‘Everything fails all the time’ as the CTO of Amazon Werner Vogels puts it, is a principle which promotes thinking where organisations and individual projects are built on the assumption that there is never a ‘happy paths scenario’. Making an organisation ‘Anti-Fragile’ is the key to ensuring that it survives and continues to work as Business as usual in the most foreseen circumstances. So what is Anti fragile? Anti-fragility is the opposite of fragility: as Taleb notes, where a fragile package would be stamped with ‘do not mishandle,’ an anti-fragile package would be stamped ‘please mishanEverybody leadership,dle.’ Anti-fragile things get better with each (non-fatal) failure.Netflix devised what is called a ‘Chaos Monkey’ algorithm essentially a mechanism of killing processes randomly. To be specific Netflix Chaos monkey is a tool that randomly disables production instances to make sure they can survive common type of failure without any customer impact. This is important for Netflix since it works on streaming most of their content through the cloud. Netflix has terminated thousands of instances ( over 65,000 instances ) running in the production and testing environments. Invariably nobody notices, but Chaos Monkey which allows Netflix to isolate and resolve them so they don't happen again. The Auto Scaling technology on Amazon’s cloud detects the termination of an instance and automatically configures a new, identical one to replace it. But the Chaos Monkey's random attacks can still identify problems, like a patch gone wrong or a traffic load balancer that's failing. While Netflix uses the Chaos Monkey on Amazon, it's flexible enough that it can be installed on other public cloud networks. By default, it only runs during business hours, so people are around to clean up the Chaos Monkey's mess when it identifies a serious problem.Periodic and deliberate failures work much more like antidote ensuring that the system becomes more resilient because you are actually planning and developing the network to become more resilient. The word Taleb uses in his book to make things more resilient - ‘Anti Fragile’ isn’t new to us. In ancient times across the globe the kings and queens where given a periodic dose of poison just enough to ensure that their body grows immune to it which mean that there was a natural resistant to any kind of poison injected as part of sabotage. The Romans did it when Nero wanted to kill his mother he first tried the poison approach but since she was resilient to it he had to resort to more direct means and beheaded her. Anti-Fragility ensures that you are not only better prepared for a worse off situation, you actually thrive in such a situation. So the next question to ask is how do we make our organisation Anti Fragile?The antidote for organisation isn’t an alien concept. The key factors that make an organisation ‘Anti-Fragile’ are
- Vision coupled with short term Planning Vision and Goals are two facets of the organizations growth ladder. Typically vision is a long term objective that an individual organization aims for. For example to have revenue of billion + in the next 5 years can be part of the vision however achieving that requires incremental short term planning which can change direction even as frequently as 6 months given the environment that the origination operates in. An organisation that can adapt to change will effectively fend off any adverse scenarios. Short term collective planning ensures that the different units (business units or domain units) within the organization do not go off in geometric tangents working towards their goal whilst the environment and its effect on the organization dramatically alter the benefit from that very goal. Periodic (weekly) meets to touch base without the song and dance are a good start. A set of 5 standard questionnaires for each unit can keep the agenda crisp and concise. This also ensures that the units are aligned to the changing environment and can adapt or take necessary actions as required.
- Cultural Change Organizations culture that does not react (ideally act) to change and adapt usually do not survive. Much like the natural world the demise of any organisation does help the larger natural world because the weaker or non-adaptive species fade away. The key however for an individual organisation then is to either have a gene pool (read as fundamental framework of the org.) that is Anti Fragile ( something that cannot be grown overnight) or is able to adapt and change its work culture to address the need of the hour (crisis situation).
- Everybody leadership In an ever changing environment leadership at different levels cannot be restricted to the pyramid model. People who are more in tune to the job will be more aware of the weak signals and therefore need to be empowered to consult and take decisions or influence decisions at the right time. This requires an elevated transparency across the organisation where crisis management (anti Fragility becomes that much more easier because it is done at every level.
- Short Sprints Milestones in projects need to be sprints much like in ‘Agile methodology’ couple with marked efforts to make the existing process leaner and more efficient. Short sprints followed by periodic review of the short term goal ensure that the goal post does not shift and reaction time to any failure is enhanced.
- Automate A key to short term sprint is automation and using software to simulate and or break the system. This helps to envisage any drawback at the same time corrective measures can be taken well with in time to ensure that the short term goal is not pushed out. Having an automated IT environment also helps simulate scenarios that can be used to preempt adverse situations rather than having to address them in the production environment.
- Execute to break Anything that does not kill you makes you stronger. The environment to effectively test and break the system should be robust and the focus should be how to make it more resilient. This can be done by creating randomly anomalies or by introducing challenges to business units for each quarter. This also propels excellence within and across business units. Over a period of time this ensures that any real life black swan event is better managed and the project cycle works in adverse scenarios too.
Making organisations Anti-fragile is more about creating a fabric where the organisation can excel during adverse situation. The methods of Antifragility will of course vary with the conditions that bring unforeseen risk and or fragility. There will be different yard sticks for economic, project, domain and or service related operations. the key for organisations is to identify which areas bring fragility and turn the tables from ' Epimetheus '(after thinker) to 'Prometheus ' (fore thinker).