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TO POTENTIAL FOLLOWERS OF THE ANTIFRAGILE MOVEMENT
If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume one of two things: You’ve either stumbled upon this writing accidentally, or you’ve heard about our hope of creating an Antifragile Movement and are on the spectrum of mildly to freakishly curious. If our meeting is of the former and by chance, let me say with all sincerity; it was a pleasure meeting you. I wish we could have gotten to know each other better as what follows is likely to be…well…a bit much.
If our meeting is of the latter, and you’re genuinely curious about our desire to create an Antifragile, or “AQ Movement,” let me first warn you, lest you get sucked in unawares only to leave disappointed. Yes, being Antifragile is about a different way of living and leading.
It’s not even a new way of living really, but rather the return to an ancient way of living that we’ll chat about later.
Yes, when we’re able to live and lead in Antifragility it can be life-changing and incomparably freeing. Sadly, what it’s not, is a destination…and that is where most of you will ultimately say your goodbyes in frustration. In your heart of hearts, most of us are looking for a quick fix. Like spending $25 and 5 hours on a self-help book, hoping it will change our lives. I don’t say that in judgement but rather in recognition of something I’ve done myself. If that’s your path, I wish you well and hope you take something away from our time together.
For those of you who choose to walk the road with us, striving to live and lead with Antifragility, this is not a self-help fix or another leadership paradigm.
More than a day-by-day effort in self-monitoring and self-correction, it’s a moment-by-moment scrutiny of ourselves that looks well beyond our choices and takes honest stock of our motives.
It’s a conscious choice to invite trusted and well-meaning peers, friends or loved ones inside to reflect on what we’re incapable of seeing in ourselves. It’s a life of tightrope walking, always striving to stay balanced.
If this sounds exhausting, it is, especially at first. Kind of like running and going to the gym can feel excruciating at first. And while it always takes focus and effort, it does get easier with time as our muscles and minds grow stronger. Similarly, the balancing act of striving to be Antifragile gets simpler with commitment, practice, and reinforcement from those walking with us.
So, what is fragility?
Fragility is a like disease that impacts our ability to process and respond in healthy ways to the inevitable adversity and hardships we face in life. It might be helpful to liken it to an autoimmune disorder where a gradual wearing down of our “response system” causes increased levels of anxiety, irritability, isolation, and relational challenges. Like an autoimmune disorder that goes left untreated, the symptoms will compound upon one another in a vicious cycle until a person loses the ability to face life’s natural challenges healthily. Here’s a typical trajectory most of us have experienced at least a portion of:
You can look back to a period in life when things were going well. Everything seemed to be humming along. You felt good about the relationships in your life, at least the important ones. Work was going well, and you felt optimistic about the future. You woke up most days ready for what lies ahead. Then, a period of disruption emerged. For some, it might have been a particularly traumatic event or a series of painful events in proximity. Often, it’s a long series of less noticeable micro-events that leads to gradually mounting dissatisfaction. Eventually, you come to notice yourself hitting the snooze button most days. Living for the weekend has crept in where Friday night is the highlight of the week because it’s as far away from work as you can possibly get. Many weeks, a pit manifests in your stomach sometime around Sunday afternoon. When living for the weekend isn’t enough, you up the ante and find yourself in a state of perpetually planning the next vacation or adventure to distract yourself. Some find themselves fixated on getting rich or the day they can retire and check out altogether.
Along the way, you’ve likely started self-medicating to numb the feelings of confusion, aimlessness, and isolation. For some, the numbing behaviors are noticeable addictions with obvious consequences, like drugs or alcohol. Your numbing behavior(s) of choice might be seemingly benign. Maybe it’s consumerism or countless hours spent devouring social media or binge-watching streaming services. It could be work or striving for achievement. Maybe it’s a series of broken relationships that keep failing because relationships can’t withstand the pressure of needing to make an unhappy person happy.
