COLIN: So Emma, in this age of increasing transformation and disruption, there’s this idea that the companies that thrive will be the ones that adopt an antifragile mindset. Thoughts?
EMMA: I completely agree. Antifragile organizations are set up as problem solvers, so major disruptions and crises are just a more intense version of what these organizations do on a daily basis. This notion of “antifragility” comes from Nassim Taleb. He argues that there are three basic reactions to stress or disruption:
Many large, successful companies are more fragile than people think. Even strong organizations can be prone to shattering during times of great stress due to their inability to adapt quickly, and those that appear resilient may not thrive. However, antifragile companies are always innovating, solving problems, and trying new things. They actually benefit from disorder due to their ability to quickly pivot when needed.
COLIN: We’ve certainly seen a lot of once dominant companies take it on the chin this last year.
EMMA: Yes, some well-known large organizations filed for bankruptcy last year, but none were known for having an antifragile mindset. And even if they were more robust, they would still have their lunch eaten by organizations whose mindset thrives on change and whose processes allow them to change the way they do things in big substantial ways.
COLIN: I think this is one of the reasons I love this topic so much. I’ve spent the last nine years working for a company that lives this antifragile mindset every day. And I’ve seen the incredible growth and success they’ve had with it.
EMMA: Very nice Merkle plug and also, totally on point!
COLIN: Thank you. Of course, we also have a lot of really smart clients who embody the antifragile mindset. As demonstrated by how quickly they changed their business operations to adapt to COVID-19.
EMMA: I thought what Amex did with its Platinum Card was very smart. This is a luxury card with a $550 annual fee, known for its very exclusive and generous travel benefits. When people suddenly stopped traveling, Amex didn’t let the pandemic eat away the value related to the card’s benefits. They introduced a whole host of limited-time benefits that spoke to how their members spent their time over the past year – covering the cost of streaming services, PayPal purchases, and more.
COLIN: I think Amex has embodied that antifragility thinking for quite some time. I remember when they first moved into credit cards. Before that, Amex only offered charge cards that you had to pay off in full every month. This was a point of pride for many cardmembers since it showed everyone they had the financial wherewithal to do exactly that. There was talk about whether moving into credit cards would devalue the exclusivity of their brand. But they knew the market was rapidly shifting, and they had to keep evolving or risk becoming irrelevant.
EMMA: You're right. While the term “antifragility” may be relatively new, the behavior it describes has always been there. Every successful startup has manifested it, and companies like Amex, Toyota, and Tesco have been practicing it for decades.
COLIN: I’m also really impressed with Albertson’s. It’s one of the nation’s largest grocers that moved very quickly to ramp up curbside pick-up and home delivery when the pandemic hit. Albertson’s also took advantage of dynamic creative optimization (DCO) across its various brand portfolio to quickly go to market and test optimal display messaging.
Examples of animated DCO display creative for Albertson’s brand portfolio, featuring pandemic-inspired messaging:
EMMA: Making DCO a part of your marketing plan enables antifragility. Its modular and dynamic build structure and easy connection to real-time data sources lets companies put new creative into the market much faster than they traditionally could. DCOs ability to rapidly test a variety of factors simultaneously (messaging, visuals, CTAs, etc.) makes it easier to quickly identify changing trends and adapt to them.
COLIN: We’re both big fans of DCO. For a more in-depth look at DCO and its numerous benefits, read our She Said, He Said blog post here.
EMMA: Related to DCO is a broader notion of learning through experimentation and testing. Making it a habit to think through how to evaluate the success of different approaches, and plan tests that will build on prior learnings and lead to more efficiencies, is at the core of successfully adapting and thriving. And being able to adapt on the fly, as our clients did last February when some of their test agendas had to change dramatically.
COLIN: I think it’s also vital to give yourself permission to fail. Not everything you do will work, but you’ll learn from it and be smarter for it. Amazon spent a lot of money developing its Fire Phone, which included the very first introduction of Alexa, only to have it flop. From those ashes followed the Amazon Echo and we all know how that turned out. I’ve got five of them!
EMMA: Yes, being antifragile doesn’t mean being right 100% of the time. Failing faster and learning from failures is a key part of it, and companies that are afraid of any failure tend to have a robust mindset; they protect what they’re doing at all costs, until the cost of protection starts eroding the business.
COLIN: Emma, I’d also like to take this moment to point out that for companies, the antifragility mindset can’t just live in the C-suite; it needs to be practiced every day through the ranks, with everyone being problem solvers and finding new, better ways to do things. It’s about empowering people.
EMMA: And while I haven’t seen any studies on this yet, I suspect employees who embrace an antifragility mindset are also happier in their jobs. They’re challenging themselves to, as you say, make things better, which always feels good.
COLIN: It really does! And equally important, embracing the concept of antifragility is more likely to help you thrive in your career. Who doesn’t love proactive problem solvers!
EMMA: Speaking of proactive, we’d really like our blog to benefit from some disruptions. So feel free to share your own favorite example of organizational antifragility in the comments section below.
EMMA: Good things come to those who share.