Patrick Wilhelm joined ERNI in summer 2020 as Global Services Lead, Innovation & Digital Business Consulting. as he himself says, he always has multiple books on his table that he is reading at one time, depending on what best suits his current mood.
Can you introduce the author briefly?
Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a Lebanese-American essayist, scholar, mathematical statistician and former Wall Street derivatives trader and risk analyst. He mostly deals with problems of volatility, randomness, probability and uncertainty. In 2007 he published his book The Black Swan, which The Sunday Times mentioned as one of the twelve most influential books since World War II.
How did you come across this book?
I knew the author as I had read The Black Swan before. Volatility and uncertainty and how to deal with them are topics that I also find personally exciting and about which I read all sorts of texts. I wrote my MBA on Strategic Foresight and I engage in innovation in a professional context, where uncertainty is an essential aspect.
Why did you choose this book?
I like the writing style of this author. He provides a lot of knowledge, and not only in theory but also in a more practical manner. The approximately 600 pages are divided into narratives, making it easier to digest the content.
How does this book influence you in general?
It showed me again the importance of the ability to be antifragile. This deals with the fact that shocks and the unknown are a part of life which we usually do not see coming and cannot influence. Interferences are mostly drivers for change. It reminds me of the statement “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, and that I would like to orientate myself more towards learning from disruptions, drawing the positive from them and being able to emerge from them stronger. I am strongly convinced that this ability will become much more important in the future as things tend to increase in complexity and systems interact.
Which main thoughts applied to you from the book?
We humans often equate fragility with vulnerability. Antifragility is the exact opposite: While a postal parcel would be marked “Fragile – handle with care”, an antifragile parcel would have a “Please mishandle!” label on it. Fragile is a system that draws disadvantages rather than advantages from random shocks. Antifragile systems benefit from volatility and have more advantages than disadvantages from random shocks. According to Taleb’s definition, antifragile is also something different from the resilience or robustness of systems. Resilient systems merely behave neutrally in the event of vibrations, while antifragile systems flourish when there are distortions.
Do you have an example of what you have used in your daily practice?
Taleb is a strong advocate of this thesis and calls prognoses the root of all evil. I don’t quite agree with this; rather I see added value precisely in the combination in order to continue to be successful in the future. The history of mankind also shows this: we are successful as a species because, firstly, we anticipate the future and prepare ourselves accordingly and, secondly, we can deal with unpredictability.
In this respect, I take the mindset of the antifragilist with me and I am aware that as an individual or an organization, I cannot regulate everything and must develop skills to be able to deal with shocks.
Is there a concrete project in which you implemented the concept of the book?
In our consulting mandates around strategy and innovation topics, we sensitise our clients to the volatile nature of this world (also known as the VUCA world) and base our recommendations on this. The goal of every company is to achieve profits in the short and long term in order to grow and remain competitive in the future. With the mindset of the antifragile, we therefore help to develop solutions that exactly meet these requirements.
Would you recommend the book to others?
Yes, I already recommended it to a colleague of mine. She has already read The Black Swan and I advised her to read this one as well as she’s active in the coaching and transformation area.