What these numbing behaviors all have in common is that they’re highly addictive due to the pain-limiting endorphins they release. Unlike the healthy release of endorphins through exercise and genuine connectedness, these addictions are corrosive. They rob us of the precious energy required to maintain our mental health and existing relationships and form new ones. It’s like drinking salt water while lost at sea; you are forever thirsty and slowly killing yourself.
It’s hard not to notice the prevalence of these behaviors and the increase in anxiety and isolation that are behind them. For many individuals and leaders, it feels like we’re moving from one crisis to the next with no end in sight. For teams and organizations, which are merely the sum of people facing these challenges, it can feel like we’re constantly facing no-win situations. Many are so fragile they feel like they’re one event, or a short series of events away from breaking. Sadly, we’re seeing this kind of shattering in people and organizations on an increasingly frequent basis.
Why Has Fragility Become So Acute?
What transpired with Covid clearly rocked our collective worlds. In a recent survey published by Oracle, 27% of respondents said they couldn’t remember what it meant to be “truly happy,” 45 percent of Americans surveyed said it had been more than two years since they last felt “true happiness.” More than half of those surveyed said they had been more unhappy in the past year than any other year before. While Covid caused massive disruption for the entire world, and we grieve with all who lost loved ones, Covid itself is not the cause of our collective mental, emotional, and relational decline. Covid merely forced us to sit still long enough to become aware of the deep unease affecting many individuals, organizations, and society at large. There are two primary reasons for our increasing fragility.
trend one behind our increasing fragility
Our societal foundation has been eroding
• Faith traditions and their virtues that guided billions of people for thousands of years are being abandoned rather than reformed.
• The concept of "community" has faded. The need to specialize in our education and work has increasingly led us to migrate away from family to urban areas. At the same time, the pendulum has swung from a collectivist mindset coming out of World War II to one of extreme individualism today. Consequently, never in history has such a high percentage of us lived so densely concentrated among people we don't know or care for.
• Families have been fracturing from increased rates of divorce and estrangement. The migration trend and general breakdown of the community mentioned above have left many non-traditional families needing more support than they historically received from extended family and community. Government agencies are now increasingly expected to care for our extended families.
We have never been freer to believe, say and do as we like. We're more unencumbered than ever by any guiding authority, whether a higher power, community leaders, elders, family traditions, or moral obligation to each other. And it's causing many to feel alone, lost, and directionless like kites blowing in the wind. We've evolved to become an instant gratification culture bent on pleasing ourselves and addicted to endorphins and numbing behaviors. We will do just about anything to avoid pain. And when the pain comes, and it always comes, we hurt even more because we're ill-equipped.
trend two behind our increasing Fragility
Our collective stress has been increasing
Globalization and technology have meant increased levels of competition felt everywhere. The education or apprenticeship that once served a person well for a lifetime may now be obsolete in a few years. Despite the powerful tools technology has placed at our fingertips, we must work more than ever to get by. The boundaries between our personal lives and work have become unrecognizable for many. And despite the increased working hours, more people and organizations than ever feel like they're on the verge of failing.
Considering both trends mainly occurred in the last 100 years, a tiny fraction of human history, we've essentially conducted a widespread and dangerous experiment that's wreaking havoc on our mental health and well-being. Are we surprised stress is being called the health epidemic of the 21st century?
We need a new paradigm to thrive
Prior to the steady decline in our institutions, and before globalization and technology had caused widespread disruption, our innate ability to grow stronger from adversity was largely intact and IQ was the most reliable determinant of who would thrive.
With adoption of the computer and internet, there was a leveling effect of raw intelligence relative to emotional intelligence. The ability to work quickly and collaboratively with others in leveraging the power of shared knowledge to obtain greater outcomes became critical such that by the mid-nineties, we realized EQ was better than IQ at determining who would thrive.
As the decline of our institutions accelerated, technology and globalization marched on. The iPhone, social media, and apps like Slack, which brought work to our nightstands, accelerated the pace of change. By the mid-teens, words
like “grit” and “resilience” were being used to indicate who would thrive.
