Building Robustness and Antifragility in the Longer Term

By Deirdre Murray, Executive Coach, Trainer and Facilitator with PEOPLE RESOURCES

This pandemic has created a roller coaster of emotions for everyone. It catapulted people overnight into an environment of complete lockdown. The economy simply went to sleep. We went from initial panic-buying of toilet rolls to a fear of our own personal fragility and mortality and that of family and friends. Now as we go persevere through this current lockdown and the emergence of a vaccine rollout , we can look to the future with a bit more promise.

What we can say with confidence, however, is that the world of work has changed forever. Following on from the world’s largest social experiment, remote working is no longer a temporary stop-gap. It has created a totally new way of working flexibly and one which is likely to continue.

A recent report by NUI Galway, in conjunction with the Western Development Commission,  (May 2020), found that post-Covid-19, almost 80% of people would like to continue working remotely. Even prior to the lockdown in March, a previous survey by FlexJobs, (Feb 2020), has also indicated that over 90% of workers stated that flexible working would build morale and 80% stated that they suffered less stress. Fifty-six percent of respondents stated it reduced absences and over 50% said they got sick less as they were away from the office environment.

As employees continue working remotely, a new flexible office landscape will emerge, with remote working a reality rather than being the exception, and our urban streets possibly becoming more re-purposed perhaps with more residential accommodation and pedestrianised, rather than commercial, trafficked streets.

How do we reinvent ourselves and our businesses in this Post-Covid Environment?

One thing that is clearly emerging, is that people are reflecting on what they truly value and what really matters most to them in life. This whole situation has allowed the merry-go-round to stop for a while and allow for reflection. Employees are certainly not missing the long arduous commute and its associated costs, as well as the heightened stress levels at the end of a long week. Despite the challenges for many parents in minding and schooling small children, over 67% report (NUI Galway/WDC) May 2020), stated that their productivity is the same or higher than in the office, as they feel they have more control over their working day. It is definitely encouraging that we see Governments introducing legislation to promote shorter working weeks and flexible working.

The big question is, how do we want to emerge from this crisis? In the last economic recession of 2008, 80% of businesses in the U.S. did not recover. The ones that did were able to re-invent themselves and use the crisis as an opportunity rather than a problem. What does this mean for you as a business owner? This is a crisis that requires ability in how we respond to customer and consumer demands and to meet those needs as quickly as possible.

Dr. Paige Williams from the University of Melbourne has created a very positive acronym in contrast to the prescriptive “VUCA” –  the Volatile, Uncertain, Complexity and Ambiguous world we are experiencing.

She has adapted the four-stage VUCA and underpins it with three key aspects: energy, agility, and a positive attitude and mindset.

                                                        The new VUCA:

The new VUCA, draws on neuroscience to recruit our whole brain in emerging positively and with vigour from this crisis:

V = Vision – being clear and passionate about what you want to achieve

U = Understanding: Really listening, engaging and tapping into what our clients and customers need.

C = Clarity that comes with simplicity rather than Complexity or as Caroline Currid, High Performance Coach with the IRFU, termed it recently, “Simplexity” – achieving simplicity in a complex world. And lastly,

A = Agility: Being able to “turn on a dime” to respond to what is needed.  (Source: Dr. Paige Williams Ph.D)

When we look back at March 2020, we can reflect on the huge journey we have travelled: from panicking about toilet rolls to total shock, disillusionment and grief about what was happening to our normal existence. Many were in denial that this would make a major change to our lives. As we have progressed through this strange year, we have seen businesses and people adapt in ways we never thought was possible. We have acquired new skills and have shown a spirit and resilience to deal with the tough challenges facing us. This crisis has also brought about opportunities we might never have imagined.

In her work on antifragility, Dr Paige Williams has developed six very useful steps in dealing with the ‘new normal. Author Naseem Taleb, who coined the term “anti-fragility,” states that those who adopt the possibilities inherent in ambiguity can thrive, as it presents huge opportunities where other businesses might remain frozen or go under. The ambiguity of the “new normal” is something to relish rather than be fearful of.

As Peggy Holman, author on Positive Psychology outlines,

“When you recognise disruption as a doorway to possibility, you can enter through that door with compassion and curiosity, so when things begin to fall apart you can be open to the opportunity and experimentation this offers.”

Dr. Paige Williams has developed six guiding principles with the ROBUST model, which highlights the key factors that help build antifragility and keep us agile in tough times as shown below:

           Figure. ROBUST Model of Anti-fragility (Dr. Paige Williams Ph.D.)

R = Recruit your Brain

Rather than allow your brain to become stressed and fearful, she emphasises the importance of looking to harness the creative aspects that ambiguity may offer and refocus our attention away from fear.

O = Operate in Reality

The research clearly shows that those who recognise the challenges and brutal reality of their current situation are much more resilient than those who operate with blind optimism. This draws on the research by Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great”, who talks about the Stockdale Paradox. Jim Stockdale a survivor of war world II prisoner of war camp, was asked how he survived. He said the first people to perish were the optimists. They thought they were going to get out at Xmas, then it was Easter, and they lost hope. He focused on what he had to do every day to survive.

B = Break the Negative, Build the Positive.

Here, the focus is on breaking away from a negative mindset which will only drag us down and building on the good things that are happening around us. With every difficult, there is opportunity, and even within then struggles of Covid-19 there has been huge collaboration in the scientific world to create a safe and affordable vaccine as well as the emergence of new technology and scientific knowledge and innovation in the medicines we are using to fight the disease.

U = Using Intelligent Risk

The “U” requires us to use intelligence risk. We want to be able to recognise the reality of the situation, as difficult as it may be, but in doing that we can plan ahead and become more resilient.

S = Seek Collective Wisdom

Collaboration has become the key factor in good leadership throughout this pandemic and a recipe for success in every business for the future. As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast , go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The key is to harness the innovation and collective mindset from diverse sources among stakeholders to come out with an even stronger result. We can see from  this pandemic that so many businesses have come together to create a common purpose and achieved phenomenal results.

T = Tackle the Infinite Game

This draws on the work of Simon Sinek, that learning is not finite. It is a process of preparing ourselves for flexibility as well as constant and never-ending improvement. As Carol Dweck in her research on the growth mindset emphasises, it is not about being perfect at something and becoming a ‘fixed’ learner as a result. It is about progress not perfection; the key word being, “yet” –“ I haven’t got there yet but I’m making good progress.”

These six principles, Paige suggests can be harnessed to apply not only to business but also to our personal lives. The world around us is changing and we need to harness diversity and become flexible and open to changing circumstances and opportunities rather than resist them.

About the author
Deirdre Murray, Founder and Director of PEOPLE RESOURCES, partners as an Executive Coach, Trainer and Facilitator with leading multinationals and public sector bodies across all sectors. She works with leaders and teams to maximise their potential through focused and timely coaching and leadership development.”

Deirdre is co-author of “Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – A Leadership Imperative!” Her second book “Communicate with Impact – Communicate and Influence Successfully,” is out now. She is a regular motivational speaker at conferences, seminars and on radio broadcasts and provides journal entries for leading business magazines.