Resilience is pointless without this…

In my blog last week, I talked about resilience in the workplace and how we should strive to achieve it for ourselves and our colleagues to be the best version of ourselves. I’d like to dig a little deeper into this topic and explore another angle.

In isolation, resilience implies the ability to bounce back from set-backs, to emerge unscathed from challenges. But does it really take into account the crucial, evolutionary developmental step of submerging into our experiences, good and bad, and learning from them? Does it really encourage an open mindset or a growth mindset? In our effort to become more resilient to set backs we cannot neglect the humbling process of evaluating our experiences and re-shaping who we are to better handle future set-backs.

Author Nassim Taleb argues that rather than focussing on resilience, we ought to strive to be “anti-fragile”. It’s an interesting variation on the term “resilience”, which, while a hot buzzword that certainly resonates with all of us, tends to ignore the skill of reflecting, learning, growing and reshaping ourselves as a result of negative experiences. Taleb identifies three states of being; fragile, robust or the superior state of anti-fragile. Being anti-fragile, he explains, is one step beyond robust, as it benefits from chaos, adversity and stressors, just as our bones benefit and strengthen from stress and tension.

Something that is fragile, breaks. Something that is robust, stays the same. Something that is anti-fragile however actually developsand strengthensfrom external stressors. The concept can be illustrated through exercise. When you are strength straining, for example, the fibres in your muscles break a little due to the stress/ pressure of the exercise. When you go to sleep that night, however, your muscles repair and strengthen. The same can be said for humans experiencing adversity in the workplace. Whilst they may feel the stress and pressure placed on them at the time, they will ultimately learn from and grow from their experiences. Under this theory, a work culture where adversity and challenges exist in abundance is the optimal state to create strong and resilient human beings, who are learning and growing stronger from their experiences in an evolutionary way.

Workplaces where adversity exists are optimal to mundane predictable ones

With this concept in mind, that is, assuming chaos and challenges actually lead to growth, it is important to make sure your work environment has enough challenges and diversity for staff to thrive. The opposite of chaos is being stuck in a rut, in which the human character stops growing and evolving. That’s certainly not what we want. We simply can’t create a work environment free from negativity, challenge and change. Challenges are necessary to grow. In a world where things are not predictable and change is unavoidable, being anti-fragile is in fact the state, it could be argued, that one should strive for.

If for example, someone is told that they did something the wrong way, the resilient person, operating with resilience but without a growth-mindset, could well let this feedback be ‘water off a duck’s back’. They could simply shrug it off as a minor set-back and carry on without learning from their experience. Someone embracing an ‘anti-fragile’ perspective on the other hand, could feel the sting of the criticism, but could then, given the right ‘recovery time’, reflect on the learnings and how they can do things better the next time. With this learning step accomplished, they can then also resiliently ‘bounce back’ and be better prepared for the challenge the next time it arises. It’s an interesting distinction and one definitely worth considering!

What’s the crucial ingredient to being in an anti-fragile state

Apart from adversity and learning, what is it we need to allow anti-fragility to flourish in a workplace?

Recovery time. Space. Reflection. Rest. Work Life Balance. These are essential components to allow the learning to take place and allow an anti-fragile state of being to thrive. As leaders we can encourage the learning and growth that comes with adversity by creating structured and unstructured time for ourselves and our team to learn from experiences. Debriefs, weekly meetings, and unstructured conversation are all ways in which to encourage reflection and growth. It’s also important to actively encourage adequate down time for all employees to give them life perspective away from the workplace.

Resilience is futile without a growth mindset and recovery time to learn and grow from adversity. In our mission to boost resilience in the workplace we cannot neglect this crucial process and should actively allow space to make it happen.

If you would like to develop the people in your organisation to be anti-fragile, to be operating at their full potential, don’t hesitate, get in touchwith Rod today.

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