While the grit and resilience movements brought hope in our fight to keep up with change, their focus on “bouncing back” has, for many, deteriorated into what feels like “grinding it out” and turned into a focus on perseverance without providing the necessary tools needed to move forward. As new technologies like AI come on the scene, and the pace of change continues to accelerate, our ability to bounce back will diminish further and our mental health crisis is poised to grow worse.
Our Antifragile Quotient or “AQ”, is now the single greatest determinant of who thrives—and who doesn’t. Rather than merely “bouncing back”, and the inevitable decline that comes with it, AQ helps us see and interact with the world through a new lens, reactivating our innate ability to grow increasingly stronger from change and adversity.
a caveat before
we dive in to aq
You may conclude the 7 Elements of Antifragility have shamelessly been stolen from some theological perspective or religious world order. In a sense, you’re not wrong. The 7 Elements, and more specifically our inherent need to live them out radically, is hard-wired into our humanity. Whatever you may think of the world’s major religions and the pain and strife select factions and followers from any of them may have caused, there is incredible goodness at their core. With proper respect and acknowledgment for their unique perspectives, at the root of each are learned scholars who’ve invested the totality of their lives in furthering people’s ability to love, show kindness, and grow through adversity. It would be a very jaded person indeed to believe humanity was better off before faith traditions entered the scene! Admittedly, there are those of us on the AQ Team who are actively part of an organized faith tradition or were in our early years. Some of us have no religious affiliation at all. Our commitment, should you choose to join us, is that we are not now, and never will be, a “religious” pursuit.
on What AQ is NOT
We’re aware the word “Antifragility” is met with very mixed, and sometimes strong reactions. Some individuals, often leaders, will emphatically explain how it absolutely applies to people on their teams who, in their opinions, aren’t “tough enough”. While this notion may get at something directionally true, it misses two key points. First, Antifragility is not about being “tough” in the sense that we ignore pain or are impervious to what comes at us. That would be closer robustness which, like metal, withstands pressure but still dents, deteriorates in time, and does not grow stronger from adversity. The robust mindset tends to ignore adversity and struggles from a lack of adaptability for it in the long run. The second aspect this notion misses is that we ALL suffer from fragility and the people who are quickest to point out the fragility in others are often the most likely to be unaware of it in themselves. Based on our own challenges as leaders, and our years spent walking with many leaders facing their own challenges, we must acknowledge that as leaders, we create or allow what transpires in our teams or organizations.
Like the first group we get reactions from, some people who assume Antifragility is a word aimed primarily at people with different political views from their own. While this too gets at something directionally accurate, I want to offend everyone equally here. There are fragile people on both ends of the political spectrum, with both sides having extremely fragile people in their ranks.
If you can’t have a conversation with someone who’s political beliefs, or any beliefs for that matter, are different from you own without losing it, you too have some fragility that’s worth exploring.
The final group we sometimes get an instant negative reaction from is people who have been hurt or are currently hurting. They mistakenly believe Antifragility is counter to empathy and compassion, asking people to ignore their pain and suffering. While there are some in the resilience camp who preach that suffering only exists in the mind, we disagree. Tell someone undergoing chemotherapy as they fight for their life, or a mother who’s lost a child, that suffering is in their mind. Anyone telling you suffering only exists in the mind is either kidding you and themselves or has never suffered.
Suffering, like death, is in an inevitability of life. While we weren’t meant to cause or invite suffering, we are meant to grow stronger, wiser, more empathetic, and compassionate from healthy grieving and the opportunity for growth it creates. One of the primary reasons for the lack of empathy and compassion in our world today is people’s willingness to do just about anything to avoid any amount of suffering, even if it means causing suffering for others. It takes having suffered and grieved to live with empathy and compassion for others, and that too is being Antifragile.
So, what IS Antifragility
The concept of Antifragility was developed by New York Times best-selling author, Nassim Taleb. In his book Antifragile, Taleb explores why certain people, ideas organizations and industries thrive because of the adversity they face, when others manage to merely bounce back or fracture altogether. In it he writes “The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” Our aim is to take the principles Taleb explores primarily from a financial perspective and bring them forward in practical application for individuals, leaders, teams and organizations. For individuals and leaders, it’s a mindset in how you choose to perceive and operate within your environment. Think Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela. For teams it’s the ability to gain expanded clarity and unity that they might go where others fear to tread. Think the Apollo 11 team or the Black Mambas. For organizations, it’s the ability to take the same forces that are undoing your competition and leveraging them to create a new future. Think Apple or AirAsia. Fragility brings fracturing, which degrades or destroys. Resilience at best misses the opportunity to grow from adversity and more likely, faces a steady decline as the ability to bounce back diminishes. Antifragility, as displayed in each of these examples, is like muscles that grow increasingly stronger under strain.
The Antifragile Quotient or “AQ” Assessment is designed to help individuals, leaders, teams and organizations assess their current ability to grow stronger from adversity. Understanding the 7 Elements of Antifragility, and more importantly, their interconnectedness and how to grow in the relative ease with which we as unique individuals navigate them, is just the starting point to living and leading Antifragile lives. If you’re curious to learn how likely you are to find ease or difficulty operating within the 7 Elements of Antifragility, you can take the complimentary AQ Assessment.
No matter where you land within the AQ Assessment, our years of learning, succeeding, and failing in the balancing act of Antifragility, have led us to the firm conclusion that this is NOT a journey we can make alone. Going it alone is more than just suboptimal. It goes against our very nature. In fact, society’s increasing isolation is a crucial aspect of our increasing fragility. Critical to growing in Antifragility is to do so within a likeminded community. As the African Proverb quoted by Martha Goedert states: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”. If you’re interested in learning more about the AQ Movement, and potentially benefiting from collaboration amongst like-minded peers, feel free to check out the complementary AQ Mastermind Calls.
A brief overview of the 7 Elements of Antifragility
AQ holds the power to help you regain control over, and responsibility for, what feels out of control in our world as you radically live out these 7 Elements of Antifragility:
The Foundational Elements of Antifragility: The Foundational Elements of Clarity, Connection, & Purpose are the launching platform needed in being Antifragile. Together they provide the grounding, support, & direction to be Antifragile.
- The AQ Element of Clarity – Removing the mental clutter and emotional baggage that block our best perspective, and inhibit us from the benefit of others’ perspectives, that we might observe the present without distortion.
- The AQ Element of Purpose – Finding a fixed point of orientation to guide our lives and aligning all our actions to that highest aim.
- The AQ Element of Connection – Recognizing our inherent wiring to exist in community, our need to be in nature, and our need to have alignment within ourselves, and with those around us.
The Practice Elements of Antifragility: The Practice Elements of Courage, Forgiveness, & Gratitude are the energy sources needed to be Antifragile. Together they provide the nerve, orientation, and composure to be Antifragile.
- The AQ Element of Courage – Realigning your relationship with fear in order to move toward an unknown, despite uncertainty.
- The AQ Element of Forgiveness – Processing and letting go of all the painful situations we experience.
- The AQ Element of Gratitude – Living out deep appreciation for not only the aspects of life we enjoy, but also the suffering that shapes and strengthens us.
The Actualized Element of Antifragility: The Actualized Element of Responsibility provides the ability to make the road to Antifragile a reality. Mastery of it provides the freedom to be Antifragile.
- The AQ Element of Responsibility – Possessing the capacity to respond to the situation at hand.
The Antifragile or “AQ” Assessment is a distillation of proven open-source assessments that have illuminated the behavioral, motivational, and mental tendencies of millions of people for more than 80 years. Taking roughly five minutes to complete, it is one of the most robust short form assessments available and designed to provide your likely proficiency in the 7 Elements of Antifragility: Clarity, Purpose, Connection, Courage, Forgiveness, Gratitude and Responsibility.
Congruent with science, the 7 Elements encapsulate the overlapping human truths of the world’s major religions that have founded much of civilization and guided billions of people for thousands of years.
The power of the AQ Assessment is unleashed when corroborated by yourself and those close to you, with the support of a Certified AQ Coach, and then lived out radically on your journey towards being more Antifragile.