The COVID-19 pandemic makes it an imperative for organisations to strengthen their resiliency. More than 8 in 10 Singaporean CEOs are prioritising crisis management and business continuity to prepare for future crises. Resilience increasingly features as a measure of organisational excellence. Resilience matters, but we are setting our sights too low.
Rather than merely aiming for resilience, I encourage leaders to set the bar higher by becoming “antifragile.” Antifragility is a radical approach introduced by the best-selling author, Nassim Taleb, in his widely acclaimed book, “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.” Fragile things, a glass for instance, break upon impact, and resilient ones, like a basketball, can withstand it. Antifragile systems, by contrast, strengthen and benefit from such shocks.
An example is the human brain, which expands with every novel experience, difficult challenge, and stressful situation. Life on earth is extraordinarily antifragile, regenerating into more advanced forms through evolution in a hostile and dynamic biosphere. Antifragility can be embraced by countries, companies, and individuals to emerge stronger after every crisis, adversity, or shock.
In many ways, antifragility has always defined modern Singapore. As a nation born out of a crisis of independence, our founding generation not only aimed for short-term survival but aspired to turn seemingly unfavourable conditions into our long-term advantage. For instance, a lack of natural hinterland inspired Singapore to create an economic hinterland out of the whole world by positioning itself as a vital gateway for developed economies into Asia’s burgeoning markets.
From the SARS outbreak in 2003, we acquired important lessons to prepare us for the next pandemic. Our healthcare redundancies, scientific capabilities, crisis management, and safety protocols were strengthened. That led us to becoming one of the safest and best managed countries during the COVID-19 crisis. Our leadership’s mantra of “emerging stronger” from COVID-19 rallies the nation to transform to, and grasp the opportunities presented by, a starkly different post-COVID future. This is an exemplary demonstration of the axiom: In good times, plan for the bad. In bad times, plan for the good.
How can other leaders adopt this same antifragile mindset? Ancient wisdom provides invaluable clues. The two characters that make up the word “crisis” in Chinese are “danger” and “opportunity.” Engineer and prepare your organisation to prevail over the dangers of future crises, and spot and seize the opportunities emerging from the aftermath. Learning from the past, sensing the unknown, developing redundancies and options, nurturing a growth mindset, avoiding fatal risks, and constant reinvention are some of the ways to ride out and grow after every adversity.
The ability to grow stronger from crises will be the source of competitive advantage in a decade when the Fourth Industrial Revolution, geopolitical instability, and the climate emergency are coming together to create huge disruptions. Simply weathering the storm is no longer enough; the next step is to learn to harness it.