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Posts Tagged ‘business’

I’ve just finished reading Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It’s a sprawling, fascinating, maddening book that is badly in need of a copy-editor. But one of Taleb’s pet hates (he has many) is copy-editors.

antifragile

There is a simple and profound central idea. Think of anything at all: a person, an idea, a relationship, a business, a country, a piece of technology, an ecosystem.

Some things are fragile. When some kind of crisis occurs, an unexpected event, a systemic shock – then they break. It might mean a small bit of damage or the destruction of the entire unit. Fragile things are harmed by crises.

What is the opposite of fragile? Our instinct is to use words like robust, strong, solid, resilient, perhaps flexible or adaptable. Robust and flexible things do not break when a shock comes; they can withstand crises and shocks. That’s true. They are unharmed. But this isn’t the opposite of fragile. The opposite would involve something that positively benefits from a crisis or a shock, that comes out better rather than just the same. We genuinely don’t have a word for this, which is why Taleb invents one: antifragilility.

He gives a neat illustration. If you put something fragile in the post, like a teapot, you pack it carefully and put a big sticker on the outside saying, ‘Fragile: Handle with Care’. What is the ‘opposite’ kind of package? You are tempted to say this would be a robust or strong parcel. But if you send something in the post that is more-or-less unbreakable, like a block of wood or a stone, you don’t put a sticker on the outside saying ‘Unbreakable: Don’t Be Anxious About This’, you just send it without any warning signs. The opposite kind of package, with something antifragile inside, would have a sticker saying something like this: ‘Antifragile: Handle Carelessly, Drop Me, Be Reckless With Me, Try To Damage Me’.

What would go into such a package?

Taleb shows how many things in life and society are antifragile. They actually benefit from crises and shocks, at least within certain limits. The human body is one example, it doesn’t benefit from being pampered, it grows stronger through certain shocks and stresses – within limits. Some ideas only develop through challenges and awkward confrontations. Some businesses are perfectly poised to benefit from difficult and unexpected situations, because they are able to adapt and seize new opportunities. Some relationships are able to discover new depths and different kinds of intimacy through problems and difficulties.

What is it that makes some things fragile, some robust, and some antifragile? You’ll have to read the book yourself!

The other big theme is the nature of rationality: how we try to predict the unpredictable, and when we fail and are caught off guard we try to pretend we knew what was going to happen. It’s much wiser, argues Taleb, to admit that many things, especially future crises and disasters, are completely beyond our powers of reasoning (even though they may be rational in themselves). The trick is not to be ready for a particular unexpected event, which is by its very nature unpredictable, but to be ready for something unexpected and unpredictable to happen, so that when it does happen we are able to react in a creative and intelligent way, bringing an unexpected good out of these unexpected difficult circumstances (antifragility), and to create systems that are resilient to major shocks or at least not set up so that they will shatter when the first unpredictable jolt takes place (a certain kind of flexibility and robustness).

It was the perfect bedtime book for me. Easy to read, full of stories, provocative. And it genuinely made me rethink a lot of things I had taken for granted without question before.

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The true spread of people’s blogging motivations is represented more accurately, it seems to me, in this table from jeffbullas than in the Technocrati survey I mentioned yesterday – even though it is based on his own poll of only 492 people.

The top 5 in ranking order are.

  1. Passion
  2. Share with others
  3. Business
  4. Self expression
  5. Put forward new ideas

Not surprisingly the number one reason is “passion” for their topic. In fact of all the top bloggers I know that I have reviewed  and researched, this would have to be the number one reason for posting every day year after year.

Here is the full table. I like the fact that nine people are honest enough to say they blog not to change the world, but to pass the time!

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We’ve gone from the 24 hour news cycle to the 24 second news cycle. Which means that as soon as you do something amusing, clever, original, annoying, embarrassing, or just plain stupid, then everyone knows about it.

 

Businesses know this, which is why they try to infiltrate the social media and generate good noise for their products. It’s also why clever businesses have their people scanning the same media to see when a bad story is spreading and to respond to it as soon as possible.

Stephanie Marcus has a very helpful analysis of how three companies reacted to viral negativity in the social media. One mistake is all it takes for the crowd to turn against you. The important question is how quickly and how well you react.

When director Kevin Smith was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for being too large for a single seat, he tweeted his indignation. He happened to have 1.6 million followers on Twitter, which was not good for Southwest.

What amazed me, however, is that Southwest responded with their own tweet offering an apology only 16 minutes later. They noticed it, realised its significance, had some kind of crisis management meeting, made a decision to act, wrote the apology, and tweeted it – all within 16 minutes. Fantastic! They still got a lot of flack, but many people proved to be sympathetic because they had reacted quickly, honestly, and generously:

@ThatKevinSmith hey Kevin! I’m so sorry for your experience tonight! Hopefully we can make things right, please follow so we may DM!

Marcus analyses the Pretzel Crisp/anorexia controversy. And here is a straightforward but very instructive example of how one company responded to customer complaints:

This past July, LOFT, a brand owned by Ann Taylor Inc., posted photos on its Facebook page of a tall, blonde model wearing LOFT’s new silk cargo pants, with a click-to-buy link in the captions.

What happened next is a perfect example of how social media can suddenly turn on you, even when you’ve done nothing “wrong,” or seemingly out of the ordinary. Fans of the brand complained that while the pants looked good on the model, they weren’t so flattering on anyone who wasn’t 5’10 and stick thin.

Fans requested that LOFT prove their pants could look good on “real women.” And they did. The following day, the company posted photos to Facebook again, this time with their own staff posing in the pants. The “real women” came from different company departments and ranged from a size 2 to size 12, and in height from 5’3″ to 5’10”.

This is a perfect example of how to turn a possible threat via social media into an opportunity. Ann Taylor had the good sense to stop the attack before it escalated. Here customers had a direct and valid complaint about a product and how it was featured. The company did the best thing possible, they stayed calm and listened to the comments. They took the comments into consideration and came up with a constructive resolution.

By responding to Fan requests to post photos of women of different sizes wearing the pants, the company proved that they really do listen and care about their customer concerns, and they were able to back up the product. It’s a double win for Ann Taylor as they actually gained customer support, while avoiding a potential disaster.

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