather than Agile, in which one seeks out complexity and chaos rather than the traditional route of avoiding them at all costs.  Back then I wrote that:

This is very new and I’m still thinking it through, but rather than the reductive process of extrapolating out the clearly defined project activities in a controlled iteration, could there be a way to let these “run loose” so to speak, see what kind of behavioral patterns and team dynamics result and just help facilitate the team to channel the flow patterns till they deliver what they need?

Well, after having read Taleb’s book “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder”, it dawned on me that this interesting thinker had already come to a similar conclusion.  This idea ties in nicely with his other books such as “Fooled by Randomness” and “Black Swan” in that it outlines a strategy where one can actually thrive in a world run by uncertainty.  As Taleb states, Antifragile is a blueprint for living in a Black Swan world. . . . The antifragile, and only the antifragile, will make it.”

As this PwC study outlines quite nicely:

The idea that businesses might be experiencing an unprecedented amount of “stress and disorder” should come as no surprise. CEOs and other senior executives consistently describe uncertain future business conditions as a key concern.

The term “antifragility,” coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, is defined by the source of its strength. Like the human body, whose immune system gets stronger from exposure to germs and diseases, the antifragile system improves or responds positively when shocked.

While fragile systems are easily injured and suffer from volatility, antifragile systems grow stronger in response to volatility. So-called robust systems remain unchanged.

The fragile are susceptible to large lethal shocks.
The robust can handle adversity but stay the same.
The agile move and adapt rapidly.
The antifragile grow and improve (evolve) from external shocks.

Antifragile is beyond stable, beyond robust; stable and robust systems resist shocks but stay the same . . . antifragile systems as those capable of absorbing shocks and being changed by them in positive ways . . stable systems, because they don’t change, eventually experience shocks large enough to cause catastrophic failure. Antifragile systems break a little all the time but evolve as a result, becoming less prone to catastrophic failure. . . . Antifragile systems adapt and evolve in response to stress and changes to their environment.

When the magnitude of change stays within a normal range, robustness can be a state that seems resilient. During periods of unusual change, only the antifragile organizations prove to be resilient.

Life, Taleb says, is not as predictable or explainable as the rationalists would have us believe; instead, simple sets of rules help us to navigate through a complex and constantly changing landscape. He argues, “We have been fragilizing our economy, our health, education, almost everything—by suppressing randomness and volatility…If about everything top down fragilizes and blocks antifragility and growth, everything bottom up thrives under the right amount of stress and disorder.”

I think the disparities resides in the fact that we live in volatile world, yet rather than using this fact of our business existence to our advantage, organizations seek to do everything to possible to avoid or at best minimize it.  Agile was on method created to address this by breaking up projects into smaller chunks so as to adapt, iterate and deploy quicker so as to better manage this volatility.  But this is not enough!  I think one has to adopt the mindset of proactively introducing targeted disruptive shocks which are enough to induce and promote growth and innovation, but not so much as to completely damage the project and teams. 

Basically, it is no different that the health benefits of doing weight resistant exercises that actually cause micro-fractures in the bones and micro-tears in the muscle that in turn cause them to heal, the result of which is stronger more robust bones and muscle and overall health.  Too much of this is bad since you don’t allow the body to heal, too little and you won’t gain the health benefits, but there’s a point that becomes just right.  Furthermore, your body will adjust causing you to gradually up your game, which in turn further strengthens your body and overall health.

I’ll be writing more about this Anti-FrAgility which I think is the next big evolution.

Posted on: September 26, 2014 11:20 AM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Kevin Coleman Subject Matter Expert, Author, Speaker and Strategic Advisor| - Insights Pa, USA
I have found that many technology companies embrace Agile, while the customers see it as a short-cut. Also, integrating cyber security into Agile is a must these days. I wrote about this issue a few years ago.

"How to Achieve More 'Agile' Application Security"

Bruce Harpham Editor & Author| Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Your suggestion here is interesting:
"I think one has to adopt the mindset of proactively introducing targeted disruptive shocks which are enough to induce and promote growth and innovation, but not so much as to completely damage the project and teams."

What would a targeted disruptive shock look like?

Alaa Hussein Program Manager| MEMECS Baghdad, Iraq
Thanks for sharing